Minnesota Primaries Set Up Rematch For Wellstone, Boschwitz
By Juliana Gruenwald
September 24, 1996
Former Republican Sen. Rudy Boschwitz secured Sept. 10 the rematch he had been waiting for against Minnesota's Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone, the upstart challenger who caused Boschwitz to be the lone incumbent senator defeated in 1990.
Both Boschwitz and Wellstone soundly defeated several opponents in their respective primaries, setting up the long anticipated second round of their rivalry. Wellstone, then a college professor running a quixotic campaign, won the 1990 round by just 2 percentage points when intraparty squabbling weakened the state GOP.
Wellstone's first term has had its highs and lows in the eyes of Minnesota voters. But he has mounted a stronger re- election campaign than his detractors had expected, and he has run even or better with Boschwitz in independent polls this year.
The Democrat faced three challengers Sept. 10, none of whom had a competitive campaign apparatus, and emerged with 86 percent of the primary vote. Boschwitz took 81 percent of the vote against four other Republicans. The best known of the four, former State Commerce Commissioner Bert McKasy, got 6 percent despite having dropped out of the race in late July.
McKasy had once been a more serious rival for the nomination and had the backing of the party's most conservative activists. But his strategy counted on receiving the endorsement of the state party's convention in June. Boschwitz proved to be stronger among the state delegates than expected, however, and after taking several ballots the convention decided not to endorse either candidate in the primary.
The only other congressional primary on the ballot was a Republican contest in the Minneapolis-based 5th District. Jack Uldrich, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Grocers Association who had the endorsement of the state Republican Party, easily defeated businessman Chris Flynn. Uldrich captured 63 percent of the vote.
Uldrich is a self-described moderate Republican who supports abortion rights, gay rights and reductions in military spending. He is seen as a long shot against veteran Democratic Rep. Martin Olav Sabo, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, in a district with a strong Democratic tradition. Sabo was unopposed for his own nomination.
Minnesota's seven other House incumbents - Republicans Gil Gutknecht and Jim Ramstad and Democrats David Minge, Bruce F. Vento, William P. "Bill" Luther, Collin C. Peterson and James L. Oberstar - all ran unopposed in the primary, as did their respective challengers.
Both Senate candidates viewed their primaries as a formality and have been running general election campaigns for some time.
"The primary was pretty much a non-existent part of their campaigns," said Steven S. Smith, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota.
The post-primary race appears to begin as nearly a dead heat and could end up as close as their 1990 race, which Wellstone won with 50 percent of the vote (a third party candidate received about 2 percentage points).
A poll conducted Sept. 3-8 for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and WCCO-TV and published the day after the primary showed Wellstone at 43 percent and Boschwitz with 42 percent, after a July survey showed the incumbent up by 8 percentage points.
Another poll done by the St. Paul Pioneer Press in September showed Wellstone with a slightly wider advantage.
"It is obviously a close race," Smith said. Both candidates are "starting even and both have similar name recognition."
Boschwitz has been aided for several months by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), which has been running a barrage of television ads attacking Wellstone as an extreme liberal. One of the NRSC's latest ads is critical of Wellstone for voting against welfare overhaul legislation signed into law Aug. 22. Boschwitz has described Wellstone as "a disgrace and an embarrassment to the people of Minnesota" for voting against the welfare legislation.
Wellstone is defending his vote against the welfare legislation in a new television ad. In the ad, he said he voted against the bill because he believes it "will put 1 million more children into poverty."
The ad also has Wellstone saying: "That vote may hurt my re- election, but my parents taught me to stand up for what I believe, regardless of the consequences."
Boschwitz's camp also says it will focus on spending and tax issues, noting in particular Wellstone's vote in 1993 for President Clinton's budget package, which included tax increases to help reduce the deficit, as well as his opposition to a balanced-budget amendment.
Wellstone's camp said it is no surprise that the race is close given the ads that have been aimed at the incumbent. But Wellstone campaign spokeswoman Linda Marson notes that they have only recently begun their media campaign, while the Republicans have been running ads for months.
Wellstone's most recent report with the Federal Election Commission showed he had more than $1.1 million in the bank as of Aug. 21. Boschwitz had more than $800,000 in cash on hand as of the same date.
Wellstone is touting himself as a protector of working families, children and senior citizens, noting his opposition to the GOP's proposal to reduce future growth in spending on Medicare and support for an increase in the minimum wage. He also has criticized Boschwitz for taking money from tobacco interests and for backing a cut in the capital gains tax, which Wellstone says is aimed at helping the wealthy.
Copyright © 1996, Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.
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