According to GOP sources, many inside the Republican National Committee had come to see the Minnesota Senate seat held by the late Paul Wellstone as unwinnable in the final weeks leading up to November 5. “The tracking polls showed Wellstone inching ahead, beyond the margin of error deadlock he had been locked into with Coleman,” says an RNC pollster. “Things could have trended back down for him, but Wellstone seemed to have found his footing.”
Republican Senate candidate Norm Coleman didn’t perform well in the two candidates’ last debate, and his campaign seemed to be running out of gas. The two men had been stuck in a virtual dead heat for several weeks in late summer and early September.
Wellstone had seen a surge in campaign contributions and appeared on his way to winning a third term, despite vowing to Minnesota voters he would serve only two terms. A year ago, as the RNC sized up the 2002 races, Wellstone was viewed as the most beatable Democrat in the Senate. It’s a testament to his oft-underestimated political skills that he emerged two weeks before the election as seemingly unbeatable.
Walter Mondale appears on the verge of committing to run in place of Paul Wellstone in the Minnesota Senate race. As of early Sunday morning, after speaking with just about every major senior Democratic Party official, the former vice president seemed more open to running — and probably winning — the seat.
What is unclear is whether Mondale is open to serving out the full six-year term. According to one Democratic National Committee staffer late Saturday night, the rumor mill had Mondale serving at least two years of the term before stepping aside. “He’s hoping that his son would be appointed to the seat, that he would have a chance to keep it in the family,” says the DNC staffer. “There are no guarantees, but given that state, the power of the Democrats and the Mondale name, it wouldn’t be out of the question.
In 1998 Mondale’s son, Ted, finished fifth in the Minnesota’s Democratic gubernatorial primary with 7% of the vote. It was thus perhaps no surprise that Democratic polling of likely party voters late Friday and Saturday suggested that at this late date Ted Mondale wouldn’t beat Coleman. But the senior Mondale would.
“Ambassador Mondale beats Coleman easily in our polling, by at least six percentage points. That’s better than Wellstone,” says the DNC source. “With guys like Lautenberg and Mondale on the bench, it makes you wonder why we didn’t use these guys more often over the years. These are the two men who are going to save our political bacon. We hold the Senate thanks to them.”
Bill Clinton created quite a stir recently down in Little Rock, when he showed up at a popular eatery with a party of 12, found the table he wanted already occupied and had an aide demand that the seated party be moved. The offending diners agreed once they realized who wanted their seats.
“You’d think he’d be nice enough to thank them, or perhaps send us back a little something to show his gratitude,” says a diner who witnessed the turn of events. “They got nothing, and then Clinton was so busy talking on the phone and socializing, I don’t know that he even ate anything.”
Not even a few big bites between phone calls?