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.
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.