Horner HQ buzzes about “the Jesse model” and a Jet Blue flight attendant on primary night
Breaking with the election night tradition that compels candidates to remain cloistered until glory or defeat is confirmed, Independence Party gubernatorial hopeful Tom Horner strolled into his campaign headquarters at precisely 7:55 last night and began to press the flesh.
“I feel we’ve done all the right things,” Horner said.
Horner HQ, a strictly virtual place until about two months ago, now occupies a former martial arts studio in a strip mall on Highway 55 in Plymouth. The martial arts sign still hangs in the parking lot, but there is no lingering evidence of combat sports in the interior.
For a first-time candidate, Horner’s demeanor was relaxed. Though he has never run for office, Horner explained, he has been around politics and politicians a long time and isn’t easy to surprise.
Before the polls closed, Horner shared dinner with his sons at Latuff’s, the pizzeria next door. After that, he worked the room, catching up with his supporters, among them George and Sally Pillsbury (he in a natty seersucker), a mess of campaign workers and family, and a throng of reporters.
Like Republican rival Tom Emmer, Horner cruised to an un-dramatic victory over mostly nominal opposition. The easy win served to dispel speculation that Republican hordes, worried that Horner could siphon critical GOP votes in a general election, might decide to cast strategic votes for a Horner opponent in the IP primary.
“I didn’t see any evidence of it,” said Stephen Imholte, Horner’s campaign manager.
Imholte, who cut his teeth as a Republican operative in Wisconsin in the 1980s and worked for then-Gov. Arne Carlson before quitting politics for 18 years, said that such mischief “is extremely difficult to pull off.”
Besides, he theorized, Republican primary voters had incentives to participate in the outcome of the GOP attorney general contest, which thereby reduced any incentive to meddle in IP affairs. (The Republican AG race pitted Chris Barden, who received the party’s endorsement, against notorious perennial candidate Sharon Anderson and her Scandinavian surname.)
In Imholte’s view, the critical phase of the Horner campaign begins now and runs roughly through the end of September, when most of the money needs to be raised. He said the campaign’s infrastructure is largely in place but acknowledged that the fundraising environment has been tough.
“It’s down for everybody,” Imholte said. “I think some people are fooled because of the amount of money that Dayton and Entenza put into their campaigns…Multimillionaires skew the numbers.”
For his part, Horner addressed questions about his standing in the polls, money and the IP’s struggles in general elections by invoking Jesse Ventura.
Ventura trailed badly in polls throughout the summer, Horner observed, only to surge in October as support dropped off for DFL nominee Skip Humphrey. Horner said he hoped for a similar dynamic in this race. He said he sees a parallel decline on Emmer’s part.
Horner wasn’t the only person in the room last night recalling Jesse. (Which makes sense: Under the banner of the IP’s predecessor, the Reform Party, Ventura was the party’s last candidate elected to state office.)
Ray Martin, a Horner backer from Rosemount and a former chair of the IP Second Congressional District, said he first came to the IP because “I was a Jesse man.” Though disillusioned by Ventura’s meltdowns, Martin still holds the Ventura administration in high regard. Third-party alternatives should be more appealing than ever because of the widened ideological gulf between Republicans and Democrats, Martin ventured.
Like most of the people in the room, Martin was not particularly worried about the outcome of the IP primary. He was more concerned about the tightly contested DFL race and its implications for November.
“I hope it’s Dayton. He appeals to the seniors, but that’s too small a percentage,” said Martin.
With his soak-the-rich populism, Martin postulated, Dayton is a better opponent for Horner than Margaret Anderson Kelliher, whose comes off as more moderate.
Imholte said polls have shown that Horner appeals to moderates from both sides of the aisle.
“Everything that we see indicates that we’ll draw equally well from moderates on the Republican and Democratic sides,” said Imholte.
But if Horner is staking his hopes on moderates, they probably have to be motivated, even pissed-off moderates. It’s a fact that Horner seemed to acknowledge in his acceptance speech as he made a joking reference to “that Jet Blue flight attendant” (aka Stephen Salter, who gained instant internet fame this week for a take-this-job-and-shove-it episode in which he told off a passenger, cracked a beer, and fled the plane via emergency exit).
Like the flight attendant, Horner said, a lot of Minnesotans are also fed up. He hopes his candidacy could tap into some of those frustrations.
“If I’m the energizing slide to the tarmac, so be it,” Horner said.