Incumbents Likely to Survive Muddy Trip To Minnesota Polls

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

BESIEGED by nearly a month of mudslinging campaigns, many Minnesota voters will probably register their displeasure by staying away from the polls today, political analysts say. If this happens, the ``two Rudys'' may edge out their opponents in the governor's and US Senate races.

Election-eve polls show both Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) gubernatorial candidate Rudy Perpich and Independent-Republican (IR) Sen. Rudy Boschwitz with razor-thin leads.

Governor Perpich is seeking an unprecedented fourth term and Senator Boschwitz has been in the Senate for 12 years. But despite the close polls, political analysts here are quietly predicting that both candidates probably have enough entrenched supporters to tip the scales in their favor.

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Combined with a DFL majority in the statehouse and Legislature, a Perpich win would, political observers say, ensure that any state reapportionment would favor the Democrats.

Despite their slight underdog status, IR gubernatorial candidate Arne Carlson and DFL Senate hopeful Paul Wellstone were campaigning hard in their 11th-hour pushes to get out the vote.

Most observers blame former IR gubernatorial candidate Jon Grunseth for inadvertently aiding the incumbents. Mr. Grunseth dropped out of the campaign Oct. 28 following widely publicized allegations of sexual misconduct.

Local newspapers have made a point of saying that they were not disclosing other - possibly more serious - charges against Grunseth. The coverage by the local news media - especially that of the Star Tribune - has been criticized by some here for concentrating on the political race and all but ignoring the child-abuse angle.

Even so, the Republican Party has been hurt by the Grunseth candidacy. ``It's possible that the GOP has wounded itself so badly that it [the impact of the campaign] will stick with them for many years to come,'' says W. Phillips Shively, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. ``Many people in the state feel real revulsion.''

Political analysts here say the conservative wing of the GOP bears the blame for the Grunseth candidacy. Because his anti-abortion stand mirrored that of the GOP right-wingers, these conservatives did not bother to properly screen Grunseth, a public relations official for an environmental concern.

``It's the result of the [IR] party mechanism having been taken over by the religious right who were very intent on the anti-abortion issue and really had not much previous experience in political party activities,'' says former Gov. Elmer Andersen. Mr. Andersen added that the IR conservative wing is made up of ``one-issue people who are only concerned that a candidate be absolutely sound on the abortion issue.''

This wing of the party is now in a quandary whether to support pro-choice Carlson, or vote for Perpich, an anti-abortion Democrat. Some analysts suspect that an equal number of anti-abortion Republicans and pro-choice Democrats will jump party lines in the governor's race, and thus cancel out any effect such one-issue voters might have on the outcome of the election.

There is the consensus here that Perpich has worn out his welcome with many voters, much as is the case with many long-entrenched national and state officials across the country.

``With politicians who have been around as long as Perpich, people tend to remember their resentments better than their appreciations. The negatives accumulate and the positives fade in people's memories,'' Andersen says.

But despite widespread dissatisfaction of many voters toward Perpich, political insiders say it will be difficult for Carlson to sufficiently distance himself from a party in disarray. ``Carlson's only chance is to paint himself not as a Republican, but as the outsider candidate riding in on a white horse to rescue his party,'' says D. J. Leary, editor of the newsletter Politics in Minnesota.

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