Two readers have kindly directed our attention to this column in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune by columnist Nick Coleman: “No free lunch for John Kerry.” The politics of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party runs in Coleman’s veins; his father was the DFL majority leader of the Minnesota state senate from 1973-81. When Coleman signals tremors of doubt regarding a Democratic champion, notice must be taken.
Coleman reports on Kerry’s stumping yesterday in the suburban territory north of Minneapolis and St. Paul that includes the blue collar Democrats and swing voters who made Jesse Ventura governor in 1998. Coleman’s report indicates that Kerry has his work cut out for him:
John Kerry could have had a free lunch Thursday, but it’s good he didn’t take advantage of the offer from the Outpost Bar and Grille on Hwy. 10.
The Democratic candidate for president might have gotten indigestion.
Kerry campaigned at Anoka Hennepin Technical College on Thursday. Just two blocks away, across the city line between Anoka and Ramsey, Mike Hartinger had hung a new banner on the sign outside his restaurant, the Outpost: “All Presidential Candidates Eat Free.”
It didn’t succeed at luring Kerry, who could have had his choice of fare, including the special — buffalo chicken salad and cream of chicken dumpling soup. Lucky for him: Kerry would have had trouble swallowing the rest of the menu.
The Outpost is a working man’s bar in a bellwether piece of a battleground state. These are the voters who elected Jesse Ventura governor and who helped deter him from running for a second term when they fell out of love with him. But if John Kerry had dropped in to seek votes Thursday, he would’ve run into a wall.
In a place full of carpenters, plumbers, auto mechanics, factory workers and other blue-collar guys who used to vote for Democrats almost as devoutly as they used to drink beer (most were sipping soft drinks), I could only turn up one John Kerry voter.
The rest plan to vote for George W. Bush.
“This is basically a Democratic place, but everybody seems to be going for the Republican,” Hartinger said. “That’s what I hear over the bar. Kerry’s just too soft and a lot of the guys just don’t like his wife. They weren’t too impressed when she started speaking all those foreign languages at the Democratic convention. She’s not American.”
Maybe I saw too many Brigitte Bardot movies as a kid, but I thought it was OK for a guy to want a wife who could talk French. Not this year.
Hartinger showed me a copy of an e-mail from some dark conspiracy wing-nut corner of the Internet, an e-mail that has been passing around the bar.
“BEWARE OF MRS. JOHN KERRY,” it said, detailing how Kerry’s foreign-born wife, Teresa, seized the Heinz fortune and uses it to support radicals and international terrorists. This is a well-worn calumny: The would-be First Lady of This Great Land is a foreign Pickle Baroness who supports terror. And I am Norm Coleman’s love child.
But just because it’s wacko doesn’t mean it isn’t working.
“I’d think Kerry would have quite a lawsuit if it isn’t true,” said Hartinger, 46. “Your wife influences you, doesn’t she? And my wife influences me. Why should Kerry be any different? All I know is that the guys at the bar read this, and they get real mad. Hamas is in there — it says she supports Hamas. I’m sorry, but whether it’s true or not, it doesn’t look good.”
The importance of barroom politics gets overlooked by pundits, but after Nov. 2, historians may go back to the Outpost to find out how rumors, gossip and character assassination can make a potent brew. Separating truth from fiction is never easy, especially when no one is even worrying about the difference.
“The best TV ad I ever saw is that one that has Kerry flip-flopping and showing he is just trying to buy votes,” said Bob Almeida, a 65-year-old contractor from Andover. “To say that about him on TV, well, they must have the proof of it, or else they wouldn’t air it.”
Almeida, a Vietnam vet, added that he thinks the Kerry campaign has made too much of their man’s war-hero record: “He’s pushing that Vietnam thing too far,” he said.
From one end of the bar to the other, I heard the same things: Kerry will give away the bank to lazy people who don’t want to work. He wants the French to like us. He won’t kick Iraqi butt the way we should do. And worse, he’s not a hunter.
“He might try to fool somebody that he’s a sportsman,” said Doug, a 64-year-old carpenter from Dayton who opposes gun control. He repeatedly used an expletive to describe Kerry, then added: “He tries to come off as a hunter. But he’s not a hunter. He’s a phony.”
(Indeed, Kerry said during his appearance in Anoka that he is a gun-owner and a hunter.)
Fifty thousand people visited a recent game fair in Anoka, and the guys in the Outpost say the Bush booth did big business.
“It’s neat to be a part of the process,” said John Kellas, a 40-year-old “garbageman” (he supervises landfills) who got a “Sportsmen For Bush” bumper sticker at the game fair. “The politicians used to never come to Minnesota because it was a foregone conclusion, but now they’re concerned about our opinion and we get to see ’em.”
