The Minnesota Senate candidates, less Walter Mondale, debated tonight on a local television station. Three candidates appeared: Norm Coleman; a relatively presentable Independence Party candidate that no one has ever heard of; and a bizarre, elderly, under-dressed Green Party nominee. Mondale’s absence was commented upon, but the other candidates didn’t pound on him as hard as they could have. Coleman did a good job, but the debate was so rinky-dink, from its production values to two of its participants, that I was tempted to credit Mondale with good judgment for staying away. Having seen Mondale interviewed a couple of times, it is easy to see why he is ducking debates with Coleman. Mondale looks old and surprisingly frail; he speaks slowly, even haltingly, and seems to have aged well beyond his 74 years. Mondale has said that he will participate in one debate, but Coleman has not yet been able to pin him down to a time or location. A news broadcast tonight said that Mondale might consider Minnesota Public Radio an acceptable host. A radio debate would favor Mondale since listeners would not be able to see the obvious contrast in vigor and energy between him and Coleman. In the meantime, the mainstream media have treated Mondale’s entry into the campaign as a news story, so that instead of answering hostile questions from interviewers, he has been the subject of prime-time puff pieces. So Mondale’s entry into the race has been smoothed as much as possible. Nevertheless, I suspect that so far, the main reaction of most Minnesotans has been surprise at how old and frail Mondale has become.
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