Monthly Archives: August 2010

Analysts tussle over election outlook at PIM-sponsored election preview

by Charley Shaw
Politics In Minnesota
Published: August 13,2010

Hours after Tuesday’s DFL primary, the Minnesota GOP launched a TV ad attack calling DFLer Mark Dayton “erratic” and wondering out loud what frequency he was on.

The GOP’s speedy strike is a harbinger of mudslinging to come – or so said the bipartisan panel of political experts assembled by Politics in Minnesota/Capitol Report for a Wednesday afternoon gathering at downtown St. Paul’s University Club.

“I think the race is going to go negative early. It’s going to stay negative for a while, and then I think it will tone down near the end and spike back up again,” said retiring state Rep. Laura Brod, R-New Prague.

Brod was joined on the panel by fellow Republican Gregg Peppin and DFLers Darin Broton and David Lillehaug.

The panelists said they expect well-heeled independent groups to take advantage of post-Citizens United campaign spending rules to pour more money into the gubernatorial race than campaigns and state political parties will be able to match. These third-party spenders, said Broton, are poised to shape the governor’s race.

“I think it will be negative depending on the level of special interest money that flows into this,” he told the audience. “I think that will set the tone for this cycle.”

While political pros are busy right now reading tea leaves, they are upset about how polls and historical voter turnout data contradicted Tuesday evening’s primary results.

Lillehaug said turnout on Tuesday was larger than anticipated and the polls predicted a wider lead for Dayton over DFL-endorsed candidate Margaret Anderson Kelliher than actually materialized.

Everyone misjudged turnout

“News organizations need to make more money so they can spend it on better polls,” joked Lillehaug, a Kelliher supporter who had initially backed Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak in the DFL endorsement race.

Lillehaug noted that in the 1998 contested DFL primary for governor, 415,000 Democrats turned out. In the 2000 DFL primary battle that Dayton won, 433,000 Democrats turned out. Though expectations for this year’s primary voter turnout were low because of the date change from September to August, 440,000 DFLers cast ballots.

“Everyone was saying we were going to have a substantial drop-off from that. Au contraire,” Lillehaug said.

Regarding Kelliher’s 7,000-vote loss to Dayton, Democrat Broton said one lesson is that the Iron Range still matters. “I think over the last few cycles we’ve seen the percentage of [Iron Range] DFL voters in the primary keep shrinking and shrinking while the percentage in the metro picks up,” he said.

“[On Tuesday] we saw the reverse happen. The DFL primary voters on the Range showed up in massive numbers. They were still high in the Twin Cities but nowhere could they have countered the massive turnout on the Range,” Broton said.

During the audience question segment, attendees wanted to know why the DFL-endorsed candidate and current speaker of the state House lost to Dayton, whose political career had been dormant since he left the U.S. Senate after one undistinguished term.

The answer, according to Lillehaug, was that Kelliher didn’t do enough to challenge Dayton’s simple but effective message.

After the April DFL Convention in Duluth, said the former Clinton-era U.S. attorney, Kelliher “essentially sat on her hands for about two months from a message-development standpoint. Finally there was the minimum wage issue with Representative Emmer that got them going. Even then, it was a week or so before she got the hotel servers up next to her and really took after him on the minimum wage.”

On the point of Kelliher’s lack of message, the Republicans on the panel agreed.

“I think she is regretting, or should be regretting, the fact that she did not define the differences between her and Dayton very early and very continuously and very strongly,” Brod said.

And what about Entenza’s influence on the outcome?

Peppin noted that Entenza did well in southwestern Minnesota counties like Nobles and in blue-collar Twin Cities areas like Minneapolis Wards 4 and 5. Peppin said Kelliher could have possibly wrested nearly 7,000 votes from Entenza if she had done more to contrast herself to him.

“Margaret can plausibly make the case that Entenza cost her the election,” Peppin said.

The Horner factor

With Entenza gone from the picture, the spoiler question shifts to Independence Party nominee Tom Horner.

Horner lines up politically closer to Entenza and Kelliher than to Dayton, Peppin said, and as a result Dayton could lose highly educated, affluent Democratic voters to Horner.

“I believe there are more egg-head, limousine liberals who will go from Dayton to Horner, than there are moderate Republicans that will from Emmer to Horner,” Peppin added.

