Wednesday, September 29, 2010

On the Horn(er) of a Dilemma: The Fading Prospects of a Third Party Governor in Minnesota

It looked all so promising only two weeks ago. Momentum and buzz suggested Tom Horner was gaining ground and he had a real chance to be governor. Polls showed strong gains, he was ahead of where Jesse Ventura was in 1998 at this time, and rumor had it he was racking in piles of money. Horner, a former public relations person, also knew how to package his statements for the media. It all looked so good.

However, I think the window of opportunity he had has closed. Why?

First, think about the polls. Two recent polls, one last Friday by Fox 9 and Rasmussen, and then Sunday by the Star Tribune, point in the same direction. In the Fox 9 poll, Horner initially looks good, polling 18%. He gets the same 18% in the Star Tribune Poll. But then Fox 9 throws in “leaners,” asking people who they are leaning toward, and Horner drops to 9%. This is not good news.

If Horner has momentum, he should have more than 18% when the leaners are added. Instead, his 18% is cut in half. When push comes to shove, voters are leaning toward Dayton or Emmer and not Horner. This is a sign of political polarization and not a good sign for a third party candidate.

More bad news. Depending on the poll read, both Dayton and Emmer are holding their bases. About 75-80% of DFLers and GOPers are supporting their candidate. Additionally, the Fox 9 poll shows Dayton grabbing far more of the moderate vote than Horner. The latter is especially troubling for Horner. Both the Fox 9 and Star Tribune polls show 27% and 28% of the state respectively not aligned with either of the two major parties. One cannot assume all of these people are moderates but many are. Horner needs to win his base Independence Party vote (I assume this to be about 8-10%), win the majority of unaligned or unaffiliated voters, and pull disaffected voters from the two major parties. However, the polls do not support that happening.

The simple answer to explain Horner’s fate is that he is no Jesse. Jesse was a politainer, a celebrity politician-entertainer (thus politainer) who could get media attention by just walking down the street. He ran during good times in MN with a $4.5 billion state surplus and 2.2% unemployment. He did not look like Skip Humphrey and Norm Coleman who looked alike and were tired and boring career politicians. Jesse was fresh and plain talking. When he won, as one of my friends once said, it was with 37% of the state giving the major parties the middle finger. Things were going well in the state so what the heck, take a chance.

Now the state is almost $6 billion in the hole and with 7% or so unemployment. Horner looks no different than Dayton and Emmer; all three are political insiders who look and sound boring. Horner gets no instant media attention by who he is. He needs to manufacture it or buy advertising.

Here is the horn(er) of the dilemma. Horner needs media attention to get his message out. He can only do that with money. He can only raise money if he lets people know he is running and what his message is, however he needs money to do that. Horner is trapped in a cycle and he may not be able to get out of it.

But not being Jesse and not having money is only part of the problem. MN’s flirtation with third party politics runs in cycles. Third party candidates do well when the state is economically doing very well or very badly and there is high disenchantment with the major parties. Think Floyd Olson (Farmer-Labor Party elected during prohibition) and Ventura during the flush times of the 90s.

These conditions exist now. But two factors mitigate against a third party now.
First, Florida 2000. The lesson many in MN and nationwide draw from Florida 2000 is that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush. Both parties learned the message that supporting a third party candidate may help the candidate you least like. That message was again reinforced in the 2006 Franken, Coleman, Barkley senate race in MN.

Second, the 2002 plane crash of Paul Wellstone reinforced the political polarization of that begin with Florida 2000. Prior to the crash third party candidate Tim Penny was leading or tied for lead for governor. After the crash he faded fast and finished a distant third. That crash, chats that Norm Coleman was an accidental senator, the debacle of the Wellstone eulogy, and Ventura’s pouting last year as governor, all came together to end MN’s most recent third party enthusiasm.
All of these factors are suggested in recent Fox 9 Rasmussen polls showing 47% of the electorate less likely to vote for a third party candidate now than in the past.

MN has a polarized electorate. The major candidates are holding their bases. The swings are not swinging to a third party. He has little money to message, and the structural dynamics do not favor a third party candidate in a post Florida 2000 Wellstone plane crash era. Things do not look good for Horner and I think the opportunity to change minds is closing or has already closed.
As it stands, Horner may wind up pulling in no more than the core Independence Party vote, getting numbers similar to what Peter Hutchinson got in 2006.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dayton’s Demise? Thoughts on the Latest MN Gubernatorial Poll

The latest Fox 9 Rasmussen poll suggests mixed news for all three of the major gubernatorial candidates. However, for Mark Dayton it represents confirmation of a central fact: Whatever lead he had coming out of the primary or advantage he had over Emmer this summer has shrunk or disappeared, depending on how you slice the numbers, and he faces important challenges as he moves toward November 2.

