Brad Carlson and I were on the air until 11 last night. And I’m happy to see the MNGOP has finally learned to do elections for radio; the final call on the gubernatorial race came 5-10 minutes before we went off the air. Couldn’t have timed it better myself.
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.
The electorate hits the snooze button on the Minnesota Republican gubernatorial primary.
It’s been 20 years since the Minnesota GOP had a competitive primary for, well, anything. And with just over a month to go before voters chose Gov. Mark Dayton’s general election opponent, that rust is showing.
Whether it’s the airwaves, newspapers, or even political blogs, interest/coverage in the GOP primary has been as invigorating as an Ambien with a warm milk chaser. What little polling on the race has been done bares out that fact, with 22% having no opinion of the four main candidates running, and 33% either undecided or choosing none of the above.
The result isn’t surprising. Of the four major candidates, only businessman Scott Honour is running any sort of campaign advertising – a modest radio ad buy hitting Dayton on his handling of MnSure. But having blown through the better part of $1 million on infrastructure and staff, Honour has been reduced to recycling his material. The nearly exact same ad ran in May.
The rest of the field isn’t exactly making news, either. Kurt Zellers’ campaign seems to exist solely by press release, with few direct campaign actions. Marty Seifert’s endorsement by former Governor Al Quie is the campaign’s biggest story to date, as Seifert seems intent on winning the primary by eschewing the state’s major media markets to focus on outstate voters. Jeff Johnson’s endorsement by Rep. Erik Paulsen carries some weight, but largely seems to reinforce that most of the state’s Republican endorsers are staying out of the fight.
Last Friday, TPT’s Almanac hosted the first debate between the Republican candidates for governor since the Republican Party of Minnesota’s state convention in Rochester…I watched it three times this week, looking for some spark of energy, some sign of life in the Republican race for governor. I found none, as it was a non-event.
I reviewed Twitter, expecting to see a flury of public jockeying by the campaigns or their supporters. Nothing.
No press releases were sent out by the campaigns after the debate, boasting about the performance of their candidate. Nobody claimed victory, nobody really said anything. There were no debate parties, where supporters of a candidate gather to watch the event.It is almost like the debate didn’t happen.
Avoiding the traditional circular firing squad may be the prudent choice, but against the backdrop of such a vanilla campaign, one has to wonder how any of the four candidates expect to even reach November.
Most assuredly, August 2014 will not resemble the August of 2010 as Mark Dayton and Matt Entenza spent wildly, with Margaret Anderson Kelliher doing her best to keep up via her organization. Indeed, the question of 2014 may be what candidate (if any) can create the organization necessary to match the GOP’s GOTV efforts on behalf of Jeff Johnson. The endorsement may no longer carry the same monetary value, but the organizational value of numerous BPOUs making phone calls definitely has a price-tag for those seeking to replicate the effort. In a low-intensity, likely low-turnout field, the GOP’s GOTV efforts will likely prevail.
The GOP’s greater challenge may be to have a nominee that’s prepared to contend after August. A GOP candidate having won by a minimal amount, and armed with a poor campaign account – as would likely be the case for three out of the four candidates – isn’t in the best position to challenge Mark Dayton.
ADDENDUM: Marty Seifert may slightly regret getting former Gov. Al Quie’s backing, given Quie’s decision to now also support US Senate long-shot Jim Abeler. Nor does it likely help that the Star Tribune is reminding readers that Quie also backed Tom Horner four years ago.
When it comes to politics, Corey Sax is a little like Jesse Ventura.
He makes a a lot of noise. No, more noise than that. Think “professional wrestler”-level noise, only in writing. Some of those noises are vaguely libertarian, mixed in among a lot of self-promotion and background noise 
And like Ventura, once in a while he gets something right. As in this piece from about a week back on the aftermath of the GOP State Convention:
[During the convention] something dawned on me. The “Liberty vs Establishment” battle wasn’t as monochrome as some “old guard” activists have painted it. I have often confused some of these “old guard” folks as the establishment themselves, and discrediting and insulting the establishment in the process.
