Saturday, October 30, 2010

Nothing Else Matters

An article in today's Wall Street Journal on the unexpectedly close battle in Minnesota's Eighth District titled Neophyte Puts Veteran on the Defensive shows Mr. Oberstar still in the early stages of the grief that may come his way on Tuesday:

Rep. Jim Oberstar, an 18-term Democrat from Minnesota's Iron Range, has won every one of his congressional races by at least 25 points.

But just days before the election in this decidedly anti-establishment year, Mr. Oberstar, 76 years old, finds himself uncharacteristically on the defensive.

He lost the endorsement of the Duluth News Tribune, the largest newspaper in his district. He faced boos and shouts at a debate with his opponent this month. He even felt compelled to run the first attack ad of his long career.

"He's gotten imperious," said Ken McKenna, a resident of Duluth and former supporter of Mr. Oberstar. "He thinks he's so powerful it doesn't matter anymore what he did or didn't do back home. Well, it matters."

That's one of the best summaries of Oberstar's career that I've yet seen. And it does not bode will for the incumbent when former supporters of his are voicing it and praising his opponent Chip Cravaack:

Mr. McKenna, the former Oberstar supporter, agreed. "He seems like a sensible fellow and he's opposed to big spending," said the 74-year-old retired energy-industry worker.

Calling a politician a "sensible fellow" is a ringing endorsement in the Eighth District. Yet Oberstar seems unwilling or unable to acknowledge the perilous position he appears to be in:

Mr. Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is not backing off his support of the health-care law. In a telephone interview, he called it "well received throughout my district."

Which explains the laughter and boos from the audience when Oberstar touted Obamacare at a recent debate. Sounds like he needs to get out a bit more.

He is also campaigning on the Obama administration's "cash for clunkers" program, which he said enabled auto dealers across the U.S. to clear nearly 700,000 cars from inventories. That, he said, lifted the mining industry in the Iron Range, leading to jobs in the steel mills and ports.

"It's a circle that has fed on itself and it has produced a fairly stable outlook," he said. Unemployment in Iron Range mining communities has dropped to below 10% from 18% two years ago.

Mr. Oberstar has also criticized Mr. Cravaack for touting Malaysia's streamlined business culture as a model for the U.S. His attack ad slams Malaysia's weak regulations for bringing about deforestation and a poor environment for workers.

"Things are good," Mr. Oberstar said of the election. "The only real difference this year is that there is a little more energy among the really hard-core conservatives."

Remain calm. All is well. Nothing to see here except a "little more energy" from that small group of "really hard-core conservatives." The SS Oberstar is steaming toward inevitable victory and the voters of the Eighth District overwhelming love their glorious Congressional leader.

Oberstar's attitude is a mixture of denial and unbridled arrogance. You might even call it "imperious."

I'm still skeptical that Oberstar will go down on Tuesday. But if there's one race that would signal the extent of the conservative resurgence and the desire among voters for a drastic change to the status quo, it's the one in Minnesota's Eighth District. If the GOP wave does indeed swamp Oberstar, one of the sweeter aspects of his defeat will be that he will never have known what hit him.