ST. PAUL U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone had just finished rousing
a crowd of 2,000 trade unionists, farmers, environmentalists and
students with a fiery condemnation of George W. Bushs free
trade policies, and now he had a problem. He couldnt get down
the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol here to join the march
protesting Bushs Free Trade Area of the Americas scheme.
Wellstone is just too popular with his constituents. He couldnt
move in the face of a steady stream of men in Teamsters jackets,
farm wives holding newborns, green-haired college kids and Catholic
priests approaching to offer variations on the words of a steelworker
who told Wellstone, "I am so damn proud to be able to say youre
Most of them also asked a question: "How come Bush hates you so
Let there be no doubt as to the identity of George W. Bushs
least favorite Democratic U.S. senator. Its Wellstone, the
rabble-rousing Progressive who represents not just Minnesota but
what remains of the fighting populist spirit of the Upper Midwest.
Elected in 1990 following a grass-roots campaign in which he toured
the state on a beat-up school bus, Wellstone was the No. 1 target
in 1996 for Republicans who thought the senator had doomed himself
with a lonely vote against punitive "welfare reform" legislation.
He won re-election with ease that year, proving to both the Republicans
and to their whimpering Democratic allies that bashing the poor
might not be nearly so smart a political move as Dick Morris thought.
As Wellstone prepares to seek a third term next year, it would
be reasonable to assume that he might finally be in for some smooth
political sailing. But reasonableness doesnt figure into the
calculations of the Bush White House, where the president himself,
Vice President Dick Cheney and political commissar Karl Rove practice
the politics of vengeance.
The Bushies despise Wellstone, who unlike most Senate Democrats
has been fighting spirited battles against the new administrations
policies on everything from the environment to the tax cuts for
the rich to military aid for the "Plan Colombia" drug war boondoggle.
Other Democratic senators who face re-election contests in 2002
are, according to polls, more vulnerable than Wellstone. But the
Bush camp has been focusing highest-level attention on "Plan Wellstone"
its project to silence progressive opposition.
Last Tuesday as Minnesota House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty was
just hours away from announcing his intention to mount a Republican
challenge to Wellstone, he got an urgent call from Rove asking him
to step aside for Bushs preferred candidate, St. Paul Mayor
Then, on Wednesday morning, with just 90 minutes to go before his
planned announcement, Pawlenty was driving his kids home from a
dental appointment. The car phone rang, and Pawlenty found himself
talking to Cheney. The vice president told Pawlenty that Bush did
not want Coleman a party-switching former Democrat who chaired
the losing Bush presidential campaign in Minnesota to face
a difficult primary contest from a credible Republican.
Pawlenty finally "agreed" to step aside.
Minnesota is not the only state where the Bush camp is seeking
to pick senators. But the level of involvement in the Wellstone
race is remarkable. Coleman dropped a planned gubernatorial bid
after two White House pressure sessions with Bush. And now that
Coleman is leaning toward a Senate race, Bush, Cheney and Rove are
pulling out all the stops to make sure they are in charge of the
Even Pawlenty, as he was proclaiming himself a "team player," admitted
that "it makes you wonder about the process and the integrity of
What does Wellstone say? "I think the way to oppose George W. Bush
is to stand up to him, to speak out when his policies are wrong,
to put holds on bad legislation hes promoting. Obviously,
thats not the sort of opposition Bush and Cheney approve of.
The nice thing is that, even if they can dictate the Republican
nominee, the people of Minnesota still get to choose their senator."
Copyright 2001 The Capital Times