MINNEAPOLIS -- It is not the best of times for Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, perversely casting himself in the perilous role of establishment Republican running for a third term in a state haunted by anti-insider, anti-incumbent furies.

Instead of voting against the budget package with its no-growth tax hikes as other Republican senators facing reelection challenges did, Boschwitz succumbed to George Bush's suasion. Then he rushed Bush and two other ranking Beltway insiders, Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole (Kan.) and Senior Budget Committee Republican Pete Domenici (N.M.), to campaign for him out here in the last week of the zaniest politics in Minnesota history.

Grinning like a lit-up pumpkin from his populist perch at this display of Boschwitz's seeming perversity is a true outsider: ultraliberal Democratic challenger and Carleton College professor Paul Wellstone. The race, now dead even, may produce a real stunner next Tuesday and send to the Senate a political science professor who was Jesse Jackson's 1988 presidential co-chairman here.

Boschwitz, who was a genuine outsider himself when first elected to the Senate in 1974, is also bewitched by a Republican Party whose gubernatorial nominee, Jon Grunseth, was forced by alleged sexual peccadillos to resign from the ticket only last week. That threw the divided party into a crisis.

Closing the circle of paradox and irony is the fact that Rep. Vin Weber, a conservative House Republican power and strong ideological backer of Grunseth, has now been tapped to save Boschwitz, even though the senator led the move to force Grunseth off the ticket. Boschwitz favored State Auditor Arne Carlson for governor, but Grunseth walloped Carlson in the primary.

"When I wrapped my arms around Grunseth {after the primary}, my polls dropped precipitously," Boschwitz told the editorial board of the Duluth News-Tribune Tuesday afternoon.

Yet now it is Grunseth's champion, Vin Weber, who has the unenviable job of wrapping his arms around Boschwitz to save his reelection campaign.

Wellstone's left-wing agenda, including national health insurance costing billions, may have had little to do with Rudy's fall. Boschwitz's own polls have shown that an astonishing 16 percent of the professor's support comes from voters who have never heard of him: Democrats and others determined to vote for anyone but the senator. Nightly tracking polls are showing wild swings of as much as 15 points from one day to the next.

That bodes ill for Boschwitz's dangerously late campaign to, as he told us, "define Wellstone." It started Wednesday with a Weber attack on the professor's health program. Boschwitz claims the multibillion-dollar program is only the precursor of "class warfare" that he says Wellstone embraces.

But "defining Wellstone" in a couple of days won't be easy. Besides, Boschwitz's own political debilities may diminish the impact of exposing Wellstone.

A student at the Duluth campus of the University of Minnesota asked Boschwitz to explain his embarrassing switch on the civil rights bill -- from early opposition to voting against Bush's veto. His flaccid answer outraged the student, who quietly reached into his pocket, extracted a Wellstone button and unobtrusively pinned it to his lapel. The student told us he is campus chairman for Carlson, now the GOP nominee for governor.

Boschwitz may also suffer cross-wind wreckage from the most bitter split in his party: the raging abortion battle between pro-life cultural conservatives, including Weber, who control the party, and cultural liberals of the old Republican school, like former state senator George Pillsbury, who are pro-choice.

With pro-life Grunseth replaced by pro-choice Carlson, tens of thousands of Republican voters in the anti-abortion camp are certain to vote for anti-abortion Democratic Gov. Rudy Perpich, running for reelection. That crossover may rob Boschwitz and the whole Republican ticket, even though Boschwitz is also pro-life.

"Rudy is off the wall with panic," a key Boschwitz operative told us. Putting the arm on Republican fat cats Tuesday, millionaire Boschwitz telephoned one major giver not once but twice, vainly pleading for money.

What the senator needs more than money is to reestablish his old identity as a battling anti-insider with enough self-confidence and imagination to exorcise those scorned and hated Beltway hobgoblins.