Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Minnesota Governor- Race of the Day

70 Days Until Election Day

Minnesota Governor

Status: Democrat Open
2016 Presidential Result: Blue State (Midwest)

Outlook: Leans Democrat

Some midterm political headlines are being made tonight, as a small number of states are holding primaries, and I can connect what happened earlier this month in Minnesota to a surprise result for Democrats tonight in Florida, because while Minnesota Democrats in what was maybe an upset picked their most electable, moderate candidate for Governor, Florida Democrats picked their most liberal candidate, and thus may have blown a golden opportunity. In any event, I will be updated any of my predictions, as I see necessary, after I get through all the states.

Looking now to Minnesota, a state that always been considered fairly liberal, there was a long stretch of time, when no Democrat (or member of the DFL as they call it), had been elected Governor. Democrat Mark Dayton, a wealthy business heir, staunch liberal, and former U.S. Senator broke a six election losing streak for the DFL Gubernatorial nominees in 2010 though, albeit with just a 44 percent plurality in a three way race. Four years later, Dayton was reelected with a bare majority. After nearly eight years as Governor, Dayton seems to be a bit more popular than he was for much of his term, and was eligible to seek a third term. However, at the age of 71 and after a variety of health concerns, he decided it was time to retire at the end of his term. That would set up a wide open scramble in both parties, although one who would not take part was Dayton's Lt. Governor, whom he appointed to fill an unexpected U.S. Senate vacancy.

Both parties in Minnesota have a serious of caucuses, and straw polls leading up to formal conventions to endorse a candidate. Party activists of course dominate both conventions which tends to lead to liberals having the edge for Democrats and conservatives for Republicans. Often times, the "endorsed" candidate goes on to lose in the primary.  As is the case in other states, all these activities have the effect of winnowing the field, as candidates drop out. Along the way, the remaining contenders name their running-mates, as tickets for Governor and Lt. Governor are eventually selected together in the primaries.

Among the more prominent Democrats to drop out early were former St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, after he come in fourth place in a straw poll, and State Auditor Rebecca Otto after a poor showing at the convention. The list of GOP drop-outs included a Mayor, a State Senator, State Representative, and former Chairman of the state Republican Party.

Headed to the primary were three main Democrats who all looked like they had a realistic chance of winning the nomination. The official party endorsement went to State Representative Erin Murphy, with the strong support of liberals. After that victory, came a seal of approval endorsement from Mark Dayton. As her running-mate, Murphy had selected a fellow State Representative, and one who also happened to be named Erin. Freshman State Representative Erin Maye Quade, a 32 year old gay woman and Murphy took the stage to Beyonce's "Run the World (Girls)" and the Erins embarked on a campaign heavy on the gender aspect and the "Me Too Movement."

Another female Democrat was also running though, and she was the best known of the contenders. Attorney General Lori Swanson led most polls, although not by huge margins, and was considered the front-runner. Her Lt. Governor pick was a bit of a surprise as she picked retiring Congressman Rick Nolan, a 74 year old from the northern part of the state, who had already decided to leave a vulnerable Congressional district. Towards the end of the primary season, Nolan was dogged by allegations that he overlooked a former aide's sexual harassment of several females on his staff, and later hired him for another role. Swanson defended her running-mate, despite calls for him to leave the race. The Attorney General also faced accusations of her own that she forced employees to do political work.

The third candidate in the primary field was male, although he early on selected Peggy Flanagan, a State Representative from the Twin Cities area as his running-mate. In 2006, Tim Walz was elected to Congress by defeating a Republican incumbent in a southern Minnesota district. Before he launched his first bid for office, Walz had a long career in the United States Army and also worked as a teacher and High School football coach. He was able to appeal to Republicans in winning his first race and survived every reelection challenge since before launching his campaign for Governor this cycle.

