From Wellstone to Franken: The Era of Gopher Goofiness

What happened to Minnesota—the stolid Nordic-and-German prairie republic, the mother of vice presidents, the place where Democrats were “Farmer-Labor” and seemed to mean it?  Lately, when it comes to statewide office, Sven and Ole have been serving up not their usual hotdish and egg coffee but an uncharacteristic booya of Slavs and Jews, Easterners and wrestlers.

That the menu had changed was obvious by 1990, in what we might call the Minnesota’s Rudy Awakening.  Iron Range dentist and Democratic-Farmer-Laborer Gov. Rudy Perpich was a relic of a day when a double prole—pro-life proletarian—could still rise to the top of his party.  He may be best remembered for an unsuccessful states’ rights lawsuit against the Reagan administration concerning the use of the National Guard abroad.  Another Rudy, Senator Boschwitz, who fled Nazi Berlin as a child, rose from a New York upbringing (the beginning of a Gopher State trend) to become the plywood king of the rapidly suburbanizing Upper Midwest.  That success and the direct-mail skills he acquired along the way carried him to Hubert Humphrey’s old seat as a Republican—or an “Independent-Republican,” as they were called in 1978.  He was, and is, a top fundraiser, who would soften his tough-guy pitches with a girlish smiley-face signature.

In 1990, Boschwitz was seeking his third term in...

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