Man Without Qualities

Sunday, October 27, 2002

Does Jean Carnahan = Walter Mondale?

Some political pundits are suggesting that whichever person is selected by the Democrats to replace Paul Wellstone - a replacement now widely expected to be Walter Mondale - will benefit from a sympathy vote similar to the one that put Jean Carnahan in the Senate after her husband died in his plane accident.

I do not believe that is likely if the substitute is Walter Mondale. Mr. Mondale may be capable of winning, but he will have to run and win as Walter Mondale, not Paul Wellstones's doppleganger.

Jean Carnahan's name never appeared on the ballot - only her deceased husband's name appeared. She had no independent political identity. She was exactly her husband's wife. The then-governor of Missouri announced he would appoint her if her husband "won" the election, which caused the Democratic vote to rise, and the governor then made the appointment as he promised. In the most direct possible way, Jean Carnahan was utterly identified with her husband, and never ran as her own person. She was never a candidate in reality or emotional effect. Voters quite literally voted for her husband and his memory, since his was the name on the ballot.

In contrast, if Walter Mondale is selected to replace Paul Wellstone, a vote for Walter Mondale will be exactly that - a vote for Walter Mondale, a person whose name will appear on the ballot but who has not been active in Minnesota politics since he left it in 1976 to run as Jimmy Carter's Vice President.

It would be a stretch for many voters to think that they are somehow voting for Paul Wellstone or his memory when they are asked to pull a Mondale lever. In that sense, the Democrats may be losing the sympathy vote by selecting someone with a well-know political name.

It would be interesting to see a good poll.

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