13 January 2010

Some salt for the new 2010 MN Gov poll

Rasmussen released a poll today on the 2010 gubernatorial race in Minnesota, showing former Senators Norm Coleman and Mark Dayton in the lead for their respective parties' nominations. But as any Minnesota political junkie will tell you, the poll disregards the single most important factor in the race between now and the fall primary: party endorsement.

The endorsement processes for both parties are dominated by veteran party activists who dedicate a lot of their time and energy from the precinct caucuses through the state party conventions. While there are plenty of examples of statewide candidates who lost their party's endorsement but went on to win the nomination in a primary, it's not common.

Does the Rasmussen poll show us anything? Well, in the wider electorate, Coleman and Dayton have the highest name recognition. Given that both of them have run in several high profile statewide races over the last decade or so, this revelation is about as shocking as Mark McGuire admitting to steroid use. (Read: not at all.) The other candidates aren't nobodys by any means, but they simply haven't had as much constant statewide exposure.

The endorsement processes on both sides are complex, complete with multiple levels and intricate caucus rules to determine the make-up of the delegates at each party's state convention, which makes any kind of polling or prediction-making particularly difficult.

But that doesn't stop a bunch of us yahoos from trying, so here's my take on the current state of play:

DFL Party- Dayton, former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, and Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner (aka the non-abiders!) have all said they are going to the primary regardless of what happens in the endorsement. Unless I've missed it, all the other candidates pledge to drop out if they lose the endorsement at the state convention on April 24. Dayton and Entenza are both wealthy enough to self-finance full campaigns for the primary. I think Gaertner will have trouble gaining traction, unless she has some unexpected wind behind her back. Presuming none of these three win the endorsement (delegates tend to frown on non-abiders), the primary will also feature the DFL endorsee. Right now, conventional wisdom says that will likely be state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher or Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, but caucusing is an unpredictable process and sometimes lesser known candidates are able to connect with delegates and push through. We'll see.

Republican Party- Former state Auditor Pat Anderson has left the gubernatorial race to run for her old job. One of the reasons she cited for the shift was Coleman's shadow over the race. Will he get in or will he stay out? If he gets in, will he abide by the endorsement? I think most people predict that Coleman is not favored to win the endorsement, and that will come down to former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert or state Rep. Tom Emmer, frontrunner and underdog respectively. I think the big question mark is whether an endorsed Seifert or Emmer can defeat the bigger fundraising network and higher name recognition of Coleman in the primary. I do think Coleman will use this poll as a talking point if/when he does decide to announce his candidacy, positioning himself as a savior in high demand and not a career political opportunist (a frequent charge of his critics). Related: an earlier post on the challenges a Coleman candidacy could face.

Independence Party- Party Chair Jack Uldrich has said they are pushing their state endorsing convention closer to the summer to allow more candidates the time to jump into the race. Their process differs from the other two major parties and tends to draw a lot less attention until the candidate is endorsed. Leading the media chatter right now is Tom Horner, a public relations person who served as a senior aide to former Republican Senator Dave Durenberger. Horner hasn't officially decided to run, but he was the focus of Lori Sturdevant's most recent column for the Strib. Other IP candidates have filed, but it's hard to say where they stand. I've always thought a Jim Ramstad IP candidacy would be intriquing and shake up the dynamics of the general election, but the likelihood of it happening falls opposite of Mark McGuire's steroid use on the predictable/shocking spectrum.

Tea leaf reading aside, the parties will conduct a non-binding straw poll at precinct caucuses on Feb. 2, which should give a better indication of where each candidate stands. Until then, let the guessing game continue. Continue reading this post >>

12 January 2010

Will Coleman be the Charlie Crist of Minnesota?

An MPR report about a St. Cloud Republican fundraiser this past Saturday has ginned up buzz about a possible gubernatorial run by former Sen. Norm Coleman. The buzz itself is nothing new -- it's been around since he conceded the Senate race this past summer. However, the story, filed by Tim Pugmire, does feature a not-so-harmonious interaction between Coleman and Doug Blaine, an activist who predicts a Coleman candidacy will deter newcomers to the Republican Party.

I'm curious if Blaine was referring specifically to tea party activists, and it has me wondering how that group could affect the gubernatorial race. If Coleman does run, I can't see his candidacy receiving a warm reception from the tea party movement, as many in that group probably view Coleman as a wish-washy, socialist-lite moderate.

For some perspective, let's look at the US Senate race in Florida (which was covered in Sunday's New York Times Magazine). Gov. Charlie Crist started his campaign for the vacant Senate seat last year as the establishment front-runner for the GOP nomination. Now, he's in a tight primary race with Marco Rubio, former speaker of the Florida House, whose rise in the polls has been fueled by the tea party movement. The group's activists view Crist as a moderate, who isn't principled enough in his conservatism. They were particularly angered when Crist embraced (literally, hugged) Pres. Barack Obama and openly welcomed Florida's share of the federal stimulus package (socialist pork in tea party vernacular).

I don't think it's too much of a stretch to predict that the tea party's reaction to Coleman in Minnesota could mirror the tea party's reaction to Crist in Florida. But does that, as Doug Blaine predicts, turn them away from the GOP, or does it prompt them to rally behind an alternative Republican? And, of course, who is that alternative?