I asked Kellas what he would do if Kerry actually came into the restaurant.
“Everybody would be polite,” he said, finishing a grilled-cheese sandwich. “But Kerry’s got no votes here. I don’t like the idea of having to get every other country in the world to agree with us before we go after the terrorists. I like the way we’re going after it and rooting it out before it gets here.”
“Right,” Hartinger said. “Three years and they’d be banging on our door if we don’t go after ’em.”
“We should just go in there [Iraq] and get it over with rather than just playing around,” said the bartender, Lana DiPilato, a single mom whose two boys recently turned 18 and registered with Selective Service. “I don’t have a lot of respect for Kerry and I don’t like the way his wife influences him. But I don’t mind Bush. We’ve had worse.”
DiPilato was wearing a T-shirt with a message I thought was about the campaign: “Your lips keep moving, but all I hear is ‘Blah, blah,blah …’ ”
The blah blah is loud.
Several patrons expressed misgivings about the war in Iraq. But they still prefer Bush.
“He’s the lesser of two evils,” said Stan, a 59-year-old Elk River man who makes ammunition for Federal Cartridge.
“I don’t really like any of the candidates,” said Dan Anderson, 40, of Coon Rapids, one of four union plumbers having lunch. “I don’t know if this war turned out good and I hate to see guys dying every day. The union is pushing Kerry, big time. But the way I see it, too many people are flocking here for benefits. I’m all for helping people who need it, but my problem is handing all the money to the liberal cause.
“I’m voting for Bush.”
Anderson’s lunch mates all nodded: Adam Breeggemann, Cory Reimer, Jon Dorn: Three more union votes for Bush.
I talked to two dozen people. All were for Bush except one who was undecided and one lonely guy who said he was for John Kerry, no matter what language his wife speaks.
His name was Al Scott, 67, a 67-year-old retired tool-and-gauge maker from Anoka who was drinking Sprite by himself.
“Anybody who wants Bush back in is crazy,” he said. “He’s arrogant; we don’t belong in Iraq; he had an ego trip trying to do what daddy didn’t do; there weren’t no weapons of mass destruction, and I just think he’s a poor president. Period. Kerry’s not the best candidate, but this is how an election works. It always comes down to who do you get to choose from.”
Too bad John Kerry didn’t meet Al Scott. Kerry left Anoka and went to the State Fair without his free lunch. Maybe his wife wouldn’t let him have one.
Sixty-eight days to go.
As can be deduced from Coleman’s defense of the ketchup lady, he is most assuredly not gilding the lilly for George Bush. Given Coleman’s political orientation and usual tub thumping, this column is simply stunning.
HINDROCKET adds: A number of readers have commented on the liberal mindset revealed by Coleman’s column. Walter Theus writes:
[T]he story…revealed much about the mindset of liberals in today’s America. First, the author discusses with disdain the willingness of the patrons to accept the premise that Ms. Heinz Kerry might be funding radical groups with her fortune. He does acknowledge that this premise seems to be having an effect. But he doesn’t mention that foundations controlled by Ms. Heinz Kerry have funneled millions of dollars into rather extreme
environmental organizations and other left-wing causes.
The second point might seem trivial, but it isn’t…. Coleman quotes a patron saying that Kerry only pretends to be an avid hunter. Coleman suggests that this view is an irrational result of the patron’s visceral dislike of Kerry. Well, anyone who has been following the campaign closely in recent months knows that there is a real factual basis for this suspicion. During a photo op, Kerry was captured shooting a shotgun with the index finger of his left hand looped over the barrel. Kind of interferes with the old sight-lines. Later, Kerry was quoted as rhapsodizing about his time spent hunting deer while crawling through the brush with a rifle. I’m not a deer hunter, but everyone I know who hunts with rifles makes certain that he is shooting down, not up. This tends to limit collateral damage, as a high-powered rifle bullet fired at an upward trajectory can travel for quite some distance with lethal force. You would think that a warrior like Kerry would understand this.
I’m no deer hunter either, but I’ve never heard of deer hunters slithering on their bellies. All the deer hunters I know use tree stands.
Is all of this stuff relevant? Sure. The bar patrons quoted in Coleman’s column were expressing, in their own way, the perception that Kerry is a phony. And they’re right. He is a phony. And if history teaches anything, it is that character is more important than policy proposals in choosing a President. Besides, Kerry has been in the Senate for twenty years, and has virtually no policy achievements to his credit. Why should anyone believe that he is suddenly going to generate and implement a bunch of great policies if we elect him President?
As several readers have noted, Coleman no doubt slanted his descriptions of the bar patrons to make them sound ill-informed and bigoted. Nevertheless, what comes through is mostly sound common sense.