Independence Party candidates, such as Tim Penny in 2002 and Peter Hutchinson in 2006, have been regarded as spoilers for Democrats. Lillehaug said that Horner hasn’t done enough yet to define his position in the race.

“I don’t really understand the rationale for the candidacy except he’s not left or right. I don’t think he’s going to get much more than any other Independence Party candidate, certainly not as much as Tim Penny,” Lillehaug said.

Legislative races

The panelists also weighed in on the races for Minnesota House and Senate.

Peppin and Brod expressed high hopes for Republicans in the state Senate, who are seeking to win back a chamber they have not controlled in the past 40 years. They’re expecting strong challenges, for example, from former Sen. Sean Nienow’s campaign against Sen. Rick Olseen, DFL-Harris, and from newspaper publisher Ted Lillie’s run against Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury.

“[Senate Republicans have] kind of languished over time and have become the perpetual minority,” Brod said. “I’ve seen some excitement in the Senate where they’re not OK with being the perpetual minority anymore.”

Broton conceded that Red Wing Mayor John Howe, a Republican who is running for the District 28 seat being vacated Sen. Steve Murphy of Red Wing, and Rep. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, who is running to replace DFL Sen. Jim Vickerman of Tracy in SD 22, will probably win. But Broton said the Senate GOP’s campaign is underfunded.

“The Senate is probably a better opportunity for Republicans than the House. The problem that the Senate Republican Caucus has is they’re broke,” he noted.

The House will experience a “correction” that will cut down the size of its 87-47 DFL majority by a net 10 seats, Broton added. But he went on to say many young House DFL incumbents have gone through two election cycles in the majority that has afforded them time “to build deep roots in their community.”

From a GOP standpoint, Brod characterized the results of the legislative primaries as “ho hum.”

“I don’t know if there’s a story to be told,” she offered, “other than being endorsed matters on the Republican side of the aisle.”

Lillehaug delivered one of the best zingers of the afternoon when he noted that Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, lost after a controversy over fishing restrictions and Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, lost an intra-party battle in which he drew fire for being openly gay.

“Before the primary season a few months ago, if you would have said there’s one incumbent who would have gone down because of a gay porn star and there’s going to be another incumbent who goes down because of a walleye scandal, [could you] choose which party is which?” Lillehaug said.

Caucus election teams scrambling for an edge

by Briana Bierschbach
Published: August 18th, 2010

Dems play defense, Republicans offense in season of expected midterm backlash

For as long as Republican state Sen. Amy Koch has been alive, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party has held control of the state Senate. The 39-year-old Republican senator from Buffalo – who is heading into her first cycle running elections for the Senate GOP caucus – thinks the tide may finally turn this year.

“I think that the majority is within reach,” Koch said by phone from Delano, where she was in the middle of a lit-drop for GOP candidate Joe McDonald. “I think there is going to be a pretty big shift, if not the biggest shift ever.”

Longtime GOP activist Gregg Peppin of P2B Strategies said the veto-proof 46-21 DFL Senate majority is primed for a flip, and that Koch’s efforts are one big reason.

“She is a recruiter, a cheerleader, a motivator and even leader when she needs to be with these candidates,” he said. “She is absolutely tireless in these efforts.”

Koch isn’t the only one who’s hitting election efforts with fervor. The Senate DFL caucus and both parties’ House caucuses have put their point people to work, recruiting candidates and selling them to as many voters as possible in the months remaining before the general election.

Taking the Senate

Koch is teamed up with political consultant Ben Golnik of Golnik Strategies to handle Senate GOP elections this year. Golnik only recently joined the Senate election team after caucus chief of staff Cullen Sheehan left to become campaign manager for party nominee Tom Emmer’s gubernatorial bid.

Golnik said he is excited to be working with the caucus in a year where Republicans are likely to grab seats “up and down the ticket.” Golnik served as executive director of the Republican Party of Minnesota from 2005 until 2007, and worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid. He started his own firm in 2007, and has since worked on House GOP elections and the failed gubernatorial campaign of former House Minority Leader Rep. Marty Seifert.

Koch and Golnik have a tough DFL match-up in Mike Kennedy and Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller of Minneapolis. Kennedy has been with the Senate DFL caucus for more than a decade, working full-time to raise money and elect Democrats to the body.

