John Ashcroft’s buddy, defeated US Senator Rod Gram, announced yesterday that he’s been thinking about running against Congressman Jim Oberstar for a couple months. DFL pundit, Wy Spano, dismisses Gram’s chances. Spano says the DFL history and the bad political year Republicans are having both doom Grams. Wy is half wrong. While this is a terrible year to be running as a Republican the 8th District ain’t what it used to be. I had no idea that Grams even lived in the District. He didn’t when he ran for Congress 15 years ago. He was badly stung by his defeat to millionaire Mark Dayton. Compounding that injury, the state GOP (directed in large part by Dick Cheney and the national Republicans) killed his attempt to resurrect his Senate career in favor of the new Republican darling, St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman. (The old Mayor that is, Norm, who is now a Republican not the new St. Paul Mayor, Chris Coleman, who is a DFLer) My guess is that after that embarrassment Rod immediately focused his thwarted ambition on the Eighth District. Had the Bush Administration not tanked over the last year Grams would be in an excellent position to dump Oberstar.
Here’s why. Oberstar is a leaden politician. He’s only faced two tough elections and they were thirty years ago. He’s chicken. He will be prone to panic and that makes for losing campaigns. When I ran against him as an independent candidate in 1992 he agreed to debate me and the Republican nominee at WDIO TV but later claimed he’d never agreed to do it. Of course, it could be argued that he was simply refusing to give his challengers any press attention and that is partly true. But it’s my intuition after watching him closely for three decades that his strength is as a backroom player. He gives plenty of canned speeches before small friendly audiences but he’s never expected to say much and doesn’t. I believe that the prospect of a face-to-face debate will unnerve him. The old 8th District that Spano remembers was dominated by the Iron Range with Duluth a poor second. In fact, Oberstar’s initial election was partly a rebellion against the Range by Duluth DFLers who supported Oberstar in preference to the Iron Range’s dominant political family the Perpich’s.
Duluth is the center of the new 8th District as it was to old 8th District but its population has shrunk. The Iron Range’s population has declined even more steeply. In the past three apportionments, the swing counties of Cass and Crow Wing have been added to the Eighth. To the South exurban counties which are marginally Republican have been growing in population. That’s where Gram’s lives. Oberstar is a familiar but remote name. His greatest glory is the Northwest Air base but that happened a long time ago and with the closing of the Airbus maintenance facilities in Duluth nothing to crow about. Grams on the other hand has the luster of having been a Senator, something which Oberstar once aspired to but was denied by the DFL. Grams will be able to use this resume to raise more money than Oberstar ever had to raise. Now that the GOP is desperate to retain control of Congress they will throw more money to Grams than this Congressional District has ever seen. Democrats will match that spending. In the end the only thing that will save the colorless Oberstar is the desire of Americans to take Bush’s lapdog Republican Congress away from him. By the way, Grams made lots of friends from the Iron Range all the way up to Canada while he was Senator. Some Iron Rangers would probably even be glad to teach Oberstar a lesson for besting the Perpich’s all those years ago. It’s called Iron Range Alzheimer’s. That’s what happens when you forget everything but your grudges.
I’ve been out of the GOP loop for so long I had no idea this was possible. Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.