First the numbers. The new poll puts Emmer ahead of Dayton 42% to 41%, with Horner back at 9%, with a margin or error of 4.5% Compared to the recent KSTP and MPR polls, it confirms a tight race that is effectively a statistical deadheat. The poll also represents a gain in numbers for the two main candidates, but a significant drop for Horner compared to other polls.

However, those numbers include “leaners” or those leaning toward a particular candidate. If leaners are excluded, it is 35% 34%, 18% respectively for Emmer, Dayton, and Horner. This is similar to recent polls. The importance of looking at percentages with and without leaners tell us something about Horner’s recent surge. As I have argued, Horner has some momentum and people are giving him a second look but they are not ready to commit and thus the learners seem to fall for Dayton and Emmer when push comes to shove. An earlier Rasmussen poll suggested voters less likely to support a third party candidate this year compared to the past.

The Minnesota electorate is polarized, and that may not work well to Horner. It may also be the afterglow of the Arnie Carlson and Star Tribune “non-endorsement” endorsement may have faded. Bottom line: Horner has a window but the leaner totals suggest that it is closing quickly.
Digging deeper, more interesting statistics are present. Buried in the poll is a bit of news for Dayton, among those certain to vote, including and excluding leaners, he enjoys a a 47% to 44% lead.

But there are also some other concerns. Eighty-percent of GOPers support Emmer, 73% of DFLers support Dayton. The GOP base is more solid for Emmer than Dayton, again suggesting that Horner is not making as much of an inroad into the moderate GOP as he needs. In fact, both including with and without learners, Horner is stealing more from Dayton than Emmer.
Further, there is a gender gap here. Emmer gets 43% if the male vote to 31% of the female vote. Dayton captures 31% male and 36% female. The gender gap is 12% among males favoring Emmer, 5% among women, favoring Dayton. Not a big lead for women. More bad news for Dayton: 57% of males said they are likely to vote, only 47% of females. Males are also angrier. Emmer has done a better job motivating the angry (white) male voter to show up and support him compared to Dayton. He needs women to support him but they are not as motivated to support him.

Where Dayton does have a silver lining is among moderates. Only 15% of moderates support Emmer, whereas 43% go for Dayton. Include leaners, Dayton has a 51% to 21% lead.
The battle to win Minnesota is among the swing voters, mostly including female voters, especially in the suburbs. Dayton needs them to show up and vote for him. He does not have a big lead among them and they may not show up on November 2. He needs also to shore up his base and get them out to vote along with the moderates.

What is Dayton’s current problem? In part he is a victim of a year where the GOP are motivated and the Democrats are not. Obama and the economy are souring life for Democrats including Dayton. But Dayton has been tagged as a classic tax and spend liberal and he has not messaged well in the last few weeks. He seems to be suffering from John Kerry disease. By that in 2004 Kerry seemed to retire or not campaign well after winning the primaries and then after the convention. This is when he was swiftboated.

Dayton’s seems unfocused and off message now. He needs to go on the offensive and motivate the soccer moms and the base. Attack Emmer as a threat to K-12 and Horner as wanting to tax kids clothing. Both messages resonate with soccer moms. But also, Dayton needs to message to them and spend a lot more time in the suburbs campaigning.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What if they threw an economic recovery but nobody came?

What if they threw an economic recovery but nobody came? This is exactly the news coming out this week when the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) declared that the recession ended in July 2009. For most Americans, they were shocked to hear this news especially with near 10% unemployment and 16% underemployment. This declaration by the official gurus of the economy speak to two issues–one economic in terms of how we evaluate economies–and one political–how the declaration hurts Democrats and Obama.

First the economic problem. The declaration of the beginning and ending of recessions is looked at mainly by shrinkage or growth in the GDP. If the economy contracts two or more quarters then a recession is declared. Similarly, when GDP growth reemerges, then it has ended. Sounds simple? Yes and no.

