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D.C. Memo: It was the best of Tims, it was the worst of Tims

MinnPost photo by Annabelle Marcovici
Tim Walz and Peggy Flanagan addressing supporters at their primary night party.

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This week in Washington, all eyes were finally, righteously, on the great state of Minnesota, which held its primaries for a critical midterm election on Tuesday. Unfortunately, we also had to share the spotlight with — shudder — Wisconsin.

This week in Washington

Happy primary week! After months and months of campaigning — seriously, some candidates have been out there for well over a year — Minnesotans went to the polls on Tuesday. They did so resoundingly, making this primary the highest-turnout one since 1982.

By now, you probably know who won and who lost. If you don’t, the MinnPost team is here for you: here’s my recap of the outcomes of the big congressional primaries, Peter Callaghan’s wrap of the statewide races, and Jessica Lee’s look at local races. Also, be sure to check out Greta Kaul’s great chart breakdown of how different parts of Minnesota voted in key races.

Big picture: we’ve got ourselves a pretty darn good slate of general election matchups in congressional races. For the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Al Franken, DFL Sen. Tina Smith faces off against GOP state Sen. Karin Housley. (I’d say “we hardly knew ye” to Richard Painter, but indeed, we very much knew ye, King of the Dumpster Fire. Farewell.)

Smith is the favorite in that race, but by how much isn’t clear right now. Polling has consistently given her an edge over Housley, but a big chunk of the electorate doesn’t know who either of them are. Though Minnesota is a divided state where Republicans are feeling good about where they’re going, keep in mind that national GOP groups are looking at 10 Senate seats held by Democrats in states that President Donald Trump won, while defending seats they should have in Arizona and Tennessee. Too much of a good thing for national Republicans could be a good thing for Smith.

In two races with big implications for control of the U.S. House, matchups were set on Tuesday: in southern Minnesota’s 1st District, it’ll be Democrat Dan Feehan, a former Pentagon official and Iraq War vet, versus Republican Jim Hagedorn, a former U.S. Treasury official making his fourth run for Congress. This seat, which Democratic Rep. Tim Walz held for 12 years, leans Republican but has gone for both Trump and Obama.

Similar story in northeast Minnesota’s 8th District, the longtime DFL blue-collar stronghold that’s getting redder each election cycle. Republican Pete Stauber, a St. Louis County commissioner, will compete against Democrat Joe Radinovich, a former state rep and political operative.

If Republicans flip any seats this fall nationwide, it’d probably be these two, which span largely rural turf in areas the GOP thinks it should own. Look for national conservative groups to spend big; meanwhile, Feehan and Radinovich are young candidates both backed by D.C. Dems, who will probably call in the cavalry in an election cycle that’s broadly favorable to their party.

The deep-blue 5th Congressional District — where the DFL primary was basically the general election — state Rep. Ilhan Omar came out on top, and is in line to be the district’s next member of Congress. Omar, the first Somali to hold office in a U.S. legislature, would be in the first wave of Muslim women sworn into Congress. Her win made national news — here, The New Yorker covered her triumph.

The primaries didn’t change what we already knew in two suburban Minnesota districts, which Dems need to flip to have a chance to take the House: in the 2nd, it’ll be GOP Rep. Jason Lewis versus DFLer Angie Craig; in the 3rd, it’s GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen versus DFLer Dean Phillips. (On that CD3 race: Phillips got a write-up in the New York Times for his campaign’s focus on campaign finance issues. Worth a read.)

Tuesday was a turning point in the careers of three Minnesota members of Congress: Walz triumphed in a hotly contested, three-way DFL primary for governor, and is a slight favorite to be Minnesota’s next governor. His rival, Attorney General Lori Swanson, finished in third, which means it’s probably the end of the political road for her running-mate, 8th District Rep. Rick Nolan, who leapt out of the retirement he declared in February to run on her ticket.

The third, Rep. Keith Ellison, easily won the DFL nomination on Tuesday in the attorney general race. But he is now the most embattled politician in Minnesota: days before the primary, his ex-girlfriend Karen Monahan and her son came forward with allegations that Ellison physically and emotionally abused her during their relationship. MPR’s Briana Bierschbach has the definitive story on those allegations, which Ellison denies.

This was a legitimate bombshell, and Democrats struggled to respond: with few explicitly calling on him to step down or rallying to his defense, the veteran congressman, who is making his first statewide bid, is in something like limbo.

Ellison’s rivals in the AG race called on him to address them more fully or even resign; his would-be successors in the CD5 DFL primary opted to reserve judgment. The Democratic National Committee, where Ellison is deputy chair, says it is investigating the allegations against him. DFL chair Ken Martin said on WCCO Radio Thursday that if Ellison continues to be the nominee for AG, his hope is “this is put behind him and that these are addressed head on.”

