When last we visited the congressional race in the 6th District, Elwyn Tinklenberg had dropped out and two women, Dr. Maureen Reed and state Sen. Tarryl Clark, were seeking the DFL endorsement to run against Michele Bachmann. That’s still the state of play, although Clark seems to be off to a very strong start, having cornered the market on the endorsements of feminists and labor organizations and some big DFL names. (I’ll list the endorsers below.)
Clark has committed to abide by the endorsement. Reed has not and at this point, it’s hard to see how she gets the endorsement. Reed received some criticism early on for dodging the question about abiding (she said that she planned to get the endorsement but wouldn’t say whether she would stay in the race if she failed to get it) but has now given a hedged but more typical answer. Reed recently told me it was now “an open question” whether she would run in a primary if Clark wins the endorsement. She expressed some frustration about whether many of the organizations that have endorsed in the race had given her a fair hearing.
Both women were on hand and had booths set up at the DFL Founders Day dinner last Saturday, although neither spoke.
Wednesday was the last day of the third-quarter fundraising period and the reports on this race (out in two weeks) will be above-average interesting, since to-date one of the main credentials Reed had to be taken seriously as a contender against the more-politically-established Clark was that Reed had put up a very impressive fund-raising number in the spring quarter.
Reed is well-connected in health-care circles and also served on the U of M Board of Regents (chair, for a period). She also benefitted in the spring quarter from a level of dissatisfaction in DFL circles with Tinklenberg, whom many felt had missed a good opportunity to defeat Bachmann in 2008. But with Tinklenberg out and Clark, a rising DFL star over recent years, in and getting endorsed at a rapid rate, Reed needs another big fund-raising quarter to generate some positive attention in party circles. Clark entered the race mid-quarter and hasn’t reported her first fund-raising number yet. The prospect of running against Bachmann has enormous national fund-raising potential for the eventual DFL nominee if there is any whiff that Bachmann can be beaten. But Bachmann will also have all the money she needs.
A house party for Reed
Two weeks ago, I attended a house-party fund-raiser in Plymouth for Reed at the home of two physicians. The audience of about two dozen also drew heavily from doctors and others in the health field.
In her formal presentation, Reed worked the room skillfully and made a favorable impression on a the crowd, most of whom seemed to have prior connections to her. She spoke confidently of celebrating with them in November after she has defeated Bachmann. She covered a few substantive issues, made an electability pitch that was targeted at Clark, and took several tough questions with panache, although the answers often ended up being vaguely non-committal.
Reed started her pitch by emphasizing the need for more doctors in Congress. Reed said she believed she would be the first-ever woman physician in Congress. Health care reform will certainly not be over this year but will continue being an issue for years, and said her top goal is to “solve this problem.” In addition to being an M.D., Reed held high administrative positions in Minnesota health care firms (Aspen and HealthPartners) and could certainly leave most of us in the dust discussing how U.S. health care could be improved but she wasn’t terribly specific about her preferred solutions. She said people are uninsured because insurance costs too much and it costs too much because we pay too much for administrative services and because the fee-for-service model makes cost-containment hard. She said she could support a system ranging from single-payer, to a mixed system with a “public option,” to a private system without a public option, as long as it achieved universal access.
Reed on Bachmann and on Clark
Reed generally avoided mentioning Bachmann by name, but had a slightly wry, slightly disdainful way of referring to her as “the incumbent.” She said she doesn’t begrudge Bachmann for how conservative she is, but does begrudge the way Bachmann uses her platform to “inspire fear” and “inject anger” into the public discourse.
Reed calls herself “a made-in-Minnesota moderate” and implies that Clark is a liberal. (“Made-in-Minnesota” may also refer to the fact that Clark was born in Virginia and lived in Arizona and Iowa before moving the Minnesota as a young adult.) Reed isn’t specific about the issues that separate her from Clark, but emphasizes that only a moderate, who can “merge the interests of the moderates with the DFL base,” can defeat Bachmann.
She didn’t mention Clark by name much either, but devoted a chunk of her talk to the idea that Clark can’t win. She said that liberal Democrats don’t understand how middle-of-the-road independents think and “a dyed-in-the-wool DFLer is going to have a dickens of a time getting independent votes… These are people who absolutely abhor partisan politics and Tarryl Clark, in their minds, is the face and voice of the partisan bickering they can’t stand.”