The problem with this measurement is that it fails to look at the distributional issues in the economy–the winners and losers–and how the changes in the GDP are affecting specific people. In English, it fails to look at unemployment, declines in wages, purchasing power, and other similar factors in real fashion. In theory, NBER is supposed to consider unemployment as a factor, but in practice it is given short shrift. What all this means is that once the economy seems to be growing, regardless of who is winning, gaining, or losing, we have ended the recession.

This is a very trickle down theory of economics. It ignores the real world impact of a recession, such as the one we have now. It goes against what most people would say is the mark of an end of recession which is increased hiring, decreased unemployment, more sales, and increased consumer confidence.

Most of us do not think a recession has ended when corporate profits are up due to cost cutting that includes laying off people. It does not include a world where home sales and equity continue to shrink, mortgage delinquencies continue to rise, and credit is hard to get and therefore new investment is marginal. Looking only to gains on Wall Street and corporate profits essentially says middle and working class America does not count. Someday you will gain but not today. This is trickle down economics at its worst and it only creates a sense of skepticism towards economics and government.

This is bad news for Obama too. For a president criticized (rightly or wrongly) as being out of touch with the economy and average America, to declare the recession over is another slap in the face of many. Moreover the message of his town hall meeting–my policies are working, give them time–again suggests a trickle down theory at its worst. “Be patient, the benefits of my helping the banks and Wall Street will eventually reach you.” Or “Stay the course.” This is the Democratic message. Not a good one.

Obama and the Democrats need a different message. I remain convinced that Obama needs to fire his entire economic team. He needs to do that and announce new policies and a direction. Tell the American public that you too are unhappy with the direction of the economy and want a new direction. Announce new policies and force votes before election day. Make it clear by word and deed that you again want change. In effect, show anger with your economic policies and move in a new direction. Change and anger. That is how Obama got elected and that is what he again needs to run on.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Millions Wasted: The Clark/Bachmann Race is Over

So the latest survey is in: Bachmann maintains a nine point lead over Clark in MN’s sixth district race. With only 47 days to go, a KSTP Channel 5 poll puts Bachmann at 49%, Clark at 40%, the third party candidate Anderson at 6%, and undecideds at 5%.

The poll reports that the lead is unchanged from the previous survey. Since then hundreds of ads and hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars have poured into the race. Yet nothing has changed. If anything, the poll suggests opinions and voting preferences are fixed and with 5% undecided, there is little in terms of swing votes to move.

The race is over. About a week ago I blogged about how Democrats are wasting money on this race and need to stop pouring money into it and shift it to the Third Congressional District (Jim Meffert) or other races across the country. This poll reinforces my point.

This is a GOP year in a GOP district. Bachmann will not be beat this year. The DCCC should exit gracefully from the race, donors should go elsewhere, and the Democrats should think about what they can win and hold in remaining weeks.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tea Party Candidates and Conventional Wisdom: Why the Democrats Got it Wrong

So Democrats are rejoicing and Republicans fretting the victory of Christine O’Donnell in Delaware.

Conventional wisdom is that the GOP worry that her victory as an extreme candidate makes it harder for the party to pick up enough seats to take back the Senate. Conventional wisdom is that the GOP is cannibalizing its moderates and pushing the party to the fringe right.

Conventional wisdom that Democrats can win since voters will repel from these extremist candidates. Conventional wisdom may be wrong.

There are two clear truths in politics–-angry people vote and messaging is important. The Democrats seem to have forgotten this and are banking on voters turning out against the Tea Party candidates. They should wish for a pony too.

First, think about the fact Rod Stewart was correct-–it is about passion and the same is true in politics. Passion or anger are the genesis for the political motivation to participate. Rarely do contented, alienated, or disaffected vote. In 2006 and 2008 the Democrats had the anger and passion and they voted. This year they do not and they may stay home.

Second, the Tea Party people have the passion and anger and they are participating. They will be there on November 2, in the same way they have been there during the primaries.

Third, in off year elections we can anticipate a national voter turnout of about 40%. In areas even less. If 90% of life is showing up, and if politics is also about mobilizing a base, the Tea Party candidates have an advantage. A small group of highly motivated (angry) voters showing up in a election with low turnout means they will have a big impact on races. Even if they are only 10% of the total turnout, that is enough to change outcomes when only 40% of electorate votes.

Third, Democrats are counting on moderate and swing voters being shocked by the extremism of the Tea Party candidates and not voting for them. Here the Democrats are presupposing these voters realize the Tea Party candidates are extreme. The Democrats need to message on this and have thus far failed to do so.

