The Minnesota DFL convention is only a few days away. The convention is both big news and perhaps irrelevant at the same time. Big news because it will decide for now who gets the endorsement, irrelevant because there will be a August 10 primary that does not necessarily favor the endorsed candidate.
Let us look at the convention and handicap it. It appears to be the mayor versus the speaker, Mayor RT Rybak of Minneapolis versus Speaker of House Margaret Anderson Kelliher. The caucuses produced a virtual tie between the two and all indications are the two are also tied this week. However, each brings to the convention certain advantages.
Kelliher brings an enormous array of endorsements and favors due to her because of her role as speaker. She is the insider’s candidate. With no clear front runner, look to see how her insider status helps her at the convention.
Rybak is somewhat the outsider. He does not have the same number of insider connections but he has done well in terms of getting convention delegates out and he has the excitement of his supporters. Passion is always important and the passion is there for him.
I see parallels between Rybak and Kelliher that remind my of the Obama/Clinton contest in 2008. Rybak was the Obama person in Minnesota and both come from community organizer backgrounds. Both are bringing these skills to their campaigns and are taking on the insider candidate Kelliher/ Clinton. Clinton did well among party leaders and traditional conventions or primaries, Obama did better with caucuses. One wonders if the same will occur here. Rybak did well in the caucuses but the convention is the place where the real insiders often thrive. The convention has the superdelegates and elected officials, not just the caucus attendees.
This mixture should favor Kelliher. However, one also wonders how many of the Kelliher endorsements reflect real passion for her versus groups and people feeling that must support her because she is speaker? Similarly, can Rybak translate passion into convention mobilization and convince delegates he can win in November? Both candidates need to move super delegates in their direction, but how?
I think the convention will be marked by several ballots and the outcome will be determined by several factors. One will be to look to the role that other DFL candidates have at the convention. Who will they eventually support and what role will they encourage their supporters to take? Second, look to see the role the super delegates play. They will be moved by the candidate speeches and the enthusiasm they generate. Finally, the concept of picking a winner will be on the minds of many. The year 1986 was the last time the DFL elected a governor. They want a winner.
Look to see this convention be a brokered one that looks like an old-fashioned convention. Superdelegates, background deals with the minor candidates, and other insider activity will determine who get the convention nod. I think it is unlikely that there will be no endorsement.
But what does the endorsement mean when there is a certain primary on August 10. Rybak and Kelliher have said they will honor the endorsement, meaning one of the them will face Dayton, Entenza, and Gaertner on August 10.
There are three big questions looming: What role will the big money of Dayton and Entenza have? What will the turnout be on August 10, and who does the early primary favor? Finally, what about name recognition?
Dayton has the best name recognition based on being a senator, auditor, and for some, the Dayton store name (which is fading for a new generation of voters). Name recognition may be a big issue and all of the candidates struggle with it at they move to August 10.
Second, the start of the election season in MN generally begins with voters eying the candidates at the state fair in August. Now the primary comer before the state fair and in August when few voters are thinking about politics. Visions of cabins and walleyes are on the minds of most. One has to assume August turnout, at least this year, will be less than a September one. Who will turn out? Will it be party faithful, the elderly, or will it favor those who can best organize or develop name recognition? Again all good questions.
However, this is where the wealth of Entenza and Dayton come it. I doubt the convention endorsee can raise more than $300,000-400,000 between the convention and primary. Conversely, Dayton and Entenza can self-finance millions. Can they spend effectively to buy name recognition and mobile for themselves? Good question. Think about it. My sense is that the August 10, primary winner needs 75,000-100,000 votes to win the primary.
This is a not a lot of votes. Can money prevail or will August 10, favor the party endorsement? Recent history with the DFL gubernatorial convention-endorsed candidate does not necessarily favor that person, it is more of a mixed bag. My guess is that whoever wins the endorsement this week, that person faces a tough battle in August.
Final thoughts. Endorsements and money are important but so is the political narrative each candidate offers. Candidates need a compelling narrative that describes who they are, their vision for the state, and the vision for what they want to do in office. Narratives are always connecting candidates to the future. Thus far I have yet to see any of the DFL candidates offer a compelling narrative. Kelliher’s April 19, Star Tribune editorial was the first effort I had seen of hers to provide the narrative. It had some nice folksy language but it was vague on the future and not very compelling. One hopes she and the other candidates will hone their narratives and deliver them at the convention and then prior to the August primary.
Good narratives sell candidates. Narratives are the basis of sales and marketing for everything, including politics, and narratives must be about the future. Annie (of the musical) was right–it is always about tomorrow–and good narratives are always about a better day tomorrow. Mondale lost to Coleman in 2002 because he talked about the past and Coleman about the future. Similarly, McCain and Clinton lost to Obama because both talked about the past and not tomorrow. Narratives must always speak to the better tomorrow we all hope for. The task for the DFL candidates will be to find the narrative for the convention, the August 10, primary, and the general election.