The people she is thinking of “hate taxes,” and Reed said she is “glad I don’t have to defend a record of voting for tax increases,” which was another thinly-veiled reference to Clark.
Maybe so. Clark’s supporters don’t see her as hopelessly liberal (she occupies a state Senate seat from St. Cloud formerly held by a Republican, for example). But we’ll save Clark’s pitch for another post.
Reed’s immediate problem is the DFL endorsement, which she is seeking. As I mentioned above, in the six weeks since Clark entered the race and ran off Tinklenberg, she has been endorsed by the state AFL-CIO, Minnesota Building and Construction Trades, the SEIU (service employees), the Teamsters (Joint 32 and Local 120), AFSCME (Councils 5 and 65, these are government works), the carpenters union, the laborers union, the newly merged union of flight attendants and communications workers, IUPAT (painters and allied trades), UTU (transportation workers), the air traffic controllers union, and UniteHere (a union of unions that draws from hospitality and other industries).
Outside of unions, Clark was endorsed by Womenwinning, a liberal, pro-choice Minnesota group that seeks to promote women candidate. Recently, Walter Mondale and Patty Wetterling (who was the DFL nominee for the seat in 2004 and 2006) set out letters and emails endorsing Clark.
I asked the Reed campaign if she has been endorsed by any organizations. She declined to reply to this question or any others for this post. No organizational are mentioned on her website but there is this list of individual supporters. Dr. Steve Miles, who ran for the DFL nomination for U.S. Senate in 2000 on a very liberal platform, has endorsed Reed in an email that went out last week.
The endorsement fight has barely begun and we don’t need to rush to predictions, but that much support from labor, from beloved party figures and from feminists probably count more in a DFL endorsement race than anywhere else.
Abortion, gay marriage and the IP nomination
It may be hard, as Reed suggests, for a liberal to win in the 6th District, but it is also hard for anyone to get the DFL endorsement without key party constituencies. Pro-choice Democrats I have spoken to have been frustrated trying to understand Reed’s abortion poisition, which is understandable. She says that she doesn’t consider herself pro-life or pro-choice, implying that these labels are too simplistic.
She emphasizes prevention of unwanted pregnancies. She says that Roe v. Wade is and should remain the law of the land. She says that abortion must remain available to save “the life and health of the mother” but that government should have no role in defining what that means. On the key question, whether she believes a woman should be allowed to choose, in the early stages of a pregnancy, to terminate a pregnancy even if it isn’t necessary to save the mother’s life or health, no one can get her to give a straight answer.
“I will not be painted into a corner on this issue,” she said at the house party.
Clark, who also would prefer to talk about preventing unwanted pregnancies, relies on a more transparent statement that abortion must remain “safe, legal and rare.”
A lesbian at the house party asked Reed about gay marriage (which is now generally referred to in DFL circles as “marriage equality,” but will probably not be called that Bachmann). It resulted in a similar hard-to-pin-down statement. Reed said that our society will be stronger when any two people who are in a committed relationship have access to the same rights. (I don’t have a precise quote in my notes.) It wasn’t clear whether this committed Reed to vote for the repeal of the “Defense of Marriage Act,” for example. The woman who asked the question told me afterwards that she realized Reed had not committed herself to anything.
When Reed announced her candidacy, she said she would seek endorsement by both the DFL and the Independence Party. Only previous candidacy was as Peter Hutchinson’s running-mate in 2006 on the IP ticket for governor/lieutenant governor. But Reed has always emphasized that she is focused on the DFL endorsement.
There is a complicated legal technicality in the background here. In 2008, Tinklenberg was endorsed by both the DFL and the IP. But it turns out that Minnesota law doesn’t allow a candidate to represent two parties on the ballot. (In other states, notably New York, this is permited.) So the best Tinklenberg could have hoped for was that the Independence Party would have no candidate on the ballot. But a political unknown named Bob Anderson, who had sought but lost the IP endorsement, filed unopposed in the IP primary (Tinklenberg was precluded from running). Anderson ended up on the ballot and got 10 percent of the vote. It isn’t clear whether this affected the outcome of the election. But it does demonstrate that it is hard to do what Reed hopes to do, be the only alternative to Bachmann on the fall ballot.
That story, plus her former association with the IP, raises the possibility that if she loses the DFL endorsement, she could try to get on the ballot representing the IP. But on this point, she has been quite clear and was again at the house party: “I will absolutely not run as an independent.”