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.

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