A Report From Minnesota

With the Presidential race over early, focus has shifted to Senate and Congressional races around the country. Here in Minnesota, we have several important races.

Michele Bachmann, one of the leaders of the conservative contingent in the House, was cruising toward an easy re-election when she went on Chris Matthews’ television show to talk about Bill Ayers, etc. Matthews baited her into saying that she suspected Barack Obama of being anti-American, based on his associations. (She could have said, like his wife, but she didn’t.) This caused a firestorm of local and national publicity that dominated the last stage of the campaign. Fortunately, Michele’s district is a good one; not only is it majority Republican, but most 6th District Republicans are solidly conservative. She has held a steady four-point lead through the evening, and it now seems clear that she will win. I’m posting from the Sheraton Bloomington Hotel, where the Republican campaigns are all headquartered, and Michele walked by a few minutes ago with her entourage and several television cameras, waving to the crowd and claiming victory.

In Minnesota’s 3rd District, Jim Ramstad’s long-time seat, Erik Paulsen is running against an unknown named Madia. But the 3rd has been trending moderate, and the national Democratic party ran one of the most vicious campaigns I’ve ever seen against Erik, hoping to take the seat away. They went so far as to run television ads linking Erik, a total Boy Scout, father of four girls and as nice a guy as you could ever meet, with Las Vegas call girls. The rationale? He got a contribution from a PAC headquartered in Las Vegas.

A lot of Republicans have been worried about that race, simply because the Democrats have a bottomless pit of money and they poured a lot of it into Minnesota. Fortunately, Erik is up by four points and it appears that he, too, will win.

The biggest race, of course, is Norm Coleman’s re-election campaign against former comedian Al Franken. Local Republicans have felt good about Norm’s prospects. He was endorsed by all the major newspapers in the state, including the notoriously liberal Minneapolis Star Tribune, and that seemed to give him momentum in the last weeks of the campaign. That, plus pretty much everyone had figured out that Al Franken is a jerk.

But in Minnesota the Democrats could run a dead animal for state-wide office and he would get 40 percent of the vote. The race was complicated by the presence of Dean Barkley, the Independence Party candidate, a colorless figure who basically represented “someone else” to 15 to 20 percent of the voters. In the last days of the campaign, the Democrats coordinated with a guy who filed a lawsuit in Texas. I won’t bother to explain what the lawsuit was all about, but it sought to throw mud on Coleman’s wife. The Democrats had ads up almost as soon as the lawsuit was commenced, and Coleman countered with “leave my family alone.” This last November surprise threatened to upset the small but growing advantage that Coleman enjoyed.

In the early returns, Coleman was down by six points. With the earliest precincts reporting from Minneapolis and St. Paul, that wasn’t surprising. As votes have come in from the suburbs and outstate, Coleman narrowed the lead and has now drawn even with 24 percent of precincts reporting. So far, I haven’t been able to get any information from Coleman’s people other than the observation that turnout has been very heavy in Republican Twin Cities suburbs. They seemed to think that they were in a good position, but it could be a long night. Coleman will score well through most of outstate Minnesota, but Franken may gain some ground on the traditionally Democratic Iron Range. In the end, I’m pretty confident Coleman will be re-elected.

UPDATE: I’m not so confident anymore. I explained why here.

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