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Although the smoke has not yet lifted from the two major party
conventions in Minnesota, one matter is clear: the traditional
parties are closer to irrelevance in 2018.
Each party endorsed a candidate for governor, but endorsement
is only a recommendation to primary voters in August when the
formal nomination is decided. In the past, endorsements usually
led to nomination, but this has, in some recent cycles, often not
been the case.
Republicans endorsed their previous (2014) nominee, Jeff Johnson,
who lost the general election. It took him three ballots this time to
defeat little-known opponents, and now he must face a much-better
known opponent, former two-term Governor Tim Pawlenty, in the
primary. Pawlenty not only has raised much more money, he is one
of the best communicators in recent state politics.
Democrats (DFL) endorsed a St. Paul legislator, Erin Murphy, in
an upset over retiring 1st district Congressman Tim Walz, a rural
candidate DFL insiders felt would have broad appeal in November.
Walz will now oppose Murphy in the August primary. But he won’t
be Murphy’s only major DFL opponent. DFL Attorney General
Lori Swanson failed to be endorsed on her first ballot at the
DFL convention, and abruptly withdrew from the race. Three
days later, after teaming up with retiring DFL 8th district
Congressman Rick Nolan as her running mate, she filed for
governor. Having run successfully three times statewide,
Swanson could win the primary. In any event, all three major DFL
gubernatorial campaigns will now have to raise and spend a lot
of money in the primary --- a contest that will inevitably be bitter
between the candidates. The general election is only two months
Pre-convention, most observers thought that Walz, as the likely
strongest DFL nominee, would be endorsed and then coast to
the November election with no intraparty problems and a big
campaign fund balance. This has evaporated.
To make matters even more complicated for the DFL, 5th district
DFL Congressman Keith Ellison announced his retirement from
Congress and filed to run for state attorney general against the
DFL endorsee, a little-known attorney who had defeated Swanson
at the state convention. Former Attorney General Mike Hatch, a
close advisor to Lori Swanson, also filed for attorney general, as
did several other DFLers. Hatch lost a 2006 race for governor
against Pawlenty. Ellison has won re-election easily in his
ultraliberal district (Minneapolis), and is the controversial vice
chair of the national Democratic Party. He is well-known for his
radical, and often unpopular, views throughout the state, but he
could win the multi-candidate primary. The likely GOP attorney
general nominee, Doug Wardlow, could now win this race.
Republicans have not held this office since 1971.
Many Republicans are eager for Ellison to win the DFL primary,
and to make his radical left views a major issue in November,
not only in his race, but all the statewide races as they ask all
DFL candidates if they agree with the 5th district congressman’s
The DFL will keep Ellison’s 5th district seat, but now much
money and distraction will be spent by DFLers seeking to be
his successor. A large number of candidates have filed to run
for this seat. The most well-known is former DFL Speaker of
the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher, but Minneapolis voters
have, as their 2017 municipal elections indicated, moved sharply
to the left, and the primary result in this race is yet unknown.
Republicans were poised to possibly pick up two U.S. house
seats elsewhere in the state, and DFLers felt they could pick up
one or two from the GOP, but the chaos in the DFL now would
seem to help Republican candidates outside the Twin Cities.
DFL Senator Amy Klobuchar re-election is safe in any event, but
a second U.S. senate race with appointed DFL Senator Tina
Smith (she replaced Al Frnnken who resigned) now becomes
even more competitive as the cancelled August recess in
Washington, DC makes it difficult for her to campaign back
home in Minnesota where she is not well-known.
To be fair, both parties have divisions and factions, and both
party organizations are big losers as a result of the convention
endorsements. Only a tiny number of activists (less than 1% of
eligible party voters) participate in the endorsement process.
The ability of the DFL and GOP to raise money for the rest of the
2018 campaign is severely diminished, as most donors, large and
small, will give their money now to the individual campaigns
they support. Furthermore, since the two party organizations
(especially the DFL) will now campaign for their endorsed
candidates who might well lose in the primary election, their
political credibility is likely to be severely reduced in November.
Others have observed the general decline of the political parties
across the nation. But perhaps nowhere has this decline
happened so dramatically as it just has in Minnesota. The DFL
particularly has been the solid backbone of liberal voters in this
state for decades. With their factions, liberal and radical, now at
each other’s political throats in 2018, however, all bets are off.
Copyrght (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.