The dust is finally settling. The campaign is over. We have a “governor”-elect.
So what went wrong with the Emmer campaign?
We’ll come back to that. First, let’s talk about what went right. Emmer ran a campaign he can be proud of, to the extent that he, personally, never stooped to the Dayton campaign’s level of untruth and sleaze. He took the high road, and stayed there, without excepttion – even chiding Ed and I when we interviewed him at the State Fair for calling Dayton “the opposition”.
And the statewide GOP landslide in legislative elections showed that he was the right candidate for the times; the new conservative majority will, near as I can tell, be pushing an agenda not much unlike Emmer’s. I’m by no means ready to write off widespread fraud, personally – but that’s a battle for investigators and lawyers to gnosh out or, ideally, for the Legislature to interdict with sweeping electoral reform.
So what happened?
Drip Drip Drip: “Alliance For A Better Minnesota” was on the ground the afternoon Emmer won the nomination, first with a website and then a TV ad campaign that I spent the better part of six months debunking, one point after the next. It was the most toxic, sleazy third “third party” campaign in Minnesota history (paid for by the Dayton family and ex-family, it wasn’t “third party” at all) – and it hit paydirt with an ad campaign featuring a teary-eyed mother recounting her son’s death in an accident with a drunk driver. The woman then mentioned Emmer’s two 30-year-old alcohol-related driving convictions, and mouthed outrage that Emmer proposed legislation to “reduce punishments for drunk drivers”.
Mark Twain once said that a lie will go around the world while the truth is waiting in line for its morning latté. The corollary to that is that it takes seven seconds to tell an effective lie, and a couple of minutes to refute the lie – but the average political consumer’s attention span is about seven seconds. ABM lied – I busted them over and over , as did Channel 5 – but they were never held accountable for it.
Anecdotally? I heard from GOP activists all over the state that they heard from people whose only real impression of Emmer was that he was “a drunk driver”, throughout the summer.
Erin Haust at the Minnesota Examiner addressed the ad in her own post-mortem of the campaign in the MN Examiner:
The ad, and subsequent silence from the Emmer campaign to refute the claims, clearly negatively effected the election results. Keeping in mind local races resulted in the Minnesota House and Senate changing to Republican control for the first time in decades, the blame for losing at the top of the ticket must be placed squarely on the state party and the Emmer campaign for reasons other than just one ad.
True. But the response to the ad was a symptom of the next reason.
Can You Spare Me A Dime: One of the reasons Emmer didn’t respond to the ad, other than taking the high road, was that the campaign spent virtually nothing on advertising until after the primaries, and really nothing much until Labor Day. During the primaries, oddly enough, all three DFL candidates spent most of their ad money attacking Emmer – indeed, it’s kind of curious how in sync all three of them were before Dayton’s primary win. Very, very curious.
But I digress. Emmer didn’t respond. It was a matter of fiscal prudence; it also allowed ABM to frame the entire discussion. By the time Greater, Non-Republican Minnesota heard anything about Emmer, he was “the angry guy”, “the drunk driver” or, if the good guys were lucky, “Tom Who?” to a big chunk of Minnesota.
It made fiscal sense, but it meant the Emmer campaign was framed from the very beginning.
Emmer gambled, to a great extent, by not spending the rest of the campaign un-framing himself, but rather pushing his own, positive message and agenda. Had the election been held a month later, I bet it’d have worked.
But on November 2, there were 8,000 more Minnesotans (or maybe 2,000, with 6,000 stuffed ballots; we just don’t know) who were still drooling “G’huck, isn’t he the angry drunk guy” before walloping their kids while standing in line at the liquor store.
So close. So very, very close.
Antisocial: I’ve copped to it many times; I’m not primarily a social conservative. Oh, I’m anti-infanticide, and think that while there’s a case to be made for civil unions as a legal contract I believe marriage is religious and ergo none of the state’s business. I’ve said it not a few times; Emmer got my attention at the 2009 State Fair, when he said the election was about jobs and the economy, not gay marriage. And Emmer strenuously avoided social-conservative talk throughout the campaign – to the point where during the final debate at the Fitzgerald Theatre, when Gary Eichten pressed him to discuss whether he’d use the bully pulpit to curtail the “right” to infanticide.
In short, Emmer left social conservative issues on the table. Perhaps he’d assume that socialcons would read the fact that’s a Catholic guy with seven kids and draw all the conclusions they’d need to come to the polls and vote for him. When was the last time a pol overestimated the intelligence of the voting public?