If no more stories come out about Ellison, this will still be a blow to his general election chances and his national standing. HuffPost had a good story about how the world of progressive activist groups, where Ellison is a hero, is reacting to the news.

Bad primary take: based on Walz’s win and a few others, Politico said Midwestern Dems are going with conventional, boring old white guys to lead the party to victory in the midterms. Not so fast, said Minnesota Dems, who went with women of color, millennials, and gay candidates in key races. I wrote about the DFL’s diverse slate of candidates for the fall.

In terms of takes, I am thinking about this pre-primary column from WaPo’s Dave Weigel, dateline St. Paul, about party endorsements not mattering much anymore. That held true for Dems, who went with Walz over endorsed candidate Erin Murphy, but clearly the GOP’s backing was a vital boost for Jeff Johnson’s decisive win over Tim Pawlenty.

Next door in Wisconsin, cheeseheads voted. Democrats went with Tony Evers, Wisconsin’s superintendent of schools, to take on Gov. Scott Walker in the governor’s race. Per Politico, the two teams wasted no time going straight into general election sprint mode. (Here in Minnesota, we at least wait for the Fair.)

Walker says this is his toughest challenge yet, and most observers agree, rating his race a toss-up. In that state’s Senate race, perhaps a top-five race nationally, Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin will face Republican Leah Vukmir, an establishment-backed candidate who won a primary over a Trumpier candidate.

As we look ahead to November, CNN and Quinnipiac pollsters have Democrats leading on the generic congressional ballot by 11 and nine points, respectively. That measures how many people prefer a “generic Democrat” to a “generic Republican.” Those don’t exist in the real world — usually — so take it with a grain of salt, but the numbers do show an advantage for Dems as we launch into the general election in earnest.

The data nerds over at FiveThirtyEight unveiled their midterm prediction forecast on Thursday, giving Dems a three-in-four chance of taking the House in November. They put Dems as odds-on favorites to take Minnesota’s 2nd and 3rd Districts, and Republicans favorites to take the 1st and 8th Districts.

The AP has a worthwhile story on how Democrats are expanding the U.S. House map beyond toss-ups, recruiting strong challengers in districts that prefer Republicans by a safer margin. Dems could win a House majority by picking up just a few of these seats, so keep an eye on them.

Back in Washington, things continued to be quiet on major political matters, with POTUS holed up at his New Jersey club and Congress on recess. Instead, the Capitol was riven with very, very minor political matters, such as the Omarosa situation. Here is a smart piece on said situation if you care to read more. Argument in the trial of Paul Manafort wrapped on Thursday, with the jury proceeding to deliberations.

This week’s essential reads

One of the Trump administration’s biggest, swampiest scandals could be the way that Department of Defense brass have appeared to arrange a $10 billion contract to set up the military’s cloud computing in favor of Amazon, reports Vanity Fair’s May Jeong. Diving into the details, Jeong proposes a provocative question: Trump may loathe Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, but is it possible his rival is more influential in D.C. than POTUS himself?

The controversy involves a plan to move all of the Defense Department’s data—classified and unclassified—on to the cloud. The information is currently strewn across some 400 centers, and the Pentagon’s top brass believes that consolidating it into one cloud-based system, the way the CIA did in 2013, will make it more secure and accessible. That’s why, on July 26, the Defense Department issued a request for proposals called JEDI, short for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure. Whoever winds up landing the winner-take-all contract will be awarded $10 billion—instantly becoming one of America’s biggest federal contractors.

But when JEDI was issued, on the day Congress recessed for the summer, the deal appeared to be rigged in favor of a single provider: Amazon. According to insiders familiar with the 1,375-page request for proposal, the language contains a host of technical stipulations that only Amazon can meet, making it hard for other leading cloud-services providers to win—or even apply for—the contract. One provision, for instance, stipulates that bidders must already generate more than $2 billion a year in commercial cloud revenues—a “bigger is better” requirement that rules out all but a few of Amazon’s rivals.

The trial of Paul Manafort has been fascinating for many reasons, from its implications on Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump to its elevation as exhibit A of the worst of Washington’s “influence” industry. A team of New York Times reporters put together the definitive look at what the rise and fall of Trump’s one-time campaign manager means, big-picture.

The whole trajectory of Mr. Manafort’s life — from the son of a blue-collar, small-town mayor to a jet-setting international political consultant to Trump campaign chairman and now to prisoner in an Alexandria, Va., jail awaiting a jury verdict — is a tale of greed, deception and ego. His trial on 18 charges of bank and tax fraud has ripped away the elaborate facade of a man who, the story went, had moved the swimming pool at one of his eight homes a few feet to catch the perfect combination of sun and shade, and who worked for the Trump campaign at no charge to intimate that for a man of his fabulous wealth, a salary was trivial.

