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The two major political parties are in decline across the
nation, and nowhere is this more evident than in Minnesota
where the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have
each just endorsed candidates for governor who are likely
to lose to more popular challengers in an August primary.
Minnesota employs a precinct caucus system in which a tiny
percentage of party activists control the parties, including the
endorsement of candidates for all offices.
That system enables small groups of activists on the left and
the right to dominate the parties with only a tiny number of
activists who are elected delegate every two years in February.
Only about 1% (sometimes even less) of eligible party voters
takes part in this very undemocratic process which culminates
in a biennial state convention.
In recent years, this inefficient, elitist system has produced
weak nominees and intraparty conflicts --- and it is a curious
mystery to many observers why the precinct caucus system
has not been abandoned.
This year, the Republican convention endorsed as expected,
including for the top of its ticket, 2014 GOP gubernatorial
candidate Jeff Johnson (who lost) again. He was endorsed
after the third ballot against two little-known opponents.
Former two-term governor and 2012 presidential candidate
Tim Pawlenty entered the race late and decided not to seek
endorsement. He will run against Johnson in the mid-August
primary. In spite of running in 2014, Johnson is not that
well-known statewide, Pawlenty, on the other hand, has very
high name recognition. In only a month, Pawlenty raised more
than million dollars. Johnson has raised only about $200,000
in almost a year Both support President Trump who remains
very popular with the GOP base--- although Pawlenty was
critical of candidate Trump immediately after the release of the
controversial LA videotape, Pawlenty says he voted for Trump
in 2016 and now supports most of his policies and actions.
Retiring Congressman Tim Walz has been the favorite in the
Democratic (DFL) race for governor. Although he had two
serious opponents (both women), he was expected to win
party endorsement at the DFL convention. He led slightly on
the first ballot, but State Representative Erin Murphy of St. Paul,
running to the left of Walz, took the lead, and won an upset
endorsement on the 8th ballot. Walz then announced he would
run against Murphy in the August DFL primary.
Many observers think that Tim Pawlenty is the much stronger
GOP candidate in 2018, and that the Republicans, with him at
top of the ticket, have a good chance to pick up two Democratic
congressional seats (districts 1 and 8), be competitive in one U.S.
senate race (against appointed DFL Senator Tina Smith who
replaced Al Franken), keep control of both houses of the state
legislature, and win the governorship.
The results at the DFL state convention will likely enhance
the latter. An endorsed Walz was expected to have little or no
primary opposition, and run as a rural moderate. Now he must
run to the left, and it isn't a certainty he will be the nominee. If
Erin Murphy is, she will have the disadvantage of being to the
left of most state voters. Urban candidates from Minneapolis and
St. Paul traditionally also do not do well with outstate voters.
Normally, her gender would be an advantage, but both DFL U.S.
senate candidates this cycle area also women --- so the advantage
might be limited. Minnesota voters are often ticketsplitters.
The DFL has been, since 2016, moving sharply to the left in
urban centers. This was very evident in both the Twin Cities
2017 municipal elections, and again this year when long-term
iconic DFL elected officials failed to be endorsed. Most notable
of these took place when long-time former legislator, DFL
gubernatorial candidate, and current Hennepin County Attorney
Mike Freeman, son of legendary Minnesota Governor Orville
Freeman (who put JFK name in nomination for president in
1960) was denied endorsement at his own convention.
Both major Minnesota parties have their internal differences and
conflicts, but the DFL also has the extra complication of its
Wellstone Alliance (named after the late senator, and which is its
main voter ID and GOTV vehicle) being in disarray following
the ouster of the two Wellstone sons from its board with reported
recriminations --- all of this at a critical moment in the election
Final filing date for all state offices is Tuesday, June 5. In light
of what happened at the state conventions, more candidates
could file for office. Presumably, the two parties will try to
raise money to promote their endorsed candidates. In reality,
however, major donors are bypassing the party organizations,
and giving directly to each candidate they support.
By continuing to support the precinct caucus system, the two
Minnesota major parties are making themselves more and
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.