Monday, April 26, 2010

Illuminations From Duluth

I hope readers from other places in the nation will excuse this second column about the Minnesota gubernatorial race, but I think it may be helpful in illuminating what is happening in many other parts of the country.

Last weekend was the Democratic (DFL) state convention. In Minnesota, the party endorsement decided in the state conventions is a very important part of securing party nomination that officially comes after the state primary (this year in August). In fact, the endorsement of the Republican state convention coming up this weekend will likely be tantamount to nomination. But this is not the case in the DFL where the newly-endorsed gubernatorial candidate will face a very serious challenge of at least three DFL opponents who chose not to seek endorsement.

Speaker of the Minnesota House Margaret Kelliher won the DFL endorsement after leading on all ballots. Going into the convention in Duluth, and coming out of it, she is the strongest candidate the party could have endorsed. Before the convention, her major opponent was expected to be Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak, and although he was second on all ballots, his speech and convention organization were clearly a disappointment, especially since his communication skills created high expectations.

State Representative Paul Thissen, a new face in statewide politics, was expected to be the dark horse of the convention, and he did maintain third place throughout the balloting.

In fourth and fifth place were State Representative Tom Rukavina from the state’s Iron Range, and State Senator John Marty who in 1994 was the DFL nominee for governor (but lost in a landslide to the Republican incumbent).

Rukavina and Marty were the most liberal candidates (although all five would be considered quite liberal by national standards). but it as only Rukavina who electrified the whole convention with a rousing populist speech that seemed to gain him votes on the early ballots. It was also Rukavina, faced with elimination by the drop-off rules, who used his concession speech to passionately endorse Kelliher, and thus made her victory inevitable. (Marty later also endorsed Kelliher after revealing her pledge to him to support single payer health insurance in the state.)

Although the names of Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, and other DFL luminaries of the past were mentioned during the convention proceedings, only the late Senator Paul Wellstone’s name roused the convention to tumultuous applause. It was, in fact, Rukavina’s presentation which most explicitly employed Wellstone’s memory.

But the DFL convention delegates are considerably to the left of the whole party (just as the GOP delegates this week will be more conservative than their whole party).

Interestingly, the DFL frontrunner for nomination, former U.S. Senator Mark Dayton, is just as liberal or more so than Mrs. Kelliher, but his reason for eschewing the convention was that 1400 delegates could not fairly represent the will of a DFL that had more than a million voters. He argues, and I think correctly, that the party nomination should be up to voters in a primary. Mr. Dayton has certain advantages that make him so formidable in August. As a former state auditor and U.S. senator, he is known to almost all DFL voters. He has personal resources that will enable him to outspend Mrs. Kelliher, and his program for helping seniors obtain prescription drugs from Canada when he was in the senate has endeared him to many older DFL voters. Dayton has also obtained the endorsement of some of the largest and most powerful unions in the state. In an August primary, seniors and union members will make up a large number of those who will actually vote.

Mrs. Kelliher also has notable union support, and support from rural voters (she grew up on a farm), as well as the party organization. She would also, if elected, be the first woman governor of the state. But many urban DFL voters will be on holiday and out of the state in August. Although she has DFL endorsement, she does not so far have much money in the bank. At least two of her primary opponents will have virtually unlimited funds to spend on TV advertising

I have said that this is the year the DFL would likely win back the governorship after 20 years out of power. With retiring two-term incumbent GOP Governor Tim Pawlenty likely to run for president in 2012, the two major Republican contenders for their party’s nomination have not yet demonstrated any statewide star power, nor an appeal to the largest bloc of voters in the state (according to most polls), that is, those who consider themselves independents. In fact, a credible Independence Party candidate has once again emerged, Tom Horner, and he could draw considerable votes from more centrist voters in the DFL and GOP.

As was demonstrated in the recent Virginia gubernatorial contest, a conservative Republican nominee won by appealing to the political center. It is not clear if the Minnesota GOP nominee will do the same this year. As for the DFL, their party is suffering from voter unhappiness with the Democratic administration in Washington, DC, and with the recently-passed Obama healthcare legislation. Even President Obama, Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid withdrew the single payer provisions from their legislation because of widespread opposition to it. Would the DFL gubernatorial nominee be helped in November by advocating this unpopular idea?

If the GOP candidate in Minnesota runs on very conservative social issues, and the DFL candidate runs on single payer healthcare and other very liberal issues, the Independence Party candidate will once again take a large share of the vote in November, and determine the winner as has happened here every year since 1998 (when IP candidate Jesse Ventura actually won).

There is not much illuminating political language being spoken today in Minnesota and in the nation. There is a lot of obfuscating rhetoric, outright deceptions, and tired slogans in the political marketplace, but no shortage of economic problems(which they do not really address). The Tea Party is very active in Minnesota,as evidenced by the huge rally featuring Sarah Palin in Minneapolis recently.There are many Democrats, and a number of Republicans, too, who continue to denigrate this growing number of voters (made up of those from all parties), but they are the dynamic of the 2010 election, and any candidate who ignores them does so at their peril this year.

These voters are incensed by issues of high unemployment, higher taxation,growing entitlements, public bailouts, governmental expansion,and on national security. They will, in many cases, determine the outcome of 2010 elections.

Candidates from either major party who try to pretend they are not there, are running against history.

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