His trial also underscores questions about how someone in such deep financial trouble rose to the top of the Trump campaign, spreading a stain that has touched the president’s innermost circle. The formidable parade of more than 20 witnesses and hundreds of exhibits has further eroded the notion, advanced by President Trump, that the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, Robert S. Mueller III, is on a “witch hunt.”

It’s the story that everyone in Washington is talking about this week: Ben Terris of WaPo’s look inside the marriage of Kellyanne Conway, the loyal Trump counselor whose husband, George Conway, tweets about how much he hates his wife’s boss. And the buzz is well-earned: saturated with sharp quotes and observations, it’s one of the best pieces on Trump’s Washington, and how he’s upending this town, to date.

The Conways, like the rest of the country, have been jolted by the Trump presidency. They love each other, are exasperated by each other, talk about each other behind each other’s backs. They share a roof and live in different bunkers.

This may be the story of any marriage — partners can drive each other crazy and still stay together for 50 years — but this marriage is, in many ways, emblematic of our national political predicament, particularly on the right.

And their feud, thanks to George’s newfound Twitter hobby, is playing out for more than just the neighbors to see. … Because George is married to Kellyanne, the chief architect and top saleswoman for Trumpism, and because his dissent seemed to come out of nowhere, George went viral. His retweets were themselves retweeted and topped with bug-eyed emoji. His follower count soared to more than 90,000, and the left adopted this conservative super lawyer as an honorary member of the resistance.

The week in takes

Your weekend longread

The U.S. war in Afghanistan will be, as of next month, 17 years old. In the New York Times Magazine, C.J. Chivers has perhaps the best piece I’ve read on a war that has killed 7,000 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Afghan fighters and civilians while accomplishing close to none of the objectives that Americans outlined during the war.

To illustrate the experience of the Afghan war, Chivers profiles Specialist Robert Soto, who served in the Army in one of the war’s most dangerous spots in 2008 and 2009, watching his brothers in arms die in a conflict that, 10 years later, remains unresolved.

Specialist Robert Soto had been haunted by dread as the soldiers left their base, the Korengal Outpost. His platoon was part of an infantry unit that called itself Viper, the radio call sign for Bravo Company, First Battalion of the 26th Infantry. Viper had occupied the outpost for nine months, a period in which its soldiers were confined to a small stretch of lower valley and impoverished villages clinging to hillsides beneath towering peaks. Second Platoon had started its deployment with three squads but suffered so many casualties that on this day even with replacements it mustered at about two-thirds strength. With attrition came knowledge. Soto knew firsthand that the war did not resemble the carefully considered national project the generals discussed in the news. He had enlisted in the Army from the Bronx less than two years before, motivated by a desire to protect the United States from another terrorist attack. But his idealism had turned swiftly into realism, and the war had become a matter of him and his friends surviving each day as days cohered into a tour. He was doubtful about the rest, from the competence of the war’s organizers down to the merits of this ambush patrol. There’s no way this works, he thought. The valley felt like a network of watchers who set up American platoons, relaying word to those laying traps.

Soto sensed eyes following the patrol. Everybody can see us.

He was 19, but at 160 pounds and barely needing to shave, he could pass for two years younger. He was nobody’s archetype of a fighter. A high school drama student, he joined the Army at 17 and planned to become an actor if he survived the war. Often he went about his duties with an enormous smile, singing no matter what anyone else thought — R. & B., rap, rock, hip-hop, the blues. All of this made him popular in the platoon, even as he had become tenser than his former self and older than his years; even as his friends and sergeants he admired were killed, leaving him a burden of ghosts.

What to look for next week

The general election is officially underway! And its big coming-out party is the Minnesota State Fair, which kicks off next Thursday. I’ll be flying out for the festivities, and I may just have for you all a special, Great Minnesota Get-Together Memo, if I can put it together between bites of cheese curds and sweet corn. (Not the cookies. The cookies are bad, everyone.)

The House of Representatives is still out, and will be until after Labor Day. Mitch McConnell called the Senate back for a two-week, mid-August session that feels a whole lot like summer school. McConnell and GOP brass are planning to hold hearings on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in two weeks, so get ready for the posturing and partisan fighting on that.

That’s all for this week — thanks for sticking with me. As always, reach out with your thoughts and State Fair tips at sbrodey@minnpost.com.

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Pat Berg on 08/17/2018 - 10:11 am.

    Rimshot!

    Okay – gotta give a shout-out to this article’s title!

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/17/2018 - 10:41 am.

    T-Paw has never been a “strong” candidate.

