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Professor Wellstone Goes to Washington: The Inside Story of a Grassroots U.S. Senate Campaign

Dennis J. McGrath
Dane Smith
Copyright Date: 1995
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Professor Wellstone Goes to Washington
    Book Description:

    This engaging account of Wellstone’s campaign, written by two political reporters, provides a behind-the-scenes look at a memorable chapter in U.S. Senate campaign history, which saw a liberal college professor become the only Senate challenger to unseat an incumbent in 1990.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8675-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xxvi)

    Late in the afternoon on the last day of 1990, a dirty, battered bus crossed the Potomac River into Washington, D.C., and headed up Constitution Avenue. Pedestrians on the Capitol Mall stared as the bus rumbled past the stately Lincoln Memorial, past the black slab of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and then labored up the gentle incline of Capitol Hill. The bus turned into the Capitol parking lot, swung around 180 degrees to face the north, and stopped amid a gathering of three dozen people. They burst into cheers and pounded out a muffled applause, mittens striking mittens.

    A handful...

    (pp. 1-16)

    The scheme was cooked up over a campfire on an unseasonably warm night in early June 1988, on the fertile savanna of southeastern Minnesota. The state’s Democrats were gathered in Rochester, a prosperous city and a medical mecca that is the home of the legendary Mayo Clinic, for their state convention. Many of the party regulars, who were closing ranks behind the presidential candidacy of Michael Dukakis, stayed in the venerable Kahler Hotel and dined almost every night at Michael’s, the city’s finest restaurant. A handful of insurgents who still supported the Reverend Jesse Jackson could not afford such accommodations...

    (pp. 17-38)

    By mid-February 1989, less than a month after George Bush took office, Wellstone and his advisers prepared to test his candidacy on the miners and steelworkers on Minnesota’s Iron Range, where statewide Democratic primaries usually are decided. A sprawling, rugged landscape of man-made buttes and open pit mines located about sixty miles northwest of Duluth, the Range had been treacherous ground for liberals like Wellstone. The population of around 100,000 is relatively small, but voter turnout on the Range is usually high—often 75 to 80 percent—and voters have a knack for unifying behind a candidate and voters have...

    (pp. 39-56)

    After securing a beachhead on the Iron Range, Wellstone and his advisers turned to the task of formally launching the campaign and sending its message across the state. Essential as the Range was to his emerging strategy, Wellstone also recognized that it was far from the main source of free publicity—the state’s media center of Minneapolis-St. Paul. So for the convenience of the statewide television and radio stations and newspapers with headquarters in the Twin Cities, Wellstone had to declare his candidacy in the metropolitan area. Most statewide candidates go to the capitol, where the state’s political reporters are...

    (pp. 57-86)

    At a news conference in a Minneapolis hotel on the morning of May 26, 1989, Walter Mondale ended the suspense. The 61-year-old former vice president and 1984 Democratic presidential nominee announced that he would not challenge Rudy Boschwitz for the U.S. Senate seat Mondale had once held. In a brief, graceful statement and an extended question and answer session with reporters, Mondale talked about the need for new faces and new ideas in public life. He said he enjoyed his private life, his work at a prestigious Minneapolis law firm, and his “love affair with our lakes, our woods, and...

    (pp. 87-105)

    When Paul Wellstone declared his candidacy for the world’s most exclusive club, he owned just one suit, a seven-year-old light blue pinstriped outfit that he bought when he ran for state auditor. As a college professor Wellstone eschewed ties and suits. Instead, his tastes ran to blue jeans and turtlenecks in cooler weather and to shorts and tank tops or nondescript, permanentpress shirts in the summer. “He cares nothing about clothes. Absolutely nothing,” said his wife, Sheila. “He likes to look nice, but his clothes just don’t mean a thing to him.”

    In the spring of 1989, after he had...

    (pp. 106-130)

    While the DFLers fought among themselves, to all appearances for the privilege of getting obliterated in November, Boschwitz and his advisers were trying hard not to appear too smug and not to look beyond the election.

    Every month during 1989 and early 1990 the Boschwitz brain trust would meet, sometimes in a windowless room in the downtown Minneapolis law offices of Jann Olsten, a longtime friend and confidante, and sometimes in the spacious campaign headquarters near the edge of downtown Minneapolis from which Boschwitz had engineered victories in 1978 and 1984. Boschwitz himself stayed in Washington and seldom attended the...