Looking at what has energized Florida tea party activists behind Rubio, Rep. Tom Emmer seems the most likely to fit the bill. He has been a vocal proponent for limited government (low taxes, free market, etc.) and has maintained a high anti-establishment profile, challenging Rep. Marty Seifert (also a gubernatorial candidate) for House Minority leadership after the 2008 election. Emmer's House district 19B is mostly within Wright County, which gave Jesse Ventura over 50% of its vote in 1998 and launched a Ron Paul devotee into the leadership of the 6th District GOP executive committee last year.

Seifert himself, widely viewed as the GOP frontrunner, could also serve as the Coleman alternative for tea party activists, but when compared to Emmer, I think they'll view him as too establishment and not passionate enough toward their self-described revolution.

Of course, Coleman could decide that three statewide races are enough, but given how he has increased and managed his profile lately, that seems unlikely. He could also skip the endorsement and use his fundraising network and high name recognition to go straight to the primary. This move wouldn't completely negate a tea party activist revolt, but he could bet his odds are better with a broader GOP electorate of the primary versus the narrower group of activists in the endorsement battle. It's also the case that the tea party movement might not have enough numbers to make a meaningful impact, or they could be out-maneuvered by more experienced vets of the endorsement process.

A lot question marks and unknowns. And precinct caucuses are just three weeks away.... Continue reading this post >>

09 January 2010

A lot of feel-good, not a lot of specifics at the Capitol

As part of my training at KFAI, I shadowed political reporter Marty Owings yesterday at the Capitol as he covered the closed door meeting and press conferences of legislative leaders (including the DFL's Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, as well as the GOP's Senate Minority Leader David Senjem and House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers) and Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Apparently the state's political leaders are sticking to a New Year's resolution to play nice, particularly when compared to the more pointed rhetoric used at the end of the last session. All the attendees characterized the meeting as positive, but that feel-good rapport may prove tentative when the legislative session starts on Feb. 4 and the rubber meets the road.

DFL majority leadership still says it wants to work with their Republican minority counterparts and the governor on how filling the projected $1.2 billion shortfall for the current budget. There is also the ongoing legal action regarding the funds unallotted by Pawlenty last year. Not to mention a bonding bill for construction projects, systematic reforms to confront future budget shortfalls, and proposals to spur the economy and curb high unemployment. Oh, and there's re-election and a wide open race for governor this year as well.

Some observations/ruminations:
  • How will the remaining acrimony and legal debate from Pawlenty's 2009 unallotments affect the tone and direction of this year's budget battles? The courts are expediting the appeals process. An earlier decision on who has what power with the budget will undoubtedly give more certainty and direction to the negotiations.
  • Pawlenty would also probably like the Legislature to ratify and share ownership of his past unilateral budget actions, particularly the shift of $1.8 billion payments to K-12 schools. Doug Grow has an in-depth piece on the subject at MinnPost, but essentially, if the Legislature ratifies the shift, it guarantees payment to the schools at some point. With no legislative action, the payments may never happen, which would make Pawlenty's move less of a shift and more of a cut. Unsurprisingly, school administrators are hoping the Legislature ratifies the shift. This puts the DFL legislators in an interesting spot. They are perennial advocates of public education funding, but are they willing to give the governor political cover on one of their core issues?
  • The sequence of the budget negotiations will go something like this: 1) The governor's office proposes cuts to balance budget. 2) DFL leadership says some of those cuts are unacceptable and will ruin the state. In turn, they propose tax increases. 3) Pawlenty and Republicans reply: taxes will kill economic growth. No new taxes! 4) If anyone knows what happens next, please e-mail me.
  • Expect to see a repeat of the 2008 bonding bill battle, when the Legislature approved a bill and Pawlenty line-item vetoed a number of projects, memorably singling out a music library in Chatfield as a prime example of wasteful government spending. This is the North Star State version of the federal debate over earmarked funding. This year, DFLers will support $1 billion for projects that they say will create jobs and boost the economy, while Pawlenty will push for $750 million and champion fiscal restraint in tough economic times. Expect to hear the phrases "get this state back to work" and "live within our means" a lot.
  • The only new key player is Rep. Kurt Zellers, who took over as Republican House Minority Leader after Rep. Marty Seifert stepped down and launched his gubernatorial campaign. It's doubtful this change will have much impact on the direction of the budget negotiations, but we'll have to see.
  • The question everyone will be asking at the end of the session: who won? With a number of legislators running for governor (most notably Speaker Kelliher) and Pawlenty eyeing the White House in 2012, not to mention the entire Legislature up for re-election this fall, the political stakes are high. A lot of gubernatorial candidates will want to come out of this session looking like the Hero (that's right, capital 'H'). Conversely, though, the increased stakes might inspire more timidity than bold action. There will be particular pressure on Kelliher -- who currently holds conventional wisdom's title of frontrunner for the DFL endorsement -- to post a clear victory for her party, which feels it has been out-maneuvered too often by the governor's office. If she doesn't deliver, expect her opponents for the endorsement to offer some criticism of the loud and pointed variety.
  • And I'm sure Pawlenty wouldn't mind having a "I took charge and saved Minnesota's economy by decreasing the size of government and not raising taxes" talking point in a couple years.
  • Oh yeah, I hate to get all Chicken Little, but beyond the political stakes, if things really head south, Minnesota's government could just disintegrate into economic turmoil a la California. You know, no big deal or anything.
So, ultimately, no big news out of St. Paul, but a lot to think about before the real show starts next month.
Continue reading this post >>