Minnesota free-for-all

By Hugh Hewitt

This week’s conventional wisdom from elite opinion-makers comes in three parts.

The Beltway talkers have generally agreed that Walter Mondale will beat Norm Coleman in Minnesota’s Senate contest, that there is an anti-incumbency tide flowing, and that there is no overriding issue at work in this year’s vote.

Anyone not from Minnesota who presumes to predict Minnesota voting behavior is talking through his or her hat. It is the oddest state in the union when it comes to politics, and the e-mails that have been arriving from my sources there agree only that winter is coming.

I am watching two blogs for the latest on the race: Power Line for the news and analysis and Lileks for the feel. While 90 percent of the electorate is probably right where they were before Paul Wellstone’s death, the 10 percent could move in many, many directions – and anyone who presumes confidently to predict which way the north wind is blowing is no one to listen to.

The selection of Walter Mondale does, however, have implications for the other two bits of prevailing sagacity.

Confronted for the second time in a month with the need to produce a candidate from the bench, the Democrats have again selected a WOWM – a wealthy, old white male. So much for the African-Americans, the feminists, the gays, lesbians and transgendered, and the near-Greens. When the going gets tough for the Dems, they go for the monied men who fit comfortably into the D.C. power elite.

Which tells us that there is no “anti-incumbency” theme at all out there – just confusion among pundits as to what is going on. If tried and tired retreads can work in New Jersey and Minnesota, then incumbents everywhere don’t have to beware a demand for new faces.

The Mondale selection also tells us about the Democrats’ policy bankruptcy: There are no new faces among the Democrats because there are no new ideas within the party caucuses. The Democratic Party is just plain out of gas. Not running on empty, but empty. Which bodes very badly indeed for Democrats in the out-years.

The story of the election of 2002 is already written no matter whether the president leads the GOP to a recapture of the Senate or if it remains narrowly in Democratic hands: George W. Bush is poised to become the president with the most success in his first off-year challenge since FDR.

This election is clearly a referendum on George W. Bush under circumstances that make that issue very clear indeed. Bush is all over the country running side by side with his candidates. Every speech he gives asks for the return of a Republican House and the election of GOP senators. He wants his agenda to move forward. The public gets it, and a decision will be made whether the public trusts Bush. If it doesn’t, the House will revert to Democratic control and the Senate Democratic margin will widen greatly. A vote for the status quo or modest gains for the president will represent a historic vote of confidence in his handling of the war on terror and his demands on Iraq.

Even three months ago, the Democrats were predicting massive gains in the House, and last week Terry McAuliffe (has there ever been a worse leader of the Democratic National Committee?) was chortling about taking down Jeb Bush. Where did those predictions and that talk go? Into a file marked “Underestimating W.” It is in there with Ann Richards’ notes and Al Gore’s debate prep.