Because it’s never too early to start the campaign season.
Former Sen. Norm Coleman’s announcement last week that he would forgo a challenge to incumbent Gov. Mark Dayton may be remembered in hindsight as the starting gun for the 2014 election cycle in Minnesota. With Democrats holding all the offices of note, the only real interest among political junkies is which Republicans will make bids for statewide office. Having only won two cycles in the past decade (2002 & 2010), the GOP cupboard is sparse, with many of the party’s once rising stars now out of office.
So who’s left to run for governor in 2014? In the spirit of the upcoming NCAA Tournament, we’ve made our brackets (sort of) and started the ball rolling towards months of endless chatter on who should or could lead the MN GOP out of the statewide office wilderness:
The Elite Eight
Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson. He’s run statewide before. He’s been the lone voice of fiscal sanity on the Hennepin County Board. His Hennepin County Watchdog website has earned him many new supporters. And he has the coveted Fraters Libertas endorsement. What else would Jeff Johnson need? Perhaps only a Men in Black neuralyzer to help GOP activists further forget his 2006 Attorney General campaign. Few will probably hold that against him given what a horrendous cycle it was for all Republican candidates.
Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R – Crown). Give Daudt points for speed – he was only elected to the legislature in 2010. One term later, Daudt is running the opposition at only 39 years of age. Is it too quick to assume that Daudt might be a statewide candidate in 2014? It wasn’t for Marty Seifert, who went from relatively anonymity to a near-nomination between 2008 and 2010. But Daudt hasn’t captured the mantle of opposition with quick-witted quips like Seifert did, nor much media attention. His title gives him an instant edge, but unless he gets most of the House to back a potential candidacy, he may not go far in 2014.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek. Stanek has been one of the early names mentioned running for statewide office in 2014. And certainly Hennepin County’s Sheriff has been keeping himself in the news. Stanek has pushed back on gun control and found opportunities to publicly nip at Mark Dayton’s heels. It’s been a long time since Stanek had to resign as Public Safety Commissioner due to supposed racial comments made in the 1990s. Expect if Stanek runs, however, for that issue to get raised again.
Sen. Minority Leader David Hann (R – Eden Prairie). Hann has run for governor before, is the senate caucus’ leader, and already has a draft movement behind him. Should he be one of the frontrunners? Hann didn’t dominate in his brief 2009 gubernatorial run, coming in fourth in an October straw poll, which is a far site better than his nonexistent showing at the 2010 caucuses. Hann’s bright and well-versed on the issues (he’d make an excellent Education Commissioner in a future GOP administration), but he’s far from the strongest candidate even in this relatively weak field.
St. Sen. Dave Thompson (R – Lakeville). The former radio host was one of the few rising stars in the legislature to survive the 2012 elections. Thompson was a hot property in 2012, even publicly passing on a senate bid. Thompson still has a solid public profile, writing op-eds, and remains a draw on the GOP speaking circuit. Is that enough to grab a gubernatorial nomination? No, but it gives Thompson a healthy head-start if he chooses to run.
The Congressional Critters (Paulsen, Bachmann & Kline). In a state with few well-known Republicans left in elective office, if any of the three members of congress ran for governor, they’d be a near-instant frontrunner. The problem? None of them look likely to do so, with the possible exception of Erik Paulsen, who hasn’t ruled out any 2014 option. If any of them run, it’s more likely to stay on the federal level and go against Sen. Al Franken.
Fmr. Speaker Kurt Zellers (R – Maple Grove). Jump in your time machine six months ago and Kurt Zellers would have been among the frontrunners for the GOP nomination for governor. Now? Zellers’ name is thrown in the mix for good measure, but it’s unlikely he’ll generate much support if he runs. There’s little institutional support and too many questions about the way he handled the Speakership to assume a strong candidacy that could push aside competitors.
Fmr. Majority Leader Matt Dean (R – Dellwood). Dean’s come a long way from losing a special election battle against now-State Auditor Rebecca Otto back in 2003. But Dean was somewhat invisible to the average activist during 2011-12, with Zellers taking the lead role, at least publicly. Dean has maintained a bit of a media profile, criticizing Dayton, but has made little noise about a potential 2014 campaign.
Rep./Fmr. Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer (R – Big Lake). The Secretary of State from 1999 to 2007, Kiffmeyer returned to the legislature in 2008 but has kept a relatively low profile since. A major proponent of the Voter ID amendment, Kiffmeyer has long seemed geared more to run for her old office than anything else. She passed on opportunities to run for higher office during the 00’s, and seems focused on the legislature for the foreseeable future.
NewsCorp VP/GOP Finance Chair Bill Guidera. Guidera’s been rumored to run for a statewide post for years now (his name was dropped repeatedly for a potential senate bid in 2012). Guidera’s young, articulate and well-connected within the state party – all major pluses. But he’s unknown to the electorate and needs to get better known to GOP activists. His fundraising potential and connections mean he could easily jump into the top tier of 2014 candidates.
Businessman Scott Honour. Who? The former head of the global investment firm The Gores Group, Honour returned recently to Minnesota with his eye on political office. In short order, Honour became part of Mitt Romney’s Minnesota finance team and penned an op-ed critical of Mark Dayton’s tax policies in the Pioneer Press. So Honour has national connections and money; what he doesn’t have (yet) are local connections, despite the $10,000 he spent on local campaigns in 2012 according to the Campaign Finance Board. Whether Honour is this cycle’s Brian Sullivan or only Dick Borrell depends on how much he’s willing to spend and how successful he can be at building a campaign infrastructure as a complete unknown. Only because of Honour’s resources do we have him rated higher on our list.
St. Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont). On paper, there’s no reason Rosen should be this low on a potential list of 2014 gubernatorial candidates. Her name has already been floated for either senate or governor. One of the few members left of the massive 2002 legislative victory, Rosen earned “Freshman Legislator of the Year” honors back in 2003. Then why so low on this list? She was the senate author of the Vikings stadium debacle, which is back in the news due to its paltry funding stream from pull-tabs. Rosen’s full-throated support of “the best stadium bill we’ve ever had” would likely haunt her campaign to a quick end.
2010 Nominee Tom Emmer. 8,000 votes, and millions in negative ads thanks to Alida Messinger, apparently hasn’t damped some in the Grand Old Party from pushing to draft Emmer. The push certainly doesn’t hurt Emmer’s radio career, but it seems highly unlikely that delegates will be interested in a rematch election.
St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis. The former state senator’s election in 2005 was seeming to portent a grand political career. After all, Kleis had beaten one of the rising stars in the DFL, John Ellenbecker. Flash forward more than seven years later, and Kleis has gone, well, nowhere. His re-election in 2009 was a cake-walk, prompting some to speculate that Kleis might make a run in 2010. He passed then and is likely to pass now. His role in Mark Dayton’s tax reform plans won’t help if he changes his mind.
Rep. Tara Mack (R – Apple Valley). Mack was one of the few additions to the GOP ranks in 2008 and she’s only 29 now. A rising star in the legislature, this probably isn’t Mack’s time to make a serious bid for statewide office (or at least not at the top of the ticket). Like Tim Pawlenty in 1998, Mack might make an introductory bid to set the stage for a more competitive campaign later.
Fmr. Rep. John Kriesel. Andy Parrish said everything that needed to be about a potential Kriesel run in 2014: “Dayton will be difficult for you to beat in a primary, but it can be done.”