The Invisible Primary heads for it’s
exciting dramatic interesting necessary conclusion.
There have been no polling updates. No shocking endorsements. No conflicts. A candidate ended up in the hospital…due to an ulcer.
The slouch towards the Minnesota GOP choosing a candidate to go up against Gov. Mark Dayton will end in the next two weeks, and perhaps finally usher in some interest in what has proven to be a deadly dull campaign cycle thus far. So how can the four major contenders to be the GOP nominee win on August 12th?
Businessman Scott Honour
Why He’ll Win: In the words of Jimmy Buffett, Honour has spending money – money to burn. Having raised more money than any other candidate running for governor, including Mark Dayton, Honour has the highest cash on hand of the GOP field in the primary’s closing weeks. While those figures are highly inflated by his self-contributions totaling over $900,000, Honour has demonstrated the ability and willingness to spend freely – a desirable quality when third party interest groups have raised $11 million (most of it for Democrats) for the cycle…
Why He’ll Lose: …but have you seen how he’s spending it?
Zzz…huh? Oh, it’s over?
Honour may be playing on his “outsider” credentials, but he’s running the most “insider” looking campaign of the four major Republicans in the race. His advertising hasn’t been unique, either in terms of style or substance, nor particularly plentiful for a man whose raised $1.7 million. Even a sympathetic profile of his candidacy suggest he “hasn’t run a highly visible campaign.” That’s not surprising given Honour’s massive payments to consultants. Long-time GOP consultants Pat Shortridge and Shanna Woodbury have combined to cost Honour’s campaign almost $270,000. Considering the last polls on the race showed him in 4th place, Honour may wonder what exactly he paid them for.
Former Speaker Kurt Zellers
Why He’ll Win: Give the former Minnesota House Speaker credit – he’s taken what should be a huge vulnerability (his uneven performance as Speaker) and leveraged it about as well as he could into a narrative of his opposition to Mark Dayton. Granted, Zellers’ narrative ends in 2011, when the legislature forced Dayton to end the government shutdown on their terms, and leaves out the messy details such as the controversial constitutional amendments or the Vikings’ stadium debate debacle.
Much like his TV ad, Zellers is doing nothing wrong, even if he’s not excelling at doing anything right. His branding isn’t unique, but it’s on message. His no new tax pledge may be an albatross in the general election, but he’s running to win the primary. He doesn’t have the greatest amount of cash on hand or legislative endorsements, but he’s second in both those categories. Plus, he’s been either in the lead or tied for it in most polling (what little has been done).
Why He’ll Lose: A low turnout election, which this race is shaping up to be, isn’t great news for a man whose reasonably high name ID comes from a poor performance as Speaker. Zellers has never been adored by the GOP rank and file, and his advertising isn’t abundant enough to necessarily undo memories of 2012 and a lost House majority. The real question may be if Zellers has invested his limited resources into a get-out-the-vote (GOTV) organization or not – a likely better use of money than TV or radio advertising. Zellers may win in a divided field where just enough Republicans vaguely remember his name without his political baggage, but that’s not a great winning strategy.
Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson
Why He’ll Win: The nearly 20 Minnesota GOP Victory Centers. Neither Johnson nor the State GOP may have bountiful resources to contribute to the primary, but the endorsement process still has some value in the form of thousands of dutiful volunteers making GOTV phone calls. And while that sort of internal support hasn’t been as consistent as it once would have been for an endorsed candidate (see the 8th Congressional District’s pushback, for example), it’s been more the exception than the rule thus far.
Despite being the endorsed candidate, Johnson’s advertising (what little there is of it) has leaned more on quirk than his endorsement (Scott Honour could have learned something here). Given the state’s penchant for electing candidates with memorable advertising (Paul Wellstone/Jesse Ventura), the tactic is likely a wise one. And with an independent expenditure group also running TV ads on his behalf, Johnson looks less likely to get buried in a last minute blizzard of ad revenue.
Why He’ll Lose: Johnson’s week off the campaign trail to deal with surgery for an ulcer is the least of his concerns; especially as his campaign took kudos for their handling of the situation. The problem is that Johnson’s health was the most campaign coverage he’s received since the endorsement battle.
Nor has Johnson exactly leveraged his endorsement well. Only 44 current and former legislators have endorsed his candidacy. Rep. Erik Paulsen throw his support behind Johnson, but there’s little sense that the GOP powers-that-be are overly willing to spend political capital to ensure Johnson wins in August. Even Johnson himself acknowledged a “wait and see” approach from at least the donor class. If that attitude exists with the average activist, Johnson could certainly lose.
Former Rep. Marty Seifert
Why He’ll Win: He’s a “maverick.” He’s courting voters in the rural regions of the State. He’s completely unapologetic about his parliamentary maneuver at the State GOP Convention…wait, I’m writing about why he’ll win.
The former House Minority Leader certainly has some name ID with GOP activists, having won both the 2010 and 2014 caucus straw polls. And despite all the attention being paid to the endorsement tiff, relatively few primary voters will have really heard about it, and even fewer will understand what the angst is about. What voters in outstate Minnesota will hear is a consistent message targeted to rural issues, as Seifert has furiously toured the non-metro sections of the state. The result should likely be Seifert dominating in districts like the 1st, 7th and 8th Congressional…
Why He’ll Lose: …but those districts don’t comprise nearly enough voters to win, especially if Seifert under-performs in the Metro. Despite being the first GOP candidate to air a TV ad, the buy was small and not really focused on the Metro.
Nor does he have the resources to likely compete. Seifert has raised the least amount of money of the four major candidates and has the smallest amount of cash still on hand – $71,000. His totals aren’t massively different than Jeff Johnson’s, but Johnson has the party apparatus and an independent expenditure group to provide support. Seifert’s ground game is totally up to him to fund.
While the resentment from Seifert’s endorsement exit may be hard for non-politicos to fully understand (or care about), it doesn’t help that in a race that’s been defined by the lack of conflict, Seifert’s candidacy is the only one having any significant anger directed towards it. Under the old, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” rule, some primary voters – even those who may not understand the anger – may simply steer clear of Seifert based on the reaction his candidacy causes among others. If Seifert had a well-funded ad campaign, it’s highly doubtful such anger among a small, but vocal, minority would impact the race. In the absence of a strong counter-message (in particular in the media-heavy metro), Seifert’s candidacy looks like an outlier with segments of the base.