    (pp. 131-161)

    On the final day of the three-day DFL convention, Greg Frank, political director for Minnesota’s Independent-Republican Party, stood at the back of the Minneapolis Convention Center and watched the proceedings with glee. Frank was delighted that in addition to picking a radical like Wellstone for their Senate candidate, the Democrats decided to stick with three-term incumbent governor Rudy Perpich, despite abundant evidence that his public support had deeply eroded after ten years in office.

    While Democratic regulars openly feared the damage that a Wellstone candidacy could cause for the party, a number also bemoaned the problems presented by Perpich, whose...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 162-177)

    As Paul Wellstone delivered a fiery victory speech on the night of the Democratic primary, Jay Novak listened on his car radio. Heading west into the comfortable lake-district suburb of Wayzata, the forty-year-old Novak was a bit unnerved as he heard the attacks on his new employer, Senator Rudy Boschwitz.

    A tall, dark-haired, youthful-looking journeyman reporter and former editor of a Minnesota business magazine,Corporate Report,Novak had joined the Boschwitz campaign just a few weeks earlier. Given the job of press secretary, Novak took his place in a campaign that he expected would run flawlessly to election day.


    (pp. 178-202)

    On the Sunday after the primary, Wellstone and nine advisers and campaign staff members kicked off their Nikes and Reeboks to plot campaign strategy in a Duluth bed-and-breakfast called The Mansion, on the shore of Lake Superior. The big-game trophy heads mounted on the walls and the overstuffed furniture in the room overlooking the lake were reminders of the environmental and economic plunder of the robber baron era, an ironic setting for the work in progress that day.

    Wellstone settled into a chair and looked at the people who would surround him through election day. Pat Forciea and John Blackshaw...

    (pp. 203-224)

    “Looking for Rudy” disturbed the Boschwitz camp’s equanimity and forced his advisers at last to respond harshly to Wellstone, the first clear sign that damage had been inflicted. Boschwitz’s brain trust saw the ad as misleading, if not downright inaccurate. The commercial ran after Boschwitz had already agreed to three debates; all that was left to be negotiated was the time, location, and ground rules.

    Sam Kaplan and John Blackshaw, who were negotiating on Wellstone’s behalf, were convinced that Boschwitz’s aides were stalling and were trying to make the debates as meaningless as possible, so Wellstone had no qualms about...

    (pp. 225-251)

    With Jon Grunseth out of the gubernatorial race and Republican state auditor Arne Carlson serving as Grunseth’s last-minute replacement, Rudy Boschwitz and his advisers knew exactly what was required to maintain his seat in the U.S. Senate. In the nine days left, they would pour all their money and energy into the long-awaited “defining” of their adversary.

    Given his financial advantage and the proven effectiveness of negative campaigning, it was not surprising that Boschwitz chose television advertising as his preferred weapon. The ads began within the bounds of fairness. The first ad, which debuted October 25, 1990, superimposed an old...

  17. 12 OVER THE TOP
    (pp. 252-272)

    The Wellstone campaign coming into the final weekend was shrouded in that moment of blackest darkness before the dawn, and it showed on Wellstone who, one day after the Vice Lords meltdown, blew up again.

    Filming an ad at about 11:30 P.M. Thursday, a camera operator was not able to find the one cut out of more than a dozen that was suitable and that fit in thirty seconds. The operator asked Wellstone to do another take, and he suddenly turned on the hapless operator, shouting, “Why are you doing this to me?” He stormed out of the studio. The...

    (pp. 273-292)

    As Boschwitz’s handlers began to test possible attacks against Wellstone during the campaign, they asked the people in one small focus group what they would think if they learned that Wellstone actually was “a socialist.”

    Campaign manager Tom Mason recalled that one elderly woman piped up: “Well, Rudy’s a socialist too. Have you ever seen him at the state fair? He’s open, he’s there for everybody.” Mason said that other people in the group, most of them highly educated professionals aged forty-five and over, nodded in agreement. Nobody pointed out the difference between “sociability” and “socialism.” The lesson Mason drew...

  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 293-293)