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Vaguely Amusing Politics

Tao Yue

Politics can be interesting to watch when you aren’t personally involved in the issues. Take, for example, this year’s Senate races.

Sure, the races are important. Very important for the nation, in fact. The Senate is so close that this election will decide who holds it. Doesn’t look like the Democrats can take the House this year, so this election also decides whether or not we end up with a Republican president, a Republican Congress, and a very conservative Supreme Court.

We’ll know the results in a week. If you care enough, you can either mourn the depths to which this nation has sunk or jump up and down in joy. But your vote can only count towards at most one Senate race. Why not take a tour of the other races going on, as a curious observer? And since we’re MIT students and many of us live under a rock, perhaps it’d be fun to look at it from the perspective of someone who knew a bit about politics ... back in high school. Then the race changes from one with the nation’s fate hanging in the balance, to one where familiar names and curious developments pop up.

Start with Minnesota, which has been in the news lately. So we all know that Walter Mondale has just stepped in to replace the late Paul Wellstone as the candidate on the ballot. Walter Mondale, of course, is best known (though not to our generation) for roundly defeating Bob Dole in the 1976 vice-presidential debates after Dole blamed the American wars of the twentieth century on Democratic presidents. Eight years later, he became the first major-party presidential candidate to choose a female running mate, and his “youth and inexperience” succumbed to a pointed Reagan quip. Ever since then, he hasn’t made much of a splash on the national scene. But politics has the strangest way of putting people back into the limelight, and here he is again.

Speaking of old-timers coming back to save their party’s chances in an election, in New Jersey the Democrats have taken the lead in the Senate race after trailing by double-digits. How? After scandals sunk the chances of incumbent Robert Torricelli, he dropped out of the race and former Senator Frank Lautenberg took his place. Lautenberg, a proven winner, kept one of New Jersey’s Senate seats Democratic for 18 years, then retired in 1998 after getting tired of the fundraising required to run a Senate race. Now he’s back raising money, putting some of his personal funds into the campaign, and winning easily. The polls turned around almost immediately after he stepped into the race. If anything, news stories about the election seemed to capture the whimsical notion that many New Jersey voters hadn’t noticed the switch and thought they were voting for Launteberg’s fourth or fifth term.

In New Hampshire, Republican Senator Bob Smith hasn’t given up after losing the primary to John Sununu -- he’s running a write-in campaign. Elizabeth Dole, once a shoo-in for the North Carolina seat, is now facing serious pressure.

And one state to the south, let us pause a minute as we examine the race, where neither of the candidates happens to be Strom Thurmond. Yes, indeed, Strom Thurmond, candidate for President in 1948 on the Dixiecrat ticket, oldest Republican in the Senate, third in line for the Presidency during much of Bill Clinton’s term, is finally retiring from the Senate. If we don’t start paying attention to politics soon, everything else we learned in high school won’t be true anymore.