Since senators usually face elections every four years (they serve two-year terms once a decade due to redistricting), Kennedy spends his time between cycles raising money for DFL candidates. When election season ramps up, he adds recruiting candidates, managing campaigns and targeting voters to the list.

Pogemiller has been aggressively hitting the campaign trail as well, getting out personally to many districts to knock on doors and making calls on behalf of incumbent senators, Senate DFL spokesman Gary Hill said.

Many Republican analysts see higher hopes of capturing a majority in the Senate than in the House. But Kennedy said he is confident the Senate DFL will retain a majority after November, despite dissatisfaction with the Obama White House and Democrats in Congress.

“There is no question that Democrats are running uphill this year, but the hill got a little less steep in the last few weeks,” Kennedy said. “I’m not convinced that the Tea Party and voter anger are going to be a huge factor. That’s certainly not what our local candidates are finding at the doors.”

Wind at their backs

In 2008, state Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, watched his then 24-year-old legislative assistant, Tara Mack, challenge DFL incumbent Shelley Madore in House District 37A. Dean said he saw Mack all the way through the process, from her initial urge to jump into the race to her ultimate 1,000-vote victory.

Now, he is overseeing elections on a much larger scale, taking on his first cycle as the leader of House GOP caucus election efforts. He is assisted by Ian Marsh, the part-time political director for the House Republican Campaign Committee (HRCC) who helps raise funds and manage campaigns.

Retaking the House for Republicans is no small endeavor. DFLers currently hold an 87-47 majority in the chamber. But the House has proven to be a tumultuous body. It was only four years ago that Republicans lost the speaker’s gavel. Dean thinks Republicans will have more than 60 members after the general election, and possibly as many as 78. (They would need 68 total seats to assume majority status.)

“Since 2004, the wind has been in our face. Now the wind is definitely at our backs, and it’s a welcome change,” Dean said. “We don’t know exactly how many seats we will pick up, but we have our candidates keep their heads down and work as hard as they can, no matter what.”

Dean says that with the help of Minority Leader Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, this year’s candidate-recruitment process was a major success. The caucus managed to win over top-tier candidates that it has courted for a long time, he said. While Dean declined to specifically name those candidates, he said they include mayors, council members, county commissioners and influential members of the business community.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich of Chisholm is running the House DFL’s election team. Handling day-to-day operations for the caucus is Sean Rahn, who took a leave from his position as legislative director for departing House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher to work full-time on campaigns.

Sertich, like the Senate DFLers, expresses confidence that the DFL will stay in power after November. Their caucus campaign model is the same one Kelliher crafted as House Speaker. That means heavy door-knocking, a strong field game and talking about “bread and butter issues,” Sertich said.

Sertich said the wide-open governor’s race, coupled with the absence of presidential or U.S. Senate contests, will make the state’s 2010 elections hyper-local, an advantage for House DFLers.

“I don’t think our election in Minnesota is going to be nationalized,” Sertich said. “It’s really going to be focused on state issues, and whether you’re talking about education, health care, jobs or the economy, that’s where our members really excel.”

Looking forward to post-primar…

Looking forward to post-primary election panel sponsored by Politics in MN with fellow panelists Laura Brod, David Lillehaug & Darrin Broton

You’re invited! Election Preview & Post Primary Party

Join us for conversation, cocktails and canapes

as we recap the results of Minnesota’s first-ever August primary and look ahead to the general election. Our slate of political experts will weigh in on the state’s key races – from legislative and gubernatorial contests to U.S. House.

Managing Editor Steve Perry will moderate a discussion with key political panelists:

  • David Lillehaug – Fredrikson & Byron
  • Darin Broton – Tunheim Partners
  • Gregg Peppin – P2B Strategies
  • Representative Laura Brod – MN House of Representatives

Click to register online.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010:
The University Club St. Paul – Downtown Clubhouse
4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
3:30 pm Registration – 2nd Floor
4:00 pm -5:00 pm – Panel Discussion – Grand Ballroom, 2nd Floor
5:00 pm -6:00 pm – Social Hour- heavy hors d’oeuvres and Cash Bar

$35 – Pre-register by Friday, August 6, 2010
$50 – at the door

Click to register online.

For additional event information contact:  Courtney Freng 612-584-1574