Fourth, even if they message, Democrats need an alternative. Voters, including the swings, are upset with the status quo. They want an alternative? What is the Democratic narrative? “The other side is nuts, stay with us.” Some message.

In 1980 voters had initial and significant hesitation with Reagan. Carter and the Democrats tried to cast him as a extremist nut. It failed. Angry voters upset with the status quo opted to take a chance and go with Reagan, preferring change over status quo.

So the Democrats should not count on being saved by the Tea Party take over. Democrats still need a message–-an alternative and they are running out of time. They have a McCain problem. In 2008 McCain had to run against the status quo and for change when the GOP had controlled the White House for the last eight years and Congress for six of the last eight. Now the Democrats are being forced to run against themselves.

What are they doing is dumb. Beyond hoping for a GOP meltdown, they are making a classic mistake they always make–-run to the right and ape the GOP. That will not work. Who do you vote for if you want change? The GOP or a party acting like the GOP? The real alternative for the Dems is a progressive one–-run against Wall Street, the banks, and big business. But given how much money they have taken from them, don’t look for that to occur.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11 and Hate American Style: Have we no sense of decency?

If July 4 is the American holiday of freedom and independence, 9/11 is rapidly becoming the calendar date for hate and bigotry in the United States.

As we remember 9/11, numerous events are converging in this country. There are the demands by Tea Party activists, members of the Republican Party, and assorted so- called Christians and nativists to prevent Muslims from building a community near Ground Zero. Claims are it is too close. Is too close four blocks, one mile, one state, or not in the United States?

From the sounds of the lunatic minister in Gainsville, Florida, who wanted to declare 9/11 national burn a Koran day, building anywhere in the Christian, God-loving red, white and blue America seems to close.

Then there are those who opposed immigrants and support the punitive Arizona law. There are those who oppose gay marriage. There are those who rallied with Glen Beck asking that we remain a Christian nation and those–including Beck–who question Obama’s faith and patriotism and implicitly his race, and then there are all of those who think the war on terrorism is the 21st Century version of the Crusades.

Hate seems to be everywhere and it is embarrassing. I thought this country was better than that. I thought the Statue of Liberty represented better. As someone who takes pride in a family that came through Ellis Island, I thought it represented better than that. I thought our Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence stood for something better than that.

Unfortunately, the ugly side of American politics is out again. The side that burned witches at Salem, enslaved the blacks, beat gays at Stonewall, fried the Rosenbergs, and blacklisted many fine Americans during the 50s; all that is back. 9/11 now seems to be the symbol and date for hatred and bigotry in America.

I feel sorry for Obama, he is doing the right thing denouncing those who wish to persecute Islams. But he seems to be alone. Other major Democrats seem silent, perhaps fearing for their jobs in November. Republicans such as Palin, Bachmann, and others in the leadership are not speaking out, instead ranging from silently to overtly egging on this bigotry.

Moreover, the more Obama denounces the bigots, the more he enrages them, convincing them that he is one of them, whomever it is. America seems to be turning into what we despise. We say we fight for freedom against oppression but now we seem as guilty as those whom we oppose. Where is our moral leadership, our sense of decency?

Charles “Chuck” Colson of Watergate fame, now a Christian leader, got it right in an ad in the NY Times the other day: “Burning the Koran does not elevate the Bible.” How is hate and persecution consistent with any Christianity except for that practiced by the Grand Inquisitor and the Spanish Inquisition? To be Christian, as far as I know means more than that.

Raised Catholic during Vatican II the message I learned was one directly from Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount. It was a Christianity of equality and forgiveness, of social justice, and compassion. Where is that spirit now among those who claim to be Christian? The Jesus I learned about would have said that a Christian nation is one that welcomes all, respects all, and treats us all according to the Golden Rule.

Blaming it all on Islam reminds of another movement. They blamed it all on the Jews. Now I know some will say I am being alarmist or doing an injustice to the Holocaust and what Jews faced under Hitler. Ok, without making that parallel, the recent events remind me of a great Monty Python routine where John Cleese portrays a Hitler-like figure who blames all social problems on the bicycle riders! Sound foolish? Of course it does and so do those who are turning 9/11 into a national day of hate.

The McCarthy era ended when Joseph Welch said to the senator: “Have you no sense of decency?” I ask the same and hope that as a nation we have the decency to turn on the bigots.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Forget Bachmann/Clark, The Real Focus Should be Minnesota's Third District

Political pundits and analysts need to take a new look at Minnesota’s third congressional district race pitting DFL challenger Jim Meffert seeking to unseat first term GOP incumbent Erik Paulsen. Democrats have a far better chance picking up this seat than they do knocking off Michelle Backmann with Tarryl Clark.