Concealed within the “establishment” (that I found myself hilariously lumped into in 2012) are a lot of people with a lot of very diverse beliefs. Some – like me – are libertarians who developed pragmatic streaks; some are pragmatists who discovered the importance of liberty. Virtually all of the GOP are people who appreciate liberty – religious freedom, the right to keep and bear arms, due process, enumerated powers – on some level.
For all of their “New Guard” rhetoric, the Ron Paul clique in 2008 and especially 2012 used one very “establishment” tactic, straight out of Saul Alinsky; the good “us” framed the “Establishment” as the bad “them” (and yes, it went both ways), blustering past the observation Sax just made.
And no, I’m not picking on “Paulbots”; the pro-lifers did the same thing when they rose to control the party; I sat through more than one convention in the late ’90’s and early 2000s where it was made clear that 99% agreement was no better than 100% disagreement with the pro-life agenda.
The pro-lifers eventually developed a pragmatic streak, too.
Which brings us to Sax’s next observation:
The results of the state convention brought us an establishment Senate candidate with an unlimited fundraising channel who needs an activist base to execute his campaign and a well respected gubanatorial [sic] candidate that draws support from all of the factions within the MNGOP. Jeff Johnson can bring credibility to Mike McFadden in return for campaign cash and suppport. The real winner of the State convention was Keith Downey. He painlessly united the party under a set of candidates that can win without alienating any of the factions. I’m impressed with this remarkable gamesmanship.
Downey did a great job – but then, so did the party’s activists. The crowd in Rochester was pretty no-nonsense this time around; they seemed, as a group, to be much more focused on winning elections than preserving or realigning the party’s status quo than 2012’s tense, fractious festivities in Saint Cloud.
The best move for liberty activists within the MNGOP is to decide whether or not they can get onboard and to field other candidates in other races and to really build alliances with establishment types like McFadden. The liberty movement could use more resources to win more races and advance our agenda. We could use more people like David Fitzsimmons and Branden Petersen, and they have shown that such an approach can be successfull. I think it is clear that the real establishment wants to win, but they also realize that the MNGOP has to move in a more libertarian direction, but not by alienating older and more socially conservative activists. Liberty activists are in a great position to build momentum for a Rand Paul 2016 run.
For all the theatrics of the “hard-core” of the “Ron Paul” clique from 2012 – some of whom are off dabbling with one pseudo-libertarian sideshow or another – Sax notes that the Liberty movement has built itself a decent springboard within the party for bigger and better things and greater influence. The presence, and influence, of the likes of Senator Branden Peterson should tell you that the efforts are going somewhere. And last night’s upset loss by Majority Leader Cantor should tell you that there’s an audience.
It’s taking longer than some of the 2012 wave thought it would – that movement was far too focused on magical solutions and personality cultism, both of which are a lot more fun than, well, politics. Because here’s the dirty little secret; politics sucks. The process of getting people elected to office is the most niggling, passive-aggressive ordeal known to humanity that doesn’t involve involuntary captivity.
And the worst thing about it? The alternative to participating in the whole toxic mess is turning it – and its big reward, control of the state’s monopoly of power, especially power overyou and me- over to people who are much, much worse than us.
And, like it or not, those really are the only choices.
 I’m talking about the public persona he’s developed over the past few years. Privately and in person, Sax is a personable, approachable, interesting guy, and a fun fella to talk with. I’ll invoke the Corleone codecil; my description was business, not personal.
People have asked me what I thought about last week’s GOP convention.
First things first: I’m happy that Jeff Johnson won the endorsement. I never, ever “endorse” candidates myself – it’s really arrogant, it’s hell on bookings, and who cares what I think? – but I was honestly torn between Jeff and Dave Thompson, and will be happy to support either of them, or Seifert, Honour, Farnsworth or Zellers for that matter, if they wind up on the ballot after the primary. Dayton
“But what about the Seifert flap?” My friend Ben Kruse, broadcasting at the lesser talk station, made waves by lighting up Seifert earlier this week. I’m less certain; I think it was a tactical play that didn’t work, but may not necessarily have backfired. It’s a long way to the primary.