    Frankly, the Pawlenty has always been something of a weasel. I remember way back the olden days when Minnpost first went live one of the first comment I wrote as to scold a Minnpost writer for describing Pawlenty as: “likable”. This was common media narrative at the time but it was an obvious fallacy. The guy stomped on the weakest and poorest Minnesotans he could find for 8 years, repeatedly lied about his budgets, and a whole host of other toxic items (which have recently been documented here on Minnpost since his “return” was first announced).

    The guy was NEVER a strong or popular candidate, he only won because he was lucky enough to run in weird three-way post Ventura elections that split the votes just enough to him to squeak in. His victories owed more to Democratic incompetence than they ever did his political acumen.

    T-Paw’s assumed victorious return and the consequent “upset” was almost entirely a media event with little or no basis in reality. The only reason I gave Pawlenty ANY chance of winning was the possibility that Johnson could be a complete dud as a candidate. Johnson turned out to not a dud… so that was that.

    • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 08/17/2018 - 12:35 pm.

      Still, Jeff Johnson’s last ad of the suburban Republican woman having a hissy fit putting away the groceries may come to define him and his party. I think shifting from Pawlenty to Johnson is not a big deal as both had embraced Trump and kissed all his warts, the key to winning a race against either when MN common sense is taking hold after the spiteful 2016 season.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/17/2018 - 12:51 pm.

      Unfair to Weasels!

      Not only was T-Paw a poor candidate, few Minnesotans would have fond memories of his tenure as Governor. All it took was a few mentions of him in the national media as a rising star in the national Republican Party, and he was done with being Governor. Everything he did was focused on presenting himself as a viable candidate for President.* Reality or needs of the state be damned–keep on message, at all costs.

      Of course, he was never much of a visionary to begin with. Pawlenty was always the handservant of the monied corporate faction of the Republican Party. His “populism” was just a thin veneer to try to hide that.

      *Try saying “President Pawlenty” with a straight face. I dare you.

  3. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 08/17/2018 - 08:16 pm.

    Johnson and Pawlenty got a combined 35% of the vote.

    On what basis to you claim that Walz vs. Johnson will be a close race? Johnson finished third with 20%. Republicans had a race to vote on and normally come out in relatively higher numbers than Democrats. Explain where these Republicans voters are going to come from!

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/18/2018 - 08:51 am.

      It’s habit Joel…

      Reporters, even good ones, are still trapped in their horse-race/two party/partisan mentality that MUST pretend some level of equivalence in order to preserve the illusion of objectivity. Neither Johnson or Pawlenty would defeat Walz, that’s becoming more and more obvious every day.

  4. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 08/19/2018 - 08:27 am.

    Conservative – A Name They Call Themselves – Nonsense

    Tim Pawlenty was a two-term Minnesota governor and we all know the disaster he brought to the state as he tried to make himself look presidential. As a candidate, he has always come across as smug. Carpetbagging, political claptrap, and smugness lost him an election and hopefully ends his Minnesota political career. Jeff Johnson handily beat Tim Pawlenty and is now the Republican candidate for governor.

    I listened to Democrat Tim Walz and Republican Jeff Johnson last Friday night responding to questions from Cathy Wurzer and Eric Eskola on TPT’s Almanac. Johnson kept referring to himself as a conservative. Conservative never has accurately defined the Republican Party. In reality, they are anything but conservative. It was a name Republicans gave themselves, so it never has had any real meaning. Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Scott Walker, Tim Pawlenty, Sam Brownback, and Donald Trump all applied their conservative principles and created fiscal disasters. Donald Trump has given Republican conservatism a whole new definition – demonstrable lying, ineptitude, incompetence, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, fiscally irresponsible, paranoia, racism and Trump is about to add criminality. Through Johnson’s backing of Trump, he is just as complicit as Trump is. Johnson has seen how little Trump and congressional Republicans have accomplished in Washington, but he is still willing to call himself a conservative. It doesn’t make any sense! Washington “conservatives” added nearly 2 trillion to the county’s deficit, which doesn’t sound conservative to me when one of their “principles” is deficit reduction. I can’t get their stated principles to make any sense because they never apply them. For me, Johnson came across as very weak. The Minnesota Legislature, which Johnson has been part of, has also been absent when it comes to accomplishments. It is becoming obvious that voters have had their fill of Republicanism and the boatload of negatives it brings with it. Republican voters can’t back a party with all the negatives it has and then say they themselves are not complicit.

    Waltz has real life urban and rural experience, so he understands our state. Walz, for me, is very solid. Now if we pair Walz with a Democratic legislature, Minnesota can make some real progress.

  5. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/19/2018 - 03:56 pm.

    The Trouble With Conservatism

    Is that eventually you run out of tax dollars for the uber wealthy to plunder.

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