Capulets and Montagues

My neighborhood is solidly Democrat. As I walked through it one autumn day two years ago, I made a point of counting lawn signs. On one half-hour walk, I saw eighteen Kerry signs and only one for Bush. I made virtually the same walk the other day, for the same purpose, but with a different result. There are a lot of signs around for Democratic candidates Hatch and Klobuchar. I didn’t see a single one for Pawlenty, and I saw only one for Alan Fine — the same number I saw for Keith Ellison.

Based on my unscientific survey, Independence Party congressional candidate Tammy Lee is going to win Kenwood. She’s got three planted on my route.

Oddly, one of them was in the same yard as signs for Klobuchar and Hatch. Klobuchar–Hatch… Lee. So, we have a loyal DFLer in a solidly DFL neighborhood who is supporting a third-party candidate. Even though this is Peter Hutchinson’s neighborhood, the only evidence of support for him I’ve seen is an orange bag of leaves printed with HUTCHINSON in the corner of one yard—his own.

What gives?

The argument one hears repeatedly against voting for a third-party candidate is that it’s a wasted vote. Sure, there are those who opine that no vote for a candidate you truly believe in is wasted, but I sometimes wonder if those who voted for Nader in 2000 ever regret their small role in the election of Bush.

Of course, Minnesota has recent experience in electing a third-party candidate. That was indeed a strange night in 1998. (I’m still waiting for someone to explain how Norm Coleman could get only thirty-four percent of the vote when running against Jesse Ventura but fifty percent when pitted against Fritz Mondale.) I’m pretty sure I understand, though, how Ventura beat Coleman and Skip Humphrey. Jesse was positioned perfectly by his ad campaign, but the most important factor in his election was that he represented the perfect storm of voter convergence. Each of his competitors was repugnant in his own way, so a vote for Jesse, even though nobody believed he would win, wasn’t truly a wasted vote. In the minds of most voters, it wouldn’t have made much difference which trite ideologue replaced the very likeable and moderate Arne Carlson, and given that ambivalence—and even indifference—Jesse seemed like a reasonable choice.

That perfect storm could be rising again in the Fifth District.

There is no danger of casting a “wasted vote” there. Alan Fine is mere political kibble being served up as this year’s Republican sacrifice to the DFL ogre. (His health-care position paper includes the startling suggestion that we should all exercise more and eat fruits and vegetables. We are also impressed that he can do sixteen pull-ups.) He has no chance to do anything other than try to smear other Democratic candidates by trying to drag them into the Keith Ellison mess.

The Fifth District is such a DFL stronghold, and Ellison—despite his well-publicized ability to screw up a two-person parade—is so far ahead that even if every evangelical Christian in the district voted for Fine twice, Ellison would still win.

But how many times have you heard your friends claim they are “socially liberal but fiscally conservative”? Just as often, probably, as you’ve heard them say they don’t want to throw away their vote on a third-party candidate, especially if it means there’s even the slightest chance they could be tipping the outcome in favor of an undesirable contender. They need not worry about that in the Fifth District. Fine is a nonfactor whose best tactic was to obediently salute the Republican commanders and call Ellison a Muslim.

I spoke to an Ellison supporter the other day who gleefully looked forward to sending “another message” to Congress, à la the one Minnesota sent with Paul Wellstone. “Wouldn’t it be great if Minnesota were the first state to elect a Muslim to Congress?” she said. In other words, the best endorsement of Ellison she could offer was to call him a Muslim, too.

However, for all those good Democrats who despise Fine, there are those who loathe the idea of replacing the avuncular Martin Sabo with the two-dimensional cardboard caricature of a liberal that is Ellison.

All the national polls reveal that Americans have an even lower opinion of Congress than they do of George W. Bush. Even so, we’re going to reelect most of the venal clowns anyway.

If Minnesota wants to send a real message to the nation, wouldn’t a stronger one be the election of Tammy Lee?

“A plague on both your houses” would make a good subject line.