Alternate reality in the State of Superior: Election 2010

This is the first of an occasional series exploring the people and times of an alternate reality. In this world, the areas today known as northern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula joined together as the Lake Superior Territory in 1848 and became the State of Superior in 1866. With vast mineral and timber reserves, legal gambling, but a sketchy economy, this state endures in a uniquely populist, inexplicable political environment. Feel free to make your own comparisons to three current Congressional districts receiving attention in this upcoming election — MI-01, WI-07 and MN-08.

Tea Party darling sees lead shrink in Superior-02 congressional race

By Aaron Brownanen
The Duluth Steel Frigate and Capitol Report

Republican Luke Korpi’s choice of words in his Oct. 11 debate with incumbent Democratic Rep. Earl Blochtar may have cost him his comfortable lead, according to a new poll.

Superior State University’s Victor Power School of Political Science released results of a survey showing Korpi ahead 43 percent to Blochtar’s 42, within the margin of error. Korpi has led the venerable Blochtar by double digits for more than five months.

In the recent debate, Korpi drew criticism for his use of the word “bohunks” to describe Blochtar’s prodigious support in the state’s storied eastern European civic group, the Bearhearts. While the word is considered an accepted noun and adjective among the descendants of Eastern European immigrants it is frowned upon when used by descendants of Finnish immigrants like Korpi.

Korpi surged into this race with support from the national Tea Party movement and the backing of the controversial Black Finn caucus of the Superior Republican Party early this year. He is the mayor of Gilbert, a popular gambling and vacation center, where he wrested control of the city government from the Red Finn caucus of the Superior Democratic-Miner-Lumberjack Party.

“Tensions between the Finns and Eastern Europeans had eased quite a bit but it doesn’t take much to bring them back to the forefront,” said Robert Zimmerman, political scientist with the Superior State polling outfit. “At least he didn’t say anything about the Italians. That’s how things really get out of hand around here.”

The immigrant history of Superior plays heavily into this drama. Finnish immigrants were instrumental to the early labor and political organization of the state, seizing power from East Coast industrial syndicates in the early 1900s. However, since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, Finns have been divided between the Red — early socialist or liberal Finnish organizers — and the Black — social and fiscal conservatives.

“The term ‘Black Finn’ comes from how early conservative Finns were considered the black sheep of their families,” said Zimmerman. “The rest of the Finns are pretty much all Red.”

Korpi and Blochtar both attempted to seize the narrative after the gaffe and recent polling numbers.

“This controversy is being manufactured by tired old liberals like my opponent and a media elite that would have us turn this state over to radical environmentalists,” said Korpi. “The important thing is that we cut taxes and keep casino dogfighting legal.”

Blochtar, an 18-year incumbent from the rail center of Proctor, wasn’t letting up.

“This is the kind of divisive rhetoric that the people of Superior don’t need,” said Blochtar, flanked by leadership from the DML Red Finn and Bearheart caucuses. “This is not Lebanon. This is not Ireland. We can all work together to keep Superior great and the mining of cadmium from the bottom of Lake Superior clean and efficient.”

Both candidates have been touring the state in long, tubular campaign buses composed entirely of state-subsidized wood products, though the comparative size of the competing vehicles remains in dispute.

Superior’s other congressional district, SU-01, is largely contained within the capitol city of Duluth where Democratic incumbent Rep. Jodie Foster is widely expected to retain her seat against perennial candidate Ken Beuhler.

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