“How about McFadden?” I get the impression that the Norm Colemans and Vin Webers and other K Street eminimentoes who are behind the McFadden campaign are presuming that keeping a candidate enigmatic until the last final push to the election is a good tactic, starving the media beast of opposition research opportunities. Part of me wonders if the tactic isn’t to keep him quiet now (when 1% of the electorate cares) until Labor Day (when maybe 10% cares), but sometime before the week or two before the election (when the vast majority start to pay attention). It’s an interesting experiment, if that’s the case.
I would urge McFadden to get straight with Minnesota’s gun owners. They’re a big, organized, conservative bloc – and you do not want them staying home, or squandering their votes on some bobbleheaded Libertarian, come election day.
More on the show tomorrow.
SCENE: The office of the Governor of Minnesota. Gathered around a table are:
- Carrie LUCKING, the Executive Director of Alida Messinger’s “Alliance for a Better Minnesota. She is at the head of table.
- Bob HUME, the Governor’s chief of staff, sits at LUCKING’s right.
- Tina FLINT-SMITH, the governor’s other chief of staff, is at LUCKING’s left.
- Yvette PRETTNER-SOLON, the Lieutenant Governor, dozes at far end of the table
- Hannah UNDERLING is standing by.
LUCKING: In the name of Alita the Mother Almighty, I call this meeting to order!
HUME, FLINT-SMITH and UNDERLING: All hail!
LUCKING: So what have you discovered?
HUME: Well, honey… (LUCKING fixes HUME with a withering glare) …er, sir, the Republicans are facing an unruly split in the Libertarian wing of the party.
FLINT-SMITH: We believe they can be wedged.
LUCKING: In the name of Mighty Alita (a speaker blares a thunder sound effect in the background, and UNDERLING flickers the light switch of and on a few times) make it so.
HUME: We’ll pass the governor off as a Libertarian!
FLINT-SMITH: I’ll put Baird Helgeson on it, over at the Strib. Hannah?
UNDERLING: Yes, ma’am?
FLINT-SMITH: Issue an order to the Strib. The Governor is now a libertarian.
UNDERLING: By your leave.
LUCKING: What else?
HUME: We have reason to believe that the GOP is going to make a move for Somali immigrants. They even have a candidate, running against Phyllis Kahn.
LUCKING: We shall make the Governor Muslim. His middle name is Faruq. (Thunder effect, as UNDERLING flickers the lights).
FLINT-SMITH (gets up and walks to and opens the closet door). Mark?
GOVERNOR MARK DAYTON (muffled, from inside closet): Huh?
FLINT-SMITH: You’re Muslim now.
DAYTON: (thinly) OK.
(FLINT-SMITH closes the door)
HUME: The GOP had their convention. They endorsed several candidates, but several are going to the primary.
FLINT-SMITH: AKA “The DFL Way” .
LUCKING: Who are these people?
HUME (pulling out clipboard): The first is the governor candidate, Jeff Johnson.
LUCKING (thinking deeply): We shall issue a press release saying he is Wrong For Minnesota.
FLINT-SMITH: Hannah? Get on it. (UNDERLING takes a note)
HUME: The next one is the Senate candidate, Mike McFadden.
LUCKING (thinking even deeper): We shall issue a press release saying McFadden is…Wrong For Minnesota.
(UNDERLING takes a note)
HUME: Dan Severson is running for Secretary of State.
LUCKING (deep in thought): I think that we need to tell Minnesotans that Severson is…
(silence. HUME and FLINT-SMITH wait with bated breath, as UNDERLING scribbles on her notepad and PRETTNER-SOLON snores lightly)
LUCKING: Severson is Wrong For Minnesota. (nods her head as the others jot notes).
UNDERLING: How about Arne Carlson?
LUCKING: Arne Carlson is…Wrong for Minnesota as well.
UNDERLING: He’s not actually on the ballot.
LUCKING (looks confused for a moment. Then focuses on UNDERLING): You are Wrong for Minnesota.
HUME: I brought brownies.
FLINT-SMITH (taking a brownie, takes a bite. Grimaces): Um…did you use salt, or sugar?
HUME: Dammit. Not again…
LUCKING: The brownies are Wrong For Minnesota.
HUME: Oh, by the way, Carrie? I couldn’t get reservations at Crave tonight.
LUCKING: That’s Wrong for Minnesota!