Pol Position – The Race to Summit (Ave)

We broke down the GOP race for US Senate here.  We now take a similar look at the Governor’s contest.


To listen to the polling establishment that gave us Govs. Mike Hatch, Skip Humphrey and the ’02 version of Sen. Walter Mondale, Republicans should just give up any notion that Mark Dayton could be defeated in 2014.  Dayton posts a 57% approval rating, up from 43% just this past February.  Of course, Tim Pawlenty was sporting a 54% approval rating around this time in his first-term, in what turned out to a nail-bitter of an election decided by Mike Hatch’s failure to attend his anger management class.  And Dayton’s polling numbers, like most politicians, seem to go up when the legislature is out of session and thus his name is off the front pages.

Unlike with the Senate race, GOP interest in the gubernatorial nomination is high and has attracted among the best Republican office-holders still standing after 2012.  The highest profile Republicans may have passed on running (Pawlenty, Coleman, Kline, Paulsen), but if the current crop of candidates represents the GOP “B Team,” they’re certainly stronger than the 2010 field.  And unlike 2010, they probably are more aware of what advertising deluge awaits the winner from the Alliance for a Better More Expensive Minnesota.

The Contenders

The decision of Senate Minority Leader David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) to forgo a gubernatorial bid may not have been a sign that the doors are closing to contenders for the GOP nod.  If anything, the field seems to be more wide open than ever and almost certain to expand, with no less than three other candidates’ names being thrown into contention in the past two weeks.

And why not?  None of the four announced Republican gubernatorial hopefuls have exactly come galloping out of the gates.

Businessman Scott Honour has been throwing significant funds at online advertising in recent weeks, and has gained the support of former Party Chair Bill Cooper as a key member of his fundraising committee, but his initial moves belie an inexperienced candidate.  Honour’s attempt to play upon the once-feared “beer tax” devolved into an over-publicized online contest to vote for Minnesota’s favorite beer – leaving the context of the contest far behind.  Honour has been making the necessary statewide rounds, but focusing more on name recognition than courting would-be delegates.  Not exactly the best strategy, unless you’re willing to forgo the endorsement process and head to a primary – a possibility Honour has not denied.

Could Minnesota see its first hotly contest GOP gubernatorial primary in 20 years?  Giving a little credence to the idea is the candidacy of former Speaker Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove).  Zellers’ didn’t explicitly say he would run without the Republican endorsement, and the lack of “clarification” has the usual suspects in the media trying to fuel an internecine Republican primary.  Zellers has bigger issues to address first given his tenure as Speaker, but Zellers is the only candidate in the field thus far who is staking a cornerstone of his campaign message as going after incumbent Gov. Mark Dayton.

Zellers had a few State House members at his announcement, but Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson appears to have attracted much more initial establishment support.  Johnson has his experience in the State House, as a National Republican Committeeman, and his 2006 Attorney General candidacy as focal points to his campaign, not to mention his expressed position to drop out if he didn’t receive endorsement.  Able to appeal both to establishment Republicans and the conservative base, Johnson would appear to be a potential front-runner for the nomination.  The lingering concern is whether Johnson can effectively campaign.  His 2006 AG bid got started early (Feb of 2005), but seemed to drift right through the general election.  Johnson’s been making the required rounds on the local media circuit, but it remains too early to see how strong of an organization Johnson is building.

Former radio host and St. Sen. Dave Thompson‘s (R-Lakeville) recent entrance into the race could easily place him as the front-runner, given his appeal to the base – as we pointed out in March.  Thompson is unlikely to garner huge support from the GOP establishment, but could consolidate conservatives under his banner.  We’ll see whether that dynamic means Thompson is this cycle’s Brian Sullivan (minus the wealth) or Tom Emmer – two candidates who similarly ran “base vs. establishment” campaigns.

The (For Now) Pretenders

Speaking of 2010, former St. Rep. Marty Seifert (R-Marshall) has once again seen his name thrown into the mix, without much evidence or commentary from the would-be candidate himself, save an interview in November in which Seifert described his odds of running again as “less than 50/50.”  A Seifert candidacy would likely suck all the oxygen (and money) out of Kurt Zellers’ campaign, as Seifert would represent an establishment choice with less baggage among conservatives.

Two potential gubernatorial candidates who would have similar issues with the base are St. Rep. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria) and St. Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont).  Ingebrigtsen acknowledged his relative lack of conservative credentials, stating “I’m certainly not as conservative as some of the folks who are running right now but I’m certainly not as liberal as Gov. Dayton.”  Most campaigns have at least a token rural candidate, and Ingebrigtsen seems to be trying to partial fit that mold.

To the contrary, Rosen has been depicted – by the media – as the “800-pound gorilla” in the race, due (as far as anyone can tell) exclusively to her gender.  Rosen’s candidacy seems to have far more potential traction among NPR commentators than Republican activists, describing her as a sort of Obi-wan Kenobi “only hope” in 2014.  Rosen certainly has desirable qualities as a candidate for statewide office, but her legislative shepherding of the Vikings stadium debacle will likely significantly handicap her odds at the endorsement.

While Ingebrigtsen and Rosen are taking public steps towards their candidacies, a few other hopefuls seem to be taking a much more covert path.  St. Rep. Matt Dean (R-Dellwood) seemed to be following in Kurt Zellers’ footsteps by maximizing his time in House leadership towards a gubernatorial run.  Unlike Zellers, Dean has been fairly coy about his intentions and the lack of activist response to his name probably means he’ll pass on running.  Marvin Windows executive Susan Marvin has had her name thrown around by both Democrats and Republicans but would find the race a tough fit – especially if Julie Rosen steals any gender candidacy thunder by announcing.  And Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek continues to be rumored to run, with little evidence that he’s taking the next necessary steps.

Speaking of unknown long-shots, Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi attorney Ronald Schutz has been hinting at a candidacy for nearly a year without making much public progress.

So Where Do Things Stand?

Thus, unfortunately, the media seems to be already setting the narrative of the 2014 Republican gubernatorial race.  The two candidates the media will provide the most coverage of – Zellers and Rosen – are among the least likely to actual get the nomination.  Meanwhile, the Twin Cities talking head circuit will float (and encourage) a GOP primary due in part to the lack of traction to the two names they know the best.

A more honest – and accurate – assessment of the gubernatorial race would highlight that Johnson and Thompson probably best fit the mold of candidates that have been previously endorsed.  And for all the talk of a primary, the last time the GOP went that route was the Arnie Carlson/Allen Quist race – a scenario whose ingredients are entirely lacking in 2014.

5 thoughts on “Pol Position – The Race to Summit (Ave)

  1. Pingback: Pol Position – Frankensense | Shot in the Dark

  2. @Night Writer; Yes, I agree. Voter turnout will play a crucial role. Midterms typically do not favor the party in power. Although the GOP message thus far has been; “the DFL taxes too much and spends too much”. How will the GOP frame a gubernatorial campaign while the MN economy is improving and unemployment is dropping?

    I’d love to see Senator Dave Thompson as governor. Out of the candidates listed above, Thompson will appeal to independents and conservative DFL voters. But, it’ll be a tougher campaign for him if the MN economy continues on it’s current trend.

  3. Pingback: Pol Position Deux – The Race to Summit (Ave) | Shot in the Dark

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