As a native Minnesotan who wrote a biography of two of the North Star State's most famous politicians, Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy, and who once worked for another, Walter Mondale, I obviously have a keen interest in the Minnesota political scene.
Humphrey, McCarthy and Mondale are among a bevy of figures who kept Minnesota in the national spotlight for nearly half a century, along with such luminaries as Orville Freeman, Warren Burger, Harry Blackmun, Bob Bergland, Paul Wellstone and Jesse Ventura, to name a few. But I can't remember a time when my home state has offered national political reporters as rich and varied a menu of compelling stories as it does today.
Start out with the fact that the Gopher State is about to send a man to Congress who will take the oath of office next January not by placing his right hand on a Bible but on the Koran. He is Democrat Keith Ellison, who is all but certain to become the first Muslim ever to serve in Congress as well as Minnesota's first black congressman, when voters from International Falls on the Canadian border to Blue Earth on the Iowa border go to the polls on Nov. 7.
Then there's the race for the U.S. Senate seat once held by the late antiwar icon McCarthy, whose insurgent candidacy in 1968 forced another Texan who had become embroiled in an unpopular war to step down as president.
It features Republican Congressman Mark Kennedy, one of President Bush's staunchest supporters, running against Democrat Amy Klobuchar, the driven daughter of a famous alcoholic father, who hopes to use her eight-year record as a local public prosecutor to become Minnesota's first elected woman senator (Humphrey's widow Muriel was appointed to serve out his term after he died in 1978.).
And there's one of this year's highest profile congressional races, made even more so by the Mark Foley Pagegate scandal. Democrat Patty Wetterling is running for Kennedy's seat against Republican State Sen. Michele Bachman and Ventura's Independence Party candidate John Binkowski. Wetterling's 11-year-old son was abducted 17 years ago this month by a masked man and has never been found, which is why she was chosen to deliver the Democratic response to President Bush last Saturday.
Finally, there's the gubernatorial race, in which popular Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty is running for a second term. Pawlenty, who has pushed for affordable prescription drugs from Canada and increased education funding while cracking down on meth dealers, sex offenders and illegal immigrants, looks almost an odds-on bet for reelection, and, if he is, may well become the latest of Minnesota's perennial vice-presidential candidates - along with the ambitious GOP Sen. Norm Coleman.
As a result, Minnesota is shaping up once again as one of the main battlegrounds of the 2006 mid-term elections, ready to fulfill author John Gunther's description in his 1948 book, "Inside U.S.A.," as "a state spectacularly varied, proud, handsome and progressive... It is a state pulled toward East and West both, and one always eager to turn the world upside down."