Democrats hope to ride coattails

by Michelle Kibiger

In the past two months, Minnesota rallies featuring notable Democrats such as Vice President Al Gore, Candace Gingrich, Robert Redford and Gloria Steinem have promoted reestablishing Democratic control of Congress. On Monday, the Democratic party brought in the biggest gun of all.
Normally, President Clinton would not concentrate efforts in such a predominantly Democratic state as Minnesota. Because the Senate race is so close — nine points separate Wellstone and former Senator Rudy Boschwitz in recent polls — Clinton’s appearance was designed to build momentum in the last week of the campaign.
At the start of the current campaign cycle, Republicans targeted Wellstone’s seat as one they could regain from the Democrats. Steve Smith, a University political science professor, said that because the Republicans devoted so much time and money to early advertising campaigns, the Democrats were compelled to act.
“They lit a fire under the national Democrats,” Smith said.
As a result, the two most powerful figures in the Democratic party, President Clinton and Vice President Gore, have been taking time out of their own campaign schedules to make brief appearances in places where the races are tight. Monday was Clinton’s first appearance, but Gore has made two recent trips to Minnesota.
“What’s happened in the last two or three weeks,” Smith said, “is the president’s campaign has become sufficiently comfortable that they could afford to send him to spend time in Minnesota.”
Since most experts expect that Clinton has an easy lock on re-election, candidates in Senate and House elections are quickly grabbing at his coattails. At the same time, many Republicans have given up hope of winning the presidency, suggesting instead that voters should counterbalance a second Clinton administration with a Republican Congress.
“Presidential coattails have been smaller in the past couple of decades,” Smith said. Nevertheless, he said 1996 will be a good year for Democrats if Clinton wins by 10 points or more.
“For Clinton to come in and endorse Wellstone and get a lot of free publicity,” Smith said, “it has an effect of undermining Boschwitz’s claim that Wellstone is too liberal for Clinton to back him.”
As if to answer that claim, Clinton drew parallels between his own and Wellstone’s policy stances.
Clinton discussed his program to place 100,000 new police officers in U.S. communities, his literacy campaign, the AmeriCorps program and maintenance of a social and economic safety net for Americans. He even alluded to his wife Hillary’s book, which says that it takes a community to raise children.
After listing examples, Clinton mentioned Wellstone’s support of the various issues. However, he only gave passing mention to Wellstone’s initiatives addressing domestic abuse and mental health.
Nevertheless, people who attended the rally said they were satisfied with the content of the speech. Many of them said Clinton’s speech balanced his own and Wellstone’s qualifications well, saying that his references to important issues were clear and that he was right to keep his speech positive.
“I think that there is a lot of negative campaigning,” said Wellstone volunteer Anna Kronenberger, “which I have very little respect for, and I think, roughly, most people in the state have very little respect for.”
Erik Minge, son of Rep. David Minge, D-Minn., said he expected Clinton to attack Dole more in his speech but was pleasantly surprised when he only once mentioned Dole directly.
Wellstone volunteers working at the event said their main focus has been to raise voter enthusiasm in the final days of the campaign. Kerri Pearce Ruch, who works on Wellstone’s campaign, said Clinton “made very good references to the things Paul stands for. It was very positive.”
As they have at previous rallies, Wellstone volunteers were registering voters on site. Voter turnout is critical for Democrats in close elections because higher voter turnout has traditionally helped Democrats at the polls. Republicans are concerned about turnout, Smith said, because they fear the negative effect Dole’s poor showing might have. “Turnout is the biggest worry of the Republicans at this point,” he said. “For the president to be able to come here gives Wellstone’s get-out-the-vote campaign support.”