The Magazine

Not Their Year

Given the national mood, Minnesota’s DFL may lose the governorship again.

Oct 4, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 03 • By BARRY CASSELMAN
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Some DFL operatives are grumbling privately that Dayton’s political mantra leading up to the primary—to “tax rich Minnesotans” as his solution to balance the state budget—is not likely to be appealing in November. Dayton, who has the endorsement of most labor unions in the state, has also proposed that, while most Minnesotans will have to make financial sacrifices, this should not apply to state employees, whose pension fund is in serious trouble. 

Some Republicans are concerned that their nominee has let himself become too identified with conservative social issues. Emmer is popular with Tea Party activists in the state, who are primarily interested in economic issues, but who are also easy targets of the liberal DFL in the competition for independent voters. Nonetheless, a portion of those backing the Tea Party this year do not normally vote, and this could be a hidden asset for the Emmer campaign, which now is stressing the jobs issues facing the state. 

It is the Independence party candidate Tom Horner, however, who has gotten in the way of DFL vote-seeking in the large pool of unaffiliated voters in the state (as much as 40 percent in recent polls). He attracts social moderates who are upset about economic issues, and DFLers who are unhappy with having Dayton as the party nominee. Horner has proposed raising state sales taxes while at the same time lowering business taxes. From endorsements so far, it is clear that Horner is doing well with many in the business and professional community. 

A record amount of money was spent in the DFL primary, with department store heir Dayton spending several million dollars and Entenza spending much more than that from his personal wealth. Dayton has turned down state campaign funding, but says he no longer has unlimited funds and is aggressively raising money. His action has been a boon to both Emmer and Horner, who have accepted state funds but are now relieved of some of the spending limits that go with these funds. It is expected, nevertheless, that Dayton will have the resources he needs for the November campaign. 

While it is technically the DFL’s “turn” to elect a governor this year, this has clearly become a GOP year. Republicans are expected to make significant gains in both houses of the state legislature, perhaps narrowly winning back control of at least one of them. Governor Pawlenty has consistently turned back DFL efforts to raise taxes in the state and initiated efforts to cut state spending drastically. While his personal popularity is mixed, the retiring governor has strengthened the significant constituency opposed to traditional DFL economic solutions outside the inner cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. This constituency includes not only Republicans, but many independents and some more conservative DFLers as well. 

The result of this political mishmash is that the 2010 governor’s race in Minnesota is too unclear to call. Some polls indicate, however, that the Dayton campaign is having difficulty connecting with voters outside his party base, and his frontrunner status may not last long. Emmer has a huge challenge to overcome his early gaffes and to attract independent voters, but if third party candidate Horner can capture enough DFL and more liberal independent voters, Emmer could be the beneficiary of the same phenomenon that has denied the DFL the governorship for the past three cycles. If Horner can emerge with more personal charisma than he has shown so far, and can adroitly maneuver between the very liberal Dayton and the very conservative Emmer, there is even an outside chance he can pull a Ventura-like upset, unlikely as that seems. 

If Emmer somehow wins, which seems more likely now, and the GOP wins enough state legislative races, there could be a move to make Yogi Berra the state philosopher and change the state motto to “Déjà Vu All Over Again  .  .  . and Again.” This curious race is definitely worth watching.

Barry Casselman, a national political analyst, writes ‘The Prairie Editor’ blog at barrycasselman.com.

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