You’ll Have To Believe Me On This One

Last week, when Jim Ramstad announced his retirement, I predicted that Lori Sturdevant would call for the Third District GOP to, basically, get another Ramstad – and in almost exactly the same words she used to end Sunday’s column:

 My advice, to both parties: Find another Ramstad.

The irony of that statement, of course, a year after the DFL endorsed Wendy Wilde to run against Ramstad on the far far far left, is pungent. 

No moreso than Sturdevant’s usual fare, however.  If Sturdevant isn’t collecting a check from the DFL for her reliable (if hamfisted) PR flakkery, the DFL can consider it a bargain (although only barely). 

It’s been 18 years since Minnesota’s pols and pol-reporters took a good hard look at Minnesota’s Third Congressional District.

Actually, “moderate Republicans” have represented the district since 1961. 

When they started looking closely again last Monday — the day that Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad bowled ’em over with a retirement announcement — there were more surprises in store.

For starters, take a look at which political party Third Districters told pollster Bill Morris that they like best last month (see graphic, right) […which doesn’t appear, as this is written, in the Strib online article – Ed.]. They’re just about evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

Would the late Bob and Mary Forsythe, Edina’s Republican power couple of the ’60s and ’70s, believe that? (Wish I could ask them. Both of them left us this year, Bob in June, Mary just this month.)

And, Lori, it’d be pretty irrelevant, since if memory serves the party “left” the Forsythes, God rest their souls, when it stopped acting like DFLers with better suits, driving the Forsythes (one suspects) into the ranks of “bitter IR holdouts who are both Sturdevant’s only sources and only perspective on the GOP”.

Morris, the former Republican state chairman who heads the polling firm Decision Resources Ltd.,

Ibid. 

 …had a load of other betcha-didn’t-know stuff about today’s western suburbs. He was in the field Aug. 15-18, interviewing 600 people, which produces results with a sampling error of plus or minus 4.2 percent. Here are some nuggets:

• “No new taxes” has fallen out of favor in the Third in the past five years. In 2002, 61 percent of Thirders said they “favor the approach of balancing budgets without raising taxes.” In the new poll, that share is down to 37 percent.

Which is hardly, as they say, chopped liver.  The shelf life of the “no new taxes” slogan may have passed, but the ideal of having government live with in its’ means has not (although the likes of Sturdevant keep trying to ignore it).

It appears that many of them haven’t liked what they’ve seen of that governing approach. That may explain why DFLers have picked up eight legislative seats in the Third since 2004.

Which is equally likely to be explained by many of those seats having belonged to GOPers who bailed from “No New Taxes” early (they represented most of the GOP’s losses in ’04) and, let’s not forget, a terrible year in ’06 across the country. 

Sturdevant should stick with blaming David Strom for the bridge collapse.

• But these folks consider property taxes a drag. Three out of four say their community’s most important need is lower property taxes, Morris said.

That may have something to do with this fact: Parts of the Third District are graying faster than the rest of the state. Edina is believed to have the largest share of past-age-65 seniors of any metro municipality. Minnetonka isn’t too far behind. Seniors on fixed or slow-growing incomes are notoriously property-tax averse.

I wonder – do real people (as opposed to policy wonks) really distinguish between “taxes” and “property taxes?”  Indeed, do they care what the mechanism is, or what level of government or budget niche the various taxes serve?

Or is one hole in the wallet pretty much the same as every other hole in the wallet on the Minnesota Street?

That is a serious question.

• Morris couldn’t confirm the Third’s reputation as the working-mother leader of Minnesota. But he could report that one out of three working wives have either professional or technical jobs. That’s more than in any other Minnesota district.

Knowing that explains a lot — like, the Third District’s high percentage of college grads (52 percent, compared with 30 percent statewide). And its high average income — $62,400 per household, a good $10,000 more than the statewide average. And the consistently high proportion of those polled who say adequate K-12 funding is the most important issue facing the state. In the latest poll, education is beat out by rising health-care costs and — just barely — by the need to improve transportation.

