Rant. Muse. Eat. Sleep. Recycle.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Norm Coleman unmasked!
By John Nichols in The Nation
There is tragic truth to the description of Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman as "the accidental senator."
With aggressive backing from the Bush White House -- particularly Vice President Dick Cheney and political czar Karl Rove -- Coleman challenged Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone in 2002.
Coleman's attacks on Wellstone were brutal and well-funded, and they created a close race -- for a while. Then Wellstone cast what was supposed to be the most politically-risky vote of his career. He refused to support Bush's request for authorization to attack Iraq.
That courageous vote, cast just weeks before the election, turned out to be incredibly popular with Minnesotans. Wellstone began to open a significant lead over Coleman and he was headed toward victory when a plane crash just days before the election claimed the life of the senator, his wife and daughter and several close aides.
Disarray and dismay on the part of Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, which scrambled to run former Vice President Walter Mondale, gave Coleman a senate seat.
But it looks as if Minnesotans have come to recognize that the accidental senator need not be a permanent fixture in Washington.
Indeed, new polling suggests that Coleman is the most vulnerable of several GOP senators who face tough reelection fights next year.
Coleman's close association with the Bush administration in general, and its war in particular, seems to be hurting the senator in a state where enthusiasm for the GOP has been on the wane. Minnesota, a swing state in the 2000 presidential race, voted solidly for Democrat John Kerry's challenge to Bush in 2004. Democrats made major advances in statewide and legislative races in 2006, and polls suggest that Bush's approval ratings have collapsed even more significantly in the state than in other parts of the country.
With next year's Minnesota Senate race still in its initial stages, Coleman's lead over his prospective Democratic challengers has dropped into margin-of-error territory.
Coleman's at 46 percent in a new Rasmussen Reports survey of likely voters in Minnesota. Former Air American talk-show host Al Franken, a newcomer to electoral politics who is considered the frontrunner in the race for the Democratic nomination, is at 41 percent.
In a match-up with wealthy trial lawyer Mike Ciresi, who like fellow Democrat Franken is an ardent critic of Coleman from the left, trails the incumbent by a similar 46-42 margin.
What this means is that Minnesotans appear to be developing an Anyone-But-Coleman sentiment that, when the fact that undecided voters tend to break for challengers, bodes ill for the incumbent.
Coleman's career has been characterized by crude ambition and unfortunate circumstance -- not to mention wrong stands on a host of issues. He is now trying to move left to protect his seat -- even making some anti-war murmurs after attacking Wellstone's vote of five years ago and consistently voting the Bush line on Iraq.
When General David Petraeus appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday, Coleman was among the more aggressive Republican challengers of the commander's vague promises that the administration's surge strategy would lead to eventual withdrawals of U.S. troops from the quagmire -- even joining Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy is pressing for specific dates on a timeline for drawing down troops.
But Coleman has a frustrating record of questioning the White House's approach to the war at press conferences and hearing tables but voting down the line with the president.
So it is that the man who came to the Senate as the favorite-son candidate of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove is having a hard time selling himself as anything but what he is: Norm Coleman, R-Bush.