The Futile Effort to Beat Bachmann
There is virtually no chance the Democrats will defeat Bachmann. I have argued this for months. Bachmann’s sixth district seat is apportioned approximately six points ahead for Republicans. She is a conservative candidate in a conservative district. She is the Tea Party leader in a Tea Party GOP year. She fits her district well and has already survived several attempts to knock her off in previous years (most recently '08) more favorable to Democrats. Democrats would be better served to wait until 2012, after reapportionment, when new lines may change the Sixth and make it more competitive, or when Bachmann makes the foolish move to run for the senate againt Klobuchar and gets waxed by her.

Yet Democrats cannot resist themselves. Democrats from around the country are pouring millions into this race and yet there is no evidence that Clark is catching up or gaining ground. Yes, Democrats have to challenge her and force her to campaign at home so that she does not travel and fundraise and campaign for others. But from a cost-benefit perspective, pouring millions here makes no sense. Sure there might be a symbolic victory in knocking her off, but with Democrats having to defend so many seats and having to decide where to best spend, resources need to be placed where it makes the most sense. That is why Minnesota’s Third District makes more sense.

Minnesota’s Third District
Minnesota’s Third District is a moderate suburban area mainly encompassing the western suburbs of Minneapolis. For years it was represented by Republican Jim Ramstad who had a reputation as a moderate. In 2008 he did not seek reelection and the seat looked ripe for Democrats to pick up. After all, many of the state seats in that district were occupied by Democrats.

The ideal Democrat I argued was a moderate pro-choice and perhaps female candidate. I thought that State Representative Melissa Hortman or State Senator Terri Bonoff were perfect profile candidates for the district then, but Melissa did not run and Terri’s campaign did not see Ashwin Madia coming. Ashwin did a great job organizing and hunting delegates.

In the end, the Democrats picked Aswin Madia, a political novice, Iraq vet who ran again the war. He challenged Erik Paulsen, a 10-year conservative state legislator. Paulsen won, mostly by hiding his conservative credentials and running as a moderate. Additionally, Madia ran out of steam in October '08, especially when the war as an issue was waning and the economy became the focus. Madia did not do a good job pivoting from war to the economy and he lost his message at a critical time. Finally, the race had a Independence Party candidate who, on election day, took about ten percent of the vote. The result? Paulsen won by eight points.

Since election, Paulsen has spoken moderate but voted right. He has a voting record nearly identical to Bachmann’s, voting with her over 90% of the time. He has no real accomplishments to show, and about the only news about him has been how he appeared to gouge the House franking privilege by sending out hundreds of thousands of dollars in mail to his constituents, at taxpayer expense.

More importantly, for a moderate district, his voting record is way to the right of where most of the voters are.

Too many people have heard me argue that campaigns are won or lost based on how well you capture the swing voter. The most critical swing voter in Minnesota remains the suburban mom with kids–the soccer mom. These women are less and less likely to vote GOP because of its agenda. These women are worried about family issues–early childhood ed, K-12, jobs, and health care for their children. Minnesota’s Third District is soccer mom heaven. It is heavily dominated by soccer moms in the suburbs, and they are ready to swing.

Some analysis and polls suggest Paulsen’s agenda is way out of line with voters here. Less than half have a favorable view of him, with many outright unwilling to vote for him again were there a choice. This is where Jim Meffert comes in.

Who is Jim Meffert?
Jim Meffert is a terrific candidate for the third district, if only he could get the attention of the media, Democrats, and the voters. He is a St. Olaf grad, serving there as the president of the college Republicans. He became a Democrat because, like the soccer moms of his district, he saw the GOP moving in a direction he did not like. Jim has worked with the PTA and on education issues, he comes from peace and justice wing of the religious community, and he talks of government and business working together to solve problems. All of these are perfect themes for this district.

