Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Minnesota Governor Race

Race of the Day

Minnesota Governor

September 1, 2010
62 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Open
2008 Presidential Result: Blue State (Midwest)

Outlook: Tossup (R)

While Minnesota is long associated with liberalism, and some legendary Democrat political figures, the state has not elected a Democrat to be Governor since 1986. Personalities tend to matter as much as ideology in the state that has elected politicians as diverse as Rod Grams, Paul Wellstone, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, and Al Franken. Elections in the state also tend to now be at least three way contests. While the Independence Party has not tasted victory since Ventura, they always have the potential to easily play spoiler, and that is probably what the race for Governor this year will come down to. This is genuinely a hard one to predict, as it could so easily go to the Democrats this year. If I had to guess today, and based on a poll this week showing the race completely deadlocked at the moment, I will say that a more enthusiastic GOP turnout will deliver a narrow victory.

Two-term Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty would have been eligible to seek a third term this year, but he decided to forgo making such a race, as his political eyes are clearly on the White House. It is far easier to run for President, without being held down by the duties of office, and there were too many risks involved in even seeking another term. "T-Paw" would probably very much like being succeeded by a fellow Republican, which would differentiate him from other recent Presidential candidates like Howard Dean, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee, who saw their Governorships won by the opposition party right before they began a campaign for President.

This year, the GOP nominee in Minnesota is State Representative Tom Emmer. He was a somewhat surprise winner at the state convention and other Republican candidates for the office decided to not challenge him in a primary. The move towards party unity was a welcome sign to most Republicans but some have wondered if Emmer is perhaps a bit too conservative to be the strongest statewide candidate, and if perhaps one of the other candidates would have been a better bet. Many years ago, the candidate had dealt with a couple DWI related incidents. Emmer received a boost before the convention when the father of seven was endorsed by Sarah Palin and he is trying to use his persona as a middle class, suburban "Hockey Dad" to his advantage. It is similar to the profile that has successfully worked for Pawlenty in the last two elections.

The state's Democrats, (or DFL) met in convention in April and did not endorse the Mayor of Minneapolis who was probably considered the front-runner but instead gave their seal of approval to State House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher. Several candidates in the crowded field agreed to drop out and abide by the convention's results, but two of them decided to fight on toward an August primary.

In that primary, Kelliher carried the Twin Cities area, which is usually what it takes for a Democrat to win the nomination, but she very narrowly lost statewide to another candidate who took advantage of the DFL's farmers and laborers in the more rural and small town parts of the state. Mark Dayton is the heir to one of the state's wealthiest and most prominent business families. He was an unsuccessful statewide candidate three times in the '80s and '90s, before winning a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2000.

Dayton did not have the best press coverage or political popularity back home during his one term in the Senate and he decided to not seek what would have been a very difficult reelection. He did decide to seek a political comeback with a campaign for Governor this year, and after entering the contest, admitted that he had been treated for depression, and had a bout of relapse from alcoholism during his time in the Senate. The revelations were meant as a way to get in front of what could have been a damaging campaign story, but still, others believed Dayton would have a hard time winning the primary, despite his wealth.

Name recognition, especially among the state's older voters and wealth were enough to bring the narrow victory to Dayton though, and the candidate of the party establishment in the state, was once again denied by primary voters, which is a bit of a trend in DFL Gubernatorial politics.

The nominee of the Independence Party is Tom Horner, a former Republican aide, who has also been a public relations executive. Horner is trying to position himself in the middle, between a very liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican. It is the strategy that had worked in 1998 for Ventura, but with Horner currently lagging way behind in third place, he is most likely to play the role of spoiler, and will be challenged to get more than 15 percent of the total vote. Who Horner hurts the most will likely finish second. A few recent polls after the primary had shown that he was most hurting the Republican candidate, and thus leaving Dayton ahead of Emmer by several points. A local Minnesota poll out this week however shows the race between the two major party nominees tied at 34 percent each.

This contest for Governor could turn into a seesaw affair with two candidates trading the lead, and if Dayton can perform well in the debates and capitalize on his past statewide success (and not his failures), he could very easily end the DFL's losing streak this year, perhaps convincingly. I just believe that there has to be a reason why the state has been so reluctant to elect a Democrat Governor in so long, in what has become an increasingly purple state, and that Horner could ultimately take away enough dissatisfied Democrat voters to help a ginned up GOP in what is expected to be a big Republican year nationwide.

Emmer campaign link:

2010 Gubernatorial elections predicted thus far: 5 D, 14 R
Predicted Gubernatorial totals thus far: 12 D, 20 R