Unless the recount reverses it, Mark Dayton is Minnesota’s next governor and the first DFLer to win since Perpich in 1986. Contrary to assertions by GOP State Party Chair Tony Sutton that something smells fishy when Republicans win control of the legislature and the Oberstar seat but lose the governor’s race, neither fraud nor shenanigans need be invoked to explain the outcome. Instead, the simple answer lies in the fact that Tom Emmer and the GOP ran a horrible campaign and it was only the backlash against Obama and the Democrats that made it as close as it was.
No Fraud, No Foul
At the most simple level, by the logic of Sutton’s statement the GOP should have won the offices of Secretary of State, Auditor, and Attorney General, but they did not. Additionally, Sutton apparently ignores the phenomena of ticket splitting–voting one way at the legislative and another at the constitutional office level. Finally, by his logic, one could argue that Pawlenty should not have been elected, at least in 2006, because of the overwhelming vote for DFLers that year.
No, Sutton’s comments don’t make sense. They instead prematurely raise the specter of fraud, seeking to insinuate that because (in his belief) Franken only beat Coleman due to fraud, the same must be true here. Of course Sutton forgets that Coleman was never able to prove widespread fraud in court and his attorney, when appearing before the Minnesota Supreme Court, admitted the same. As I have written elsewhere, the best studies and empirical evidence on voter fraud is that it is negligible at best. Fraud is the unlikely answer for why Dayton won.
Instead, Sutton’s comments remind me of the great line from Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much.” The real roots of Dayton’s victory lie in part in how bad Sutton, Emmer, and the GOP were in running the governor’s race.
Unfortunately we do not have exit polls to assess fully why people voted the way they did. We do have election returns revealing that Dayton won the metro area and St. Louis County as expected, and he also did well in other rural areas, at least compared to recent DFLers. But our information is limited. Thus, some conjecture is necessary.
Dayton’s apparent victory stemmed from several advantages he had. First, there was the overwhelming name recognition, especially among the elderly. As flawed as most pre-election polls were, this name recognition helped. Elderly vote, and that matters.
Second, Dayton was the only major party candidate with a lieutenant governor from greater Minnesota (here the Iron Range). This advantage was critical to Dayton’s DFL primary victory.
Third, Dayton had public sector union endorsements because of his stance against more budget cuts. While unions are experiencing declining political clout, one can presume AFSCME got out the vote to help Dayton and preserve their jobs.
Thus, think about it–Dayton reunited the old DFL coalition of urban liberals, unions, and the Iron Range. This is the classic recipe for DFL success in yesteryear. He was the first DFLer to bring this coalition together since Perpich. He did it with a reinventing of the old Perpich slogan of making Minnesota the “brainpower state.” This time Dayton stressed education in general, appealed to female voters, and forged a 2010 version of the 1986 message. How odd? An almost back to the future campaign tactic. Long term, such a coalition may not work, especially if your name is not Dayton, but this time it did.
But one should also not forget Dayton’s fortune helped. He outspent Emmer. He stayed on message talking about education and benefitted from a state less adverse to taxes than the nation as a whole.
Emmer ran a terrible campaign. It started with his convention speech when he declared he would run from the right and not the center. Generally you cannot win from the extreme when you only motivate your base and do not appeal to swing voters. The balance of power is capturing swings. Nationally, Democrats had the swings in 2006 and 2008, but lost them in 2010. Emmer never had them in 2010 since he disavowed them from the start.
Second, Emmer had a terrible summer. His missteps on taxes and tips cost him. He let the DFL paint him as a right-wing nut and he never overcame that image. In someways he was swiftboated by the DFL and like Kerry in 2004, he never overcame that image.
Third, Emmer had a McCain problem. In 2008 McCain knew “change” was the mantra of the year but how to run on change when you are of the same party of sitting president whom the public wants to change? Pawlenty was Emmer’s Bush. Minnesotans wanted change and the DFL tied Emmer to Pawlenty. Emmer talked of change but had the same problem when McCain talked of it.
Finally, the GOP and Emmer tried to use the national strategy at the state level. It worked with the legislative races, but not with the gubernatorial race so much. Sometimes cookie cutter strategies do not pan out.
The Horner Effect
How did Horner factor in? Whom did he hurt? I think he hurt Emmer more, but not for reasons most think.
I participated in a Republican Jewish forum about one week before the election. Sue Jeffers, Mitch Berg, and others were on the panel with me. When someone asked about whether they should worry about moderate GOPS such as Arnie Carlson, David Durenburger, and Al Quie endorsing Horner, Jeffers and others said let them go. They disparaged them as RINOs and were glad to see them go. Emmer and Sutton simply wrote off and ignored the old moderate Republicans, taking the Jim Demint tactic about ideological purity above coalition and victory.
The Horner press conference where many former GOP legislators endorsed him spoke also to that alienation they felt. Similarly, on November 5, I spoke to the Minneapolis Rotary club and lunched with one of my favorite former GOP state senators who expressed the same feeling–they were not wanted!
My point? Horner did not steal voters from Emmer. Emmer never went after them. Even if Emmer were not in the race I doubt Emmer would have gotten them. Either they would have stayed home or at best split with Dayton. But given Emmer’s lack of appeal to swings, Dayton’s victory might have been greater.
The Oberstar Effect
Oberstar lost because he ignored his district and took his victory for granted. It was like a page out of Edwin O’Connor’s "The Last Hurrah." One DFL precinct captain told me she never got a call from the Oberstar people. Additionally, the southern part of the 8th district is more conservative than the northern part and Oberstar was weak there, counting on the northern part to rescue him. It did not because he ignored it.
However, the Democrats on the Range are changing. They are perhaps becoming more of what used to be called Reagan Democrats. This is a concern for the DFL in the future.
Overall, had Oberstar run a better campaign and won Dayton might have done even better than he did.
A better than expected Dayton campaign, a horrible campaign from the right by Emmer, a national GOP anti-Obama surge, and a pathetic Oberstar campaign can account for much of the gubernatorial outcome. One need not invoke fraud or nefarious reasons to explain Dayton’s victory.
I predicted a 46% (Dayton), 43% (Emmer), and 12% (Horner) result. The final was tally as of today is 43.6%, 43.2%, and 11.9%. Judge for yourself how I did, especially compared to the pre-election polls!