Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The smoke clears, revealing the crater

Okay, Tommy, just let it out. Tommy links to and quotes an excellent post mortem on the primary by MPR’s Bob Collins. Tommy is unstinting in his criticism of the DFL party after the loss by its endorsed candidate for governor, Margaret Anderson Kelliher.

I don’t have enough knowledge of the DFL party operation to affirm or disaffirm what Tommy has to say about remedies. But as Bob Collins observes, the next state central committee meeting ought to be a doozy.

But let’s return to the central theme of Tommy’s post: sixty percent of the voters in the DFL primary voted for somebody other than the endorsed candidate. In a lot of places, that would be called a stinging rebuke. It is one thing to get forty percent in a general election among three major party candidates (although that is hardly desirable, either); it is quite another when you get forty percent as the endorsed candidate in a party primary.

Money had something to do with it, of course, but if it was just money, Matt Entenza would have been the winner, rather than finishing a distant third. Obviously, it’s more than money.

People have said to me and written that Mark Dayton “disrespected the process.” Given what the process has produced for the DFL the last twenty-four years, I personally don’t blame Dayton for slipping out the back door of the compound before the party started.

When people say he “disrespected the process,” I think they usually mean he “disrespected me.” Not obeying the law of the pack. Just like the Cub Scouts. (And as Tommy recounts, the process rather disrespected Dayton, too.)

I had rather high hopes for the endorsement process this time around. There was, an initiative of Take Action Minnesota, which set out to at least take the pulse of the supporters of the organization before making its endorsement. Early on, the idea had some juice.

The candidate who came out on the top of that heap, and by a pretty good margin, too, R.T. Rybak, in the end benefitted not at all from being the frontrunner. The fact that he was the leading vote getter in at least one grass roots vote meant nothing at all at the convention.

When the convention was over, just gave another “me too” endorsement to Anderson Kelliher. I have some affection for Take Action Minnesota, but I cannot see why anybody would bother to vote in another plebiscite it sponsors. Perhaps that’s harsh, but it turned out to be a genuinely meaningless exercise.

While we’re on the subject of endorsements, I think we need to also re-evaluate what they say about the electability of a candidate, if they say anything at all.

Tom Bakk had the endorsement of several of the construction trade unions because, surprise, surprise, he was a union carpenter. But it said nothing about Bakk’s general appeal as a candidate, which turned out to be, um, limited, or even whether the average rank and file carpenter supported him, because there were only a few who screened candidates and decided on the endorsement. I mean, crikey, everybody knows that.

Education Minnesota endorsed Anderson Kelliher, but take a lot of teachers aside, and they’ll tell you that MAK helped Governor Gutshot kick the can down the road on the budget deficit, including large “deferrals” of state school aid payments. Which will probably never be paid, especially by a governor who espouses a “balanced” approach. But at least we finished on time! Getting people involved in lit drops, phone banks, and GOTV activities is a tough sell when that is the record.

MAK also had the endorsement of MAPE, but the rank and file of MAPE remember that MAK floated the idea all state employees take a two percent wage cut -  even the guys cleaning the toilets at the rest stops. Ditto on the lit drops, phone banks, and GOTV activities.

Counting coup on union endorsements says less and less about whether a candidate is electable, or whether the rank and file will come out and help get the candidate elected. If you don’t believe me, just ask Skip Humphrey.

Having the money to have access to the airwaves obviously helped Mark Dayton. But it wouldn’t have mattered at all if he didn’t have a message that resonated with DFL voters.

It is that simple.

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