Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thoughts on the MN Primary: Looking to the General Election

What did we learn about the August 10, MN primary? A few interesting things.

First, I confess, I was wrong. I predicted an August primary would produce a 12% turnout or a 2% decease from previous years. Instead, it went up to 15%. I am glad I was wrong. Instead of people being confused by a new date perhaps candidate groundwars and the novelty of the new date increased turnout.

Second, because of increased turnout, the winning number for the DFL primary was much higher than I predicted. Moreover, given how many voted in the DFL primary, this suggests more passion or hunger by the DFL to win the governorship. This is why the primary turnout increased, and it does give Dayton some momentum heading into November.

Why Dayton?
Many DFLers expressed shock that Kelliher lost. I never thought she would. All along I said that Dayton had the name recognition advantage, the money advantage (over Kelliher but not Dayton), and was at least second in terms of ties to organized interests (AFSCME) in terms of organized interests. All this counted a lot. But I also suggested his strength would be with the Iron Range and his Lt. Governor. This is what paid off. Kelliher was really an urban Twin Cities candidate but never really one with broader appeal across the state.

I also think there was a certain arrogance on display with the DFL establishment on Tuesday. As I listened to MPR on Tuesday night Brian Melendez and others in the DFL seemed self-confident and cocky that their machine would deliver for Kelliher. Why believe that when the track record for the last two decades demonstrates the contrary. I think Kelliher’s shock and late concession on Wednesday reflected this arrogance too. Neither she nor the rank DFL get it in terms of understanding that they do not speak or represent the broader spectrum of those who consider themselves Democrats.

What is significant about Dayton are two things. First, he won with rural and blue collar support. The GOP should be worried about this. Generally, Emmer and the GOP can count on rural votes and some blue collar. However, Dayton ran strong where the GOP normally do. Assuming that the DFLers can bring their organization statewide and in the metro region to support Dayton, the DFL has a good campaign.

Second, Dayton won with a coalition and themes that bring back to life the old Perpich era. He did well with workers and the Iron Range and he ran on populist themes that harken back to that era. His emphasis on education returns the DFL to the Perpich one of making MN the brainpower state. Normally I do not think the past beats the future in politics, but here Dayton is cementing together one last time the old Perpich themes and coalition and updating for 2010. It might work again.

The General Election
It is trite to say that Dayton versus Emmer represents the broadest liberal/conservative divide in decades and that this sets up Horner for the center. All this is true. This also sets up the old Perpich coalition v. the new Tea Party brand of the GOP. Two different populist movements in conflict.

Emmer faces some weaknesses. Support for him among his base is a little soft, leaving Horner with room to grab GOPers. Also, Dayton has a stronger hold on moderate swing voters and female suburban voters (the soccer moms) than does Emmer. This is the battleground and Emmer is way behind here. He needs to figure out a way to remessage and move to the center. However, thanks to Matt Entenza and bad campaigning on his own account, the DFL has already defined Emmer. Emmer made the same mistake as Kerry in '04–he let others define him instead of defining himself. Once defined it is hard to undue.

Emmer also faces a McCain problem. In '08 McCain knew Bush was unpopular and that “change” was the mantra of the year. He needed to figure out how to run against Bush, a member of his own party, and also recognize that America was going in the wrong direction. If you are of the same party how can change mean staying with the same party? This is a tough trick to perform and McCain failed.

Emmer has a similar problem. He says MN is on the wrong track and it needs a new direction on taxes and regulation. He seems to forget that Pawlenty was governor for the last 8 years. How can he run against is own party? This is the McCain-Bush problem repeated here. Yes, Emmer represents a different wing of the GOP compared to Pawlenty (it is the Reagan v. Palin wing), but the DFL have already linked Emmer to Pawlenty.

Finally, the issues. Briefly, it is the economy and jobs. Average voters do not care about the record of Dayton as senator or the budget deficit. If the GOP talk about Dayton’s senate life that get away from core issues of the economy. Conversely, if the DFL talk too much about DWI and the deficit that also lose focus.

1 comment:

  1. "Neither she nor the rank DFL get it in terms of understanding that they do not speak or represent the broader spectrum of those who consider themselves Democrats." This statement, I like. I wonder how many of us DFLers, actually feel this way.

    I hope that Dayton is really careful in crafting his message right from the start. The voters are too jittery at this point, with the way the progressive base has been abandoned over the last two years and with all that is at stake.

    Dayton needs to send a strong, focused, uncompromising but reasonable, fact and reality based message to the voters. He ought to pick three or four of the most important issues (economy and jobs, equity, health care, young adults/children) and present his approach in very simple terms.