House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher survived a five-candidate scrum to emerge from April’s state DFL State Convention with the party’s endorsement. It took her six rounds of contentious balloting at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center to claim the gubernatorial crown.
By contrast, state Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano, faced just one serious rival for the GOP endorsement. He walked out of April’s GOP convention in Minneapolis with the party’s official backing after just two ballots.
As the standard-bearers for Minnesota’s two dominant political parties now gear up for the primary and general elections, their paths will once again be very different. Kelliher faces a tough primary contest with two challengers — former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton and former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza — who can spend vast sums of personal wealth on their campaigns. Entenza, for instance, has already spent in excess of $500,000 on television ads.
No matter how diligently Kelliher works the phones and the fundraising circuit, in other words, she’s likely to be outspent several times over by her opponents.
Matt Swenson, Kelliher’s press secretary, insists that lack of funds won‘t hinder the electoral operation. “Resources are not going to be a problem in this campaign,” Swenson said. “Margaret will have the resources to win in August and the resources to win in November.”
But even if that’s the case, there’s no doubt that Kelliher will have to rely on a much more efficient, grass-roots campaign than her opponents. That means DFL constituency groups such as labor unions and TakeAction Minnesota could prove critical in providing boots on the ground and helping get voters to the polls. Two of the state’s largest and most politically influential unions — Education Minnesota and the Minnesota Nurses Association — are supporting Kelliher. Last week she added two more union endorsements: United Auto Workers of Minnesota and the Laborers District Council of Minnesota.
TakeAction Minnesota is also attempting to be a significant player in a statewide electoral contest for the first time. Through its ReNEW Minnesota campaign, the liberal advocacy group is seeking to mobilize voters on Kelliher‘s behalf. In particular, the group is focusing on outreach to minority groups. Last month, for instance, TakeAction held a Hmong community forum that drew roughly 250 people and featured an appearance by the DFL candidate.
With an August primary that’s expected to generate low turnout, tapping into such pockets of voters will likely be crucial. “I don’t know how many votes could make the difference,” said Greta Bergstrom, TakeAction’s communications director. “It could be 10,000; it could be 40,000. It’s going to be a smaller number.”
Bergstrom also questions how effective television advertising will be during the summer months when folks are spending more time outside — and, frequently, out of town. “In summer, TV is really not as useful as it is in a general election,” said Bergstrom, who previously worked for North Woods Advertising, a firm that specializes in political campaigns. “I think that’s also helpful from a grass-roots standpoint.”
The Emmer campaign also frequently touts its grass-roots bona fides. But with no serious primary rivals, the GOP team is already focusing its attention on the general election. Most political analysts believe this unimpeded path to the November ballot is a benefit for Emmer. In particular, he won’t have to waste any financial resources beating back challengers from his own party.
“Tom can fight on one front and Margaret’s got to fight on multiple fronts,” said Gregg Peppin, a veteran GOP political consultant. “This is where not having those primary battles is critical.”
Since the endorsing convention, there’s already been a shake-up at the top of Emmer’s political operation. Campaign manager David FitzSimmons left to take a position with the Minnesota Republican Party.
Taking his spot at the helm of the campaign is a somewhat unorthodox pick: state Rep. Mark Buesgens. The Jordan Republican is better known for stem-winders on the House floor than electoral operations expertise.
Buesgens will be aided, however, by several savvy GOP operatives who are consulting with the campaign. Among them: Tom Mason, whose political resume includes chief of staff for former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and director of communications and research at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Bill Walsh, a former executive director of the state GOP. “They bring a wealth of campaign experience and are working closely with the campaign,” Buesgens said.
The lack of a serious GOP primary has a potential downside for Emmer’s campaign: scant media attention. The Republican candidate already seems to have receded from the headlines since he won the endorsement. “We’re all over the place and trying to get media attention wherever we go,” said Buesgens. “However, there’s a little more exciting game going on right now.”
A poll released this week by Decision Resources Ltd. found that all three credible DFL challengers would soundly beat Emmer in a head-to-head match up. Kelliher, for instance, would win by a 38-28 percent margin. DFLers, not surprisingly, hailed the results. “The more people hear about Margaret, the more they like her,” said Swenson, Kelliher’s press secretary. “The more they hear about Tom Emmer, the less they like him.”
But Republicans challenged the soundness of the poll. The survey also found that Independence Party candidate Tom Horner ran a strong third, with nearly 20 percent of the vote — significantly higher than his standing in previous polls.
The owner of Decision Resources Ltd., Bill Morris, is a longtime Horner acquaintance and acknowledged gubernatorial supporter. The state Republican Party immediately filed a complaint with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, charging that the survey amounted to an illegal campaign contribution to Horner’s campaign.
Buesgens insists the campaign isn’t paying much attention to polls. Instead, they’re focused on doggedly mobilizing GOP voters for November. “The bottom line is it’s still five months from people actually checking a box in the ballot booth,” he said.
Kelliher Scheduled Appearances:
Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Kelliher will join striking nurses on the picket line at Mercy Hospital, 4040 Coon Rapids Blvd., Coon Rapids.
Saturday, 3 p.m.
Freeborn County DFL Picnic, Edgewater Park, Albert Lea.
Saturday, 6 p.m.,
Sunday, 1 p.m., Third Congressional District coordinated campaign office open house,
1816 Main Street,
Emmer Scheduled Appearances:
Friday, 7 p.m., Redwood Falls community parade
Saturday, 9 a.m., Sartell SummerFest parade
Saturday, 4 p.m., Emmer will speak to a tea party gathering in Fergus Falls, NP Park (next to the Fergus Falls Library)
Saturday, 6 p.m., Fergus Falls Summerfest parade
Sunday, 12:30 p.m.
Albertville Friendly City Days, Central Park, Albertville
Sunday, 2 p.m., India Association of Minnesota candidate reception, Oak Grove Middle School, 1300 W. 106th St., Bloomington