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....


  1. Interesting perspective. Thanks for the post.

  2. I love the updates on politics I know something about! Thanks Tanner.