Conventional wisdom has it that the 2014 elections will be a Republican year. That’s because the party opposite the president has a very good track record in what have become known as off-year elections. That trend will probably hold true in the congressional election next fall.
Allow me to cast a dissenting vote regarding Minnesota. From my vantage point, 2014 will not be a particularly good year for the state GOP.
Republicans will undoubtedly gain some seats in the state House of Representatives, where DFLers hold a 73-61 majority. Many see a GOP majority as inevitable. Maybe not. While GOP gains are highly likely, they may not be enough to command a majority. It’s possible the next House majority will control no more than 70 seats. Perhaps 69 or 68. However, House DFLers are certainly vulnerable to “over-reach” criticisms on taxes, gay marriage and day-care unionization (state senators are midway through four-year terms, and they are not on the ballot).
Two major reasons the Minnesota Republicans appear to lack a strong political tailwind heading into next year: the important statewide U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races. DFL incumbents Al Franken and Mark Dayton have had relatively strong poll numbers, which portend difficulty for Republicans in attracting strong challengers — although the governor’s numbers are sliding, adding to the appearance of vulnerability brought on by the uncertainty of the Vikings stadium deal. Challengers must have the ability to amass multimillion-dollar campaign war chests needed to unseat incumbents. The current GOP crop may have a couple of millionaires, but they are untested in elective office.
Challenger would need national funding
The minimum for a credible statewide campaign probably starts at about $5 million. The state Republican Party has long been plagued by severe financial problems. So the U.S. Senate challenger must be able to attract millions nationally, which comes when the candidate has convinced the big check writers of his or her viability. The GOP 2012 Senate candidate was never able to gain any financial traction, which resulted in a disaster at the polls. The big money actually goes to a separate organization which has no connection to the candidate and can make unlimited “independent expenditures.”
Despite this semi-gloomy assessment of GOP potential, readers should remember the political sands can shift quickly in Minnesota and across the country. And neither party has immunity from the frailty of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Gene Lahammer covered policy and political affairs during much of his 34-year career with the Associated Press. After early retirement in 1994, he served as an auxiliary member of the Star Tribune Editorial Board for 16 years, continued as an election consultant to AP, served briefly as a special correspondent for the New York Times, and has been an occasional magazine contributor.
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