And on two out of three, any Republican candidate that can register an EKG reading should beat the stuffing out of any mainstream (to say nothing of Wilde-like radical) DFLer.  The DFL has presided over the erosion of Minnesota education (indeed, the schools in the suburban Third are crowded with refugees from the Minneapolis schools – many of whom in North Edina have brought their noxious DFL politics with them.  And the DFL’s take on transportation is – no other word really fits – frivolous.

The GOP does need a coherent response to the healthcare question that actually resonates with real people.  Unfortunately, getting beyond the superficial palliative of “single payer care” is a very, very wonky exercise that glazes most peoples’ eyes over.

• Social issues are likely to give the Third District Republican candidate a headache…Three out of five Third District poll respondents called themselves “prochoice.” A slightly larger share oppose the “Bachmann amendment” that would ban both marriage and civil unions for same-sex couples. Fewer than one in five approve of the state’s 2004 law allowing the concealed carrying of handguns, Morris found.

Then I have to question Morris’ methodology, since a huge part of the metro base for the Minnesota Personal Protection Act, if memory serves, came from what is now the Third District.

A candidate who agrees with the district’s majority on those issues is not likely to win the endorsement of any Republican convention I can imagine assembling in 2008.

In a year when conservatives are embracing Rudy Giuliani, that’s not quite a safe a prediction as it might have been, say, ten years ago.  Don’t get me wrong; a GOP candidate will have to craft a fairly sophisticated message to grab the center in the Third; a Reagan-like approach to social issues (read the talking points and then put them on the back burner) might well be the best approach.  

But a GOP candidate who champions the party platform on those matters will be laying himself or herself open to a primary challenge and/or a general-election defeat.

We shall see, won’t we?

A big, national show at the Xcel Energy Center, right before the state’s primary election, that makes Republicans synonymous with government bars on abortion, stem-cell research and gay unions would be a nightmare for the Third’s GOP candidate.

Alternate perspective:  it might require a Republican candidate to stand for, and eloquently defend, actual principals – something that’s been done only in the breach since 1961 in the district.

Knowing how quickly the old Republican-red Third has been turning purple and even blue adds luster to Jim Ramstad’s star. He consistently commanded a solid two-thirds, and often more, of the district’s vote from 1990 until 2006. His blend of fiscal conservatism, social-issue moderation and nice-guy approachability obviously fit not only the Third District of old, but of today.

Alternate perspective:  Ramstad was an incumbent that straddled both eras in the Minnesota GOP and Minnesota politics in general – the era before Alan Quist, when Minnesota hadn’t yet caught up with the post-1980 national GOP, and the one after Brian Sullivan, when the last trickle-down of the Reagan Revoluion finally insinuated itself into Minnesota Republican politics.  As an incumbent, he was bulletproof even though the world changed around his feet. 

Who will suit it tomorrow? My advice, to both parties: Find another Ramstad.

Any Republican who takes “advice” from Lori Sturdevant should drop his brain off at Goodwill.  He doesn’t need it anymore.

5 thoughts on “You’ll Have To Believe Me On This One

  1. Mitch advised: “Any Republican who takes “advice” from Lori Sturdevant should drop his brain off at Goodwill. He doesn’t need it anymore.”

    Why not return them to the Salvation Army where they got ’em in the first place?

  2. I say the Republicans just need to do the math. If Ramstad (R- 75%) can command 65% of the vote in the 3rd District, then the NEW candidate (R-89%) should be able to get 51% of the vote. And that’s all that matters. Besides, if I were to make a prediction, I would say that the third District right about now is working feverishly to find somebody NOT “like Ramstad.” The biggest mistake Republicans make, ALWAYS encouraged by the likes of Lefti Sturtevant, is to believe they must trade principle for electability, when exactly the opposite is true. Those who stand on principle, Bachmann, Kline, Wellstone, even Ramstad, can get elected, despite what the principles are, or whether “the majority” agrees with them.

  3. Mitch, read Jeff Johnson’s editorial in today’s Star Tribune. He doesn’t take advice from Sturdevant.

  4. Pingback: Shot in the Dark » Blog Archive » Summing Up The Third

  5. Pingback: Shot in the Dark » Blog Archive » Dear Minnesota GOP

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