Saturday, August 11, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Minnesota Primaries 2018: A Last Preview

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The 2018 Minnesota primary season is unlike any other in memory,
and has been marked by the breakdown of the state’s political
party endorsement process and the precinct caucus system which
supports it.

Because so many Minnesota races have national implications, the
state’s elections this year are drawing unusual attention from across
the country.

In both parties, major party establishment candidates are challenging
the results of endorsing conventions that represented the views of a
relatively tiny number of party activists who the challengers feel did
not choose their party’s best or strongest candidates to be on the
November ballot.

What is distinctive about this intraparty “revolt” is that it is being
led by established elected officials, and not “outsiders.”

At the end of the primary campaign, however, the political parties
and their leaders are fighting back, attempting to rescue their power
and influence by pushing hard for their endorsed candidates.

The question before the primary, then, is will this be the “last hurrah”
of the endorsement/caucus system or will primary voters rescue it.

The conflict is more acute in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL)
Party where endorsement challenges involve the governor’s race,
the attorney general’s race, one congressional race --- and sets up a
deep division between two major wings of the party. There are also
two major endorsement challenges in the Republican Party, but they
are not really ideological divisions --- rather they are mostly
face-offs between personalities.

At the top of the tickets, the primary governor races, both parties
are experiencing epic battles.

In the Republican primary, former two-term governor Tim Pawlenty
is challenging the endorsement of Jeff Johnson, a county commissioner
and unsuccessful GOP gubernatorial nominee in 2014. Both are
conservatives, both support President Trump, but Pawlenty is better
known, has raised more campaign funds, and argues he is more
likely to defeat the DFL nominee in November. Johnson has resisted
the Pawlenty campaign energetically with limited resources. The
campaigns have become bitter. The better-known Pawlenty is favored,
but if Johnson can motivate enough grass roots voters to turn out for
him, an upset is possible.

In the southeastern Minnesota First Congressional District, Jim
Hagedorn won the GOP endorsement for this his fourth try for the
office. He almost upset the DFL incumbent (who is retiring this cycle)
in 2014. His father also once represented the district. But Hagedorn is
being challenged in the primary by GOP State Senator Carla Nelson
who represents a district in the area of Rochester, MN-1’s largest
city. There does not seem to be much ideological difference between
the two candidates, and the better-known Hagedorn is favored. But
Nelson has waged a very energetic campaign, received a last-minute
NRA endorsement, and an upset is not impossible.

In the DFL primary, by contrast, it’s virtually an all-out war between
traditional liberal candidates and candidate espousing the more
radical views of 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie
Sanders. The state DFL convention endorsed State Representative
Erin Murphy of St. Paul who supports many of Sanders’ views ---
views that are resonating in many Democratic primaries this year
across the nation. As the cycle began, however, outstate Congressman
Tim Walz, a more traditional liberal, was favored because it was felt
he could best bridge the state’s urban-rural divide. At the tumultuous
June state DFL convention, a third major gubernatorial candidate
emerged when the incumbent DFL state attorney general, Lori
Swanson suddenly withdrew from her re-election effort, and then
filed for governor. In latest polls, Swanson and Walz are almost tied,
and lead Murphy by several points, but the endorsed candidate,
strongly supported by her party, is campaigning energetically. With
the DFL sample ballot including her, the polls might be wrong,
especially if party loyalists turn out heavily on August 14. There is
a credible scenario for any of the three to win.

When Swanson suddenly retired as attorney general, a major vacuum
occurred, leaving a tiny interval for candidates to file for her job. One
of those who did was controversial 5th district DFL Congressman
Keith Ellison who retired from his safe Minneapolis seat. An unknown
lawyer had been endorsed at the DFL convention, but is given
virtually no chance now to win the primary. Also in the race is former
Ramsey (St. Paul) County Attorney Tom Foley, former state
Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman and State Representative
Debra Hilstrom. Foley is probably Ellison’s best-known opponent,
but the retiring congressman is the favorite in the primary. His
probable nomination, however, might create a problem for the rest
of the DFL statewide ticket because his many views are presumably
not shared by a significant number of outstate and independent
voters. Ellison, who was one of the few congressmen who supported
Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid in 2016, advocates a number of
“very progressive”or “socialistic” issues that might not be supported
even by other DFL candidates in 2018.

In the manner of “musical chairs,” Ellison’s last-minute retirement
from Congress created  an opening for his seat. With only hours
before the deadline, several DFL candidates filed to run in this
overwhelmingly liberal district. Among them was first-term Somali-
American State Representative Ilhan Omar. She, like Ellison
advocates views espoused by Bernie Sanders and others who stand
to the left of the Democratic Party mainstream. A Somali-American
male engineer also filed, as did State Representative Patricia
Torres-Rey, an Hispanic-American, and black state legislator (who
later suspended his campaign although he remains on the ballot).
A candidate who previously ran in the district as a Republican filed.
The most well-known candidate, former state Speaker of the House
Margaret Anderson Kelliher, then entered the race. In a power play
not recognized by the other candidates, Omar and her supporters
called a last-minute endorsing convention which predictably gave
her the DFL endorsement. The district also has many liberal
suburban precincts. Although the winner of this primary will
almost certainly be elected in November, the result on August 14
is far from certain. Margaret Kelliher and Ilhan Omar are
considered the leading candidates in another nationally-watched
test of the polar differences in the Democratic party.

There are many other important races in Minnesota in 2018,
especially in congressional districts 1, 2, 3 and 8, but they will be
decided in November. In the meantime, state voters in both
parties have a full plate of decisions to make imminently in the
middle of August.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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