Final Thoughts
Yet so far his race has not received the attention it deserves. Democrats are too preoccupied with Bachmann, in part because she is a fundraising tool. She is the bogey(wo)man they can use to raise money. Keith Olbermann and MSMBC give her too much attention, in large part to hype their own ratings. Too much media attention is focused on Clark and Bachmann, like the train wreck we cannot resist watching. Or it reminds me of that old commercial–“I have fallen and can’t get up.” Here, the media and Democrats cannot resist covering or giving money in this race. They seem foolishly fixed on the race. Yes it may be sexy to cover or think about it. But if the real goal of Democrats is to win races, the right mix of money, media, and luck could make this a real race and seat they could win.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

All Things Gubernatorial

Two gubernatorial stories dominate Minnesota news now. The first is an MPR/Humphrey School poll declaring the race for governor in Minnesota is deadlocked between Dayton and Emmer, while the other story is Governor Pawlenty’s executive order forbidding state agencies from accepting or applying for any discretionary federal health care funds connected to the recently adopted Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The Poll and the Governor’s Race
The poll of 750 Minnesotans with a margin of error of +/- 5.3% found Emmer and Dayton deadlocked at 34%, with Horner at 13%, another 19% undecided. Standing on its own, the poll suggests a tight race, reporting results similar to what was reported in other surveys a couple of months ago. Yet more recent polls suggested a clear lead for Dayton over Emmer, especially in light of Emmer’s bad campaign, missteps on tips, and other similar issues. Has the race really tightened up again?

There are several reasons to say yes. Emmer was out of the news with no real primary opponent. Additionally, recent debates may have helped him, and the national anger towards Obama may be helping him. Yet this most recent poll raises more questions than they answer.
First, the margin of error of +/- must be kept in mind. The race may not be that close but the polling may mask it. Second, there are serious reasons to question the poll’s accuracy. It reports that among those surveyed, 46% identify as GOP, 41% as DFL, and 13% as Independence Party, leaving only 0% as unaffiliated. I seriously doubt this is an accurate reflection of the party alignment of Minnesota voters.

To start, to say there are no unaffiliated voters in MN is crazy. Other polls have put that number at least in the teens. Second, other estimates, even this year, have given the DFL about 35% of the affiliation and GOP around 30%. This is about my guess of where it is located. I find it unlikely, even in this anti-Obama, and Democratic party year, that GOP affiliation has surpassed the DFL and that it is 46%. My sense is that this poll has way overestimated the GOP strength in the state, thereby questioning the validity of the poll here.

Finally, what the poll also does not tell me is who the undecideds are and where they are leaning. Consistently I have argued that suburban women control the battleground in the state. This poll tells us nothing about the swing voters. Other recent polls have suggested Dayton with clear leads among women and moderates compared to Emmer.

Overall, while I suspect the governor’s race is close, this poll is not very good and there are reasons to question it.

Pawlenty and Federal Health Care Dollars
No surprise. Pawlenty foregoes federal health care money to help out the state. Critics will say it is political expediency to bolster his credentials for a likely presidential run, defenders say he is standing on principle.

Let us assume it is principle. First, principle did not prevent him from accepting money in the past, but then again, that was before he was as serious as he now appears to be in wanting to run for president. Second, there is panic. Pawlenty’s presidential run is going nowhere. He has no momentum and time is running short for him to gain it. Just a few months. Expect Pawlenty to do other dramatic things before he leaves office as final efforts to jolt his presidential bid. Look to see some way to use other executive orders to layoff workers or trim back the state.

But still, let us assume principle and personal conviction that the governor honestly believes the federal law is an impermissible intrusion. The parallel I see here is back to when NY Governor Mario Cuomo, a Roman Catholic, gave a 1984 speech at Notre Dame, seeking to explain how he reconciled his faith with his duties as governor. As a Catholic he noted a Church opposed to abortion, but as governor he had to recognize that not everyone held the same views as him on this issue. He eventually sought to reconcile faith and office by arguing that he had to represent the diversity of views in NY and serve the people first.

There is a parallel here with Pawlenty. He may have personal convictions about the federal law, but his first duty is to the people of the state of Minnesota. He is governor first, presidential candidate and person of personal conviction second. He needs to first honor his commitments to the state, doing what is best for it. Given the health care needs of the state, its budget woes, and other concerns, his personal convictions and public ambitions should take a backseat.

If the issue is taking the money conflicts with his presidential bid, then Pawlenty has a conflict of interest between his official duties to the state and his personal interests. If the issue is one of personal conviction, then he is letting his own personal views dictate public policy and what may be in the best interests of the state. Third, look at the grant that he forbid his health commissioner from pursuing–one to address teen pregnancy. Would not one have thought that an anti-abortion politician would want to acquire funds for this purpose? This makes about as much sense as making Bristol Palin the poster child against teen pregnancy!