There’s evidence that it was a mistake. A Laurence survey showed that gay marriage – or, rather, the idea that Dayton and Horner would use the courts or a DFL legislature to jam down gay marriage, like in Iowa – was a huge swing issue for voters. A bit of stupid anti-Catholic bigotry from the State DFL may have swung the SD40 race for Dan Hall. And I wouldn’t doubt that there are 10 Swarthy-Americans in Saint Cloud that were offended by this toxic DFL gaffe, just enough to put King Banaian into office.
And don’t forget Chip Cravaack, who ran a good jobs ‘n economics campaign, but did not allow the voters to forget that “pro-life” Jim Oberstar had betrayed his pro-life constituents by caving in to The One on providing infanticide via Obamacare.
Didn’t seem to harm him much.
From Out Of The Bag: The above might have been unforced “errors” – or maybe not errors at all. It’s hard to say, but it’s easy to be a Monday-Morning Quarterback. The fact is, other than the spending deficit and the early flub in handling the “Waiter Tips” teapot-tempest, Emmer ran a decent campaign. Indeed, watching the candidate debates – all 3,174 of them – it was hard to miss the fact that Dayton was a bumbling chanting-point-bot, and Horner was a slick, highly-polished talking-point-bot. Emmer cleaned the floor with both of them in every debate I saw (although I only saw like 400 of them).
But the media was in the bag for Dayton. Oh, the Strib endorsed Horner, but out in the streets, the media’s real agenda – anyone but Emmer, and please, please, we want a DFL governor after all these years, was loud and clear.
Haust catches part of it:
Dayton’s history of ties to socialist, progressive groups is far from secret. Dayton spokeswoman and Executive Director of Alliance for a Better Minnesota, Denise Cardinal, was a featured speaker alongside self-avowed communist and community organizer Van Jones at the America’s Future Now! conference last summer. They and other speakers demanded redistribution of wealth in the United States and discussed radical, revolutionary tactics to accomplish that end. Neither the state party nor the Emmer campaign made the connection between radicals like Cardinal and Van Jones and the Dayton campaign…Dayton’s campaign received millions of dollars from groups and individuals linked to socialists, progressives and communists. George Soros funded organizations like Democracy Alliance contributed heavily to his campaign. Soros himself is scheduled to co-host a fundraiser for Dayton in the coming week.
The Republican Party of Minnesota and the Emmer campaign failed to take advantage of the national media attention Dayton’s friends and allies were receiving during the campaign and throughout the recount.
True, perhaps – but it’s for sure that the state’s media didn’t go near any of it, either. Indeed, the media failed to report – or report meaningfully at any time between the endorsing process and the election – about Dayton’s…:
- mental health state.
- relapses – when, how recently, how severe, and why?
- quitting his job as economic development commissioner under Rudy Perpich
- closure of his DC Senate offices in 2005
- record as a New York “Teacher” – it was up to Sheila Kihne to find out that “the toughest job of his life” lasted sixteen months of working about 1/3 of the time until his draft status let up.
- Educational record – the University of Massachussetts at Amherst won’t say if he got his teaching certificate (or, indeed, whether he completed any course work at all) – which’d be an odd bit of history for someone who opposes alternative teacher licensing.
Oh, the bloggers investigated it all. And the mainstream political media – Rachel Stassen-Berger, Tom Scheck, Tim Pugmire, Bill Salisbury, Pat Doyle, Pat Kessler – studiously avoided touching any of the topics. (or, to be fair to Rachel Stassen-Berger, they avoided addressing them after January of 2010, long before anyone outside the wonk class was paying ahny attention to the election).
And after remembering the feeding frenzy the media went into over, say, Morgan Grams (the son of Rod Grams, Senator until 2000, whose estranged son got into legal trouble that drew slavering coverage from the Twin Cities media, even though Grams had had almost nothign to do with raising him after his divorce from Morgan’s mother…
…details of which we got the kind of detail that made everyone an expert in Rod Grams’ personal life.
So why didn’t Mark Dayton, the man who would be governor, the guy who has to try to un-flock a “6.2 billion dollar deficit”, warrant the same level of scrutiny?
Why do you think?
There are some lessons to learn here – and, hopefully, institutionalize. Because I have a hunch we’ll be running for an open seat again in four years.