Monday, May 7, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Very High Stakes Governor's Race

The third and final act of the Minnesota 2018 election grand
opera is the race for governor. National party strategists and
pundits will be paying much more attention to Acts I and II,
i.e., the close races for U.S. house and senate that are making
this state so important to whom will control Congress in the
next term, but the contest that will likely have the most
impact will be the one that will choose the next state chief

Both major parties face possible primary contests for their
gubernatorial nomination. Democratic (DFL) frontrunner,
retiring Congressman Tim Walz, faces two major challengers
in retiring State Auditor Rebecca Otto and Erin Murphy, a
state representative. The affable Mr. Walz is hoping for party
endorsement at the June state DFL convention, but might have
to face a competitive August primary. On the GOP side, former
Governor Tim Pawlenty entered the race only a month ago, but
has already raised far more campaign funds than his only
remaining major opponent, 2014 gubernatorial nominee Jeff
Johnson. Johnson has worked to gain support among party
convention delegates for months, and wins straw polls at the
district level, but these activists  represent less than 1% of the
state Republican electorate. Johnson failed to win this race four
years ago, but Pawlenty has won it twice, albeit by only a
plurality with a major third party candidates on both ballots.

With his early start, Johnson could be endorsed at the state
GOP convention, but recent past DFL and GOP endorsees
have subsequently lost their party nomination in the
statewide primary.

Republicans control both the house and senate in the state
legislature now, and are expected to keep control for the next
session. But their margin in the senate is only one seat (no state
senate seats are up for election this year). Their margin in the
state house is comfortable, but not necessarily safe should
there be a DFL wave this cycle.

There could also be a GOP wave in Minnesota in 2018.

Retiring DFL Governor Mark Dayton has raised state taxes
until very recently. Failures in state medical insurance and
auto license systems have plagued his administration. His
initial popularity has declined. As his would-be successor,
Tim Walz has to decide whether he will offer more of the same
to voters, or take his party in a new direction. As is happening
nationally, Bernie Sanders DFLers, personified by Minneapolis
Congressman Keith Ellison (one of the few in Congress who
supported the Sanders presidential bid), are lobbying at the
grass roots level to move the DFL even further to the left. But
much of Walz support comes from those who want to expand
the DFL base into suburban and rural Minnesota where the
party has recently been weak, and leftist notions are not

Tim Pawlenty has spent the years since he left politics (after his
unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2012) as a highly paid
executive for a nationao financial services industry advocacy
group. His opponents are predictably trying to paint him as a DC
lobbyist. His defenders reply that this industry has a reported
200,000 workers throughout Minnesota --- and that this is a vital
industry in the economy. During the 2016 presidential campaign,
he denounced candidate Donald Trump after a controversial
video was a released. Pawlenty says he did this as the father of
two daughters, and who felt Trump’s remarks on the video were
extremely inappropriate, but that he voted for Trump and now
agrees with many of his policies. Do Trump supporters outstate
want an early Trump supporter or a later Trump supporter who
is much more likely to win? The answer to that question will be
key. Pawlenty’s first two terms had some mixed results. He will
now have to make the case that his third term will be better, A
veteran of the state legislature (he was once house majority
leader). Pawlenty argues he is a forward-thinking pragmatist
who knows how to get things done. He has come out swinging
against the failures of the Dayton administration.

Recent reports by state conservative think tanks allege that DFL
tax and education policies are driving families and businesses
out of the state. Public employee unions are also a powerful
part of the Minnesota DFL, and (as in neighboring Wisconsin)
this could be a major issue in the governor’s race. Mining and
environmental issues have helped turn northeastern Minnesota
(especially the mineral-rich area called The Range) from a past
reliably large DFL majority to giving GOP candidate Trump a
16-point margin in 2016.

The DFL still has large majorities in the state’s two largest cities
of St. Paul and Minneapolis. With labor union money and an
experienced GOTV organization, plus the natural energy from
liberal antipathy to Donald Trump, the Democrats in Minnesota
remain a formidable force, but Republicans now have a  strong
voter ID and GOTV effort. So many close races this year gives
them an energy of their own

Unemployment is currently low in the state, and other economic
conditions here, as will be true in the rest of the nation, will play
an important role in the 2018 election, especially in the race for
governor, because the two major Minnesota political parties have
such different visions of how the state should be run.

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

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