Monday, April 26, 2010

One Convention Down, One to Go

The Postmortem on the DFL Convention

With the Minnesota DFL (Democratic) convention done but the nomination far from a done deal, it is time to offer a few thoughts on it.

As suggested in the last blog the convention was a brokered one. It was brokered in the sense that the first vote did not produce a nominee and instead, one had to look to the minor candidates to see where they asked their delegates and supporters to go. Perhaps the critical point in the convention came with John Marty asked his delegates to support Kelliher in exchange for her commitment to push for single payer health care within two years of being elected. His switch, along with Rukavina’s, seemed critical to bringing the endorsement over to the Speaker. What resulted then was that the Convention was an insider’s event that favored established party players such as Kelliher over outsiders such as Rybak. As described last week, the battle between Rybak and Kelliher was a replay of Obama and Clinton, only this time the battleground favored the inside player and not the outsider.

But the convention may be meaningless. Ultimately, the August 10, primary is critical. Here Anderson faces the big money and name recognition of Mark Dayton and Matt Entenza. DFL convention-endorsed candidates have a mixed record of success in primaries, and the same will be true again this year. An early primary when fewer individuals are paying attention, the role of big money, the inability of Kelliher to raise much money compared to Dayton and Entenza, and the remaining days of the legislative session may all make life difficult for Kelliher.

Previewing the MN Republican Convention

Now the Minnesota Republicans take the stage. They have a choice between Tom Emmer and Marty Seifert. Both candidates have pledged to honor the convention endorsement, meaning that by the beginning of May the GOP can unite behind one candidate, raise money, hone a message, and narrative, and wait for the DFL to hold a primary. All of these factors give the Republicans significant advantages over the DFL candidate.

But more importantly, one looks to see what the GOP will do to Kelliher in the remaining weeks of the Minnesota Legislative session. As speaker, Kelliher is both the face of the legislature and of the DFL. In the last couple of years the GOP and Governor Pawlenty have made life difficult for her and she has not done well with negotiations on the budget. Pawlenty’s $2.7 unallotment in 2009 was in part a result of the governor outmaneuvering Kelliher. Look to see little cooperation among the GOP and governor between now and the end of the session. There are many incentives for Pawlenty not to cooperate with the DFL, painting Kelliher into a box that makes her look weak and ineffective. Kelliher wants to run on the theme of leadership. Look to see the GOP try to make her look weak and not like a leader.

The real question now is how hard should the Republicans go after her. The GOP really wants her as the candidate to face in November as it will be easy to blame her, the leader of the legislature, for all types of problems. Should the Republicans go after her now and bring her down by August 10, and thereby face the prospect of a stronger candidate, or hold off until after then, hope she wins the primary, and then go after her? My guess is they will make life hard for her in the remaining weeks of the session but then hope she survives August 10.

One lesson the Republicans should have learned from the attacks on Franken in 2008: Don’t unleash the attacks too soon otherwise by the time of the general election the voters will not care any more. In 2008 Coleman slung the mud early and by October there was nothing left to say. The impact of the early attacks wore off, Franken had time to respond, and then he made an effective counterattack that was fresh.

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