While critics of Walz on the right certainly have reason to label his voting record as liberal, he was easily considered the  most moderate Democrat in the race for Governor. On primary night, he and Flanagan defeated the DFL endorsed Erins ticket 42-32, while Swanson finished in third place with 25 percent of the vote. Democrats might not have picked the flashiest politician, or one who had a ton in common with the outgoing Governor, but one that might have the most statewide appeal.

On the GOP side, the large Republican field shifted dramatically after the announcement that former Governor Tim Pawlenty was going to try to win his old job back. Several candidates dropped out of the race believing a coronation of the man who served in the top job from 2003-2011 was inevitable. A decade ago, Governor Pawlenty was a much talked about Republican, whom some believed for months would become John McCain's 2008 Vice Presidential pick. That did not happen though and Pawlenty's once hyped campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2011 went nowhere. After leaving politics, "T-Paw" became a Washington D.C. lobbyist. He saw a path for a political comeback though and as the establishment choice, teamed up with Michelle Fishbach, who as President of the State Senate, ascended to acting Lt. Governor when her predecessor went off to the U.S. Senate.

While Pawlenty was the establishment choice, he was not the pick of party activists. The party was surprisingly divided after all. Even the woman who spent eight year as Pawlenty's Lt. Governor, endorsed his main opponent, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson. It was not perhaps that much of an upset at this point when the party endorsed Johnson over Pawlenty, but most expected that the former Governor would still win a much higher participated primary. Johnson was no political slouch in the state party though, as in 2014, he had been the Gubernatorial nominee and ran a closer than expected race in losing to Dayton. This time around, he selected former Marine Intelligence officer Donna Bergstrom as his running-mate. Both Bergstrom, and Walz's political partner Flanagan are now vying to become the state's first Native American Lt. Governor.

While Johnson would have been considered an establishment Republican himself, in this race, he ran to the right of Pawlenty and tried to use Donald Trump against him, despite the fact that Johnson once referred to the future head of the Republican Party as a "jackass." Pawlenty had perhaps been even tougher on Trump though, late in the 2016 campaign, in a way that made it seem like he was a member of the "Never Trump" crowd. This year though, Pawlenty claimed that even though he was critical of Trump, he still voted for him and supported him on policy matters. Johnson hugged the current President even more tightly though and won the primary 53-44. T-Paw's comeback bid was surprisingly cut short and in conceding the race, he stated that the Republican Party and the world of politics had changed in a major way from several years earlier and he realized now that he no longer fit in.

All this should lead Republicans to wonder whether they defeated the most electable candidate for the job in the primary and if Johnson's strategy of running as a strong Trump supporter will pay off, in a state that Trump came sort of close in, but failed to win, as every Republican has in a Presidential election since 1972.

Considering that Walz was the best general election candidate for Democrats and Johnson the weaker of the two main Republicans, it is a bit surprising to see the very earliest polls show the race is fairly close, although Walz is ahead. It might be that a lot of Democrats on the left might not be to enthusiastic about their nominee whom many call a "moderate." There are divisions to be sure on the GOP side as well. The formerly prominent Independence Party in the state seems to no longer exist, so this is basically a two person race.

It might be that this race remains competitive all the way down the wire, but I think it would be a major upset if Johnson beats Walz. The Democrat from a blue-collar and military background is probably a lot more likely to pick off anti-Trump votes in the center or among disaffected Republicans than the noveau MAGA Johnson is going to do in holding all those voters.

Gubernatorial Races predicted thus far:

10 D,  (2 Safe, 1 Likely, 4 Leans, 3 Tossup) 
9 R   (2 Safe,  3 Likely, 3 Leans, 1 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:

17 D (7 holdovers, 2 Safe, 1 Likely, 4 Leans, 3 Tossup)
16 R (7 holdovers, 2 Safe, 3 Likely, 3 Leans, 1 Tossup)


At 8:15 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

I think Klobuchar carries Waltz across the finish line including everybody else in the down-ballot statewide offices.


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