A night with the Kelliher campaign: She has a big smile, but her eyes are not smiling

Margaret Anderson Kelliher spoke to supporters for less than a minute early Wednesday morning.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Margaret Anderson Kelliher spoke to supporters for less than a minute early Wednesday morning.

As you’ve probably figured out by know, Sen. Al Franken has had to rein in his formerly outrageous sense of humor. Even safe jokes aren’t politically safe coming from Franken. But at Jax Cafe last night, the former satirist/comedian managed to make a mild joke that perfectly predicted the next few hours of torment.

I think it was about 9 p.m. Franken took his turn warming up the crowd. The Twins were ahead, well ahead, against the White Sox in a pretty big game. Margaret Anderson Kelliher was also ahead in the early count of the primary. Said Franken: “The question is: Can the Twins build a big enough lead to withstand the late returns from St. Louis County?”

Not really that funny. But dead on correct, as things will turn out.


Jax was crowded, noisy, festive, then tense. The room was jammed with familiar DFL faces. Early on, the buzz was that MAK had exceeded expectations in Ramsey County. She was up by double digits. Every half hour or so, someone would address the crowd. DFL Chair Brian Melendez took the first turn, announcing that anecdotal evidence coming in from the field suggested that the undecided voters (and there were a jillion of those, in my own limited sample) were breaking toward Margaret.

The early mood was on the high side of cautiously optimistic, and Doug Grow, who was MinnPosting from Dayton headquarters, confirmed that the early mood there was glum.


The crowd at Jax wants a win not just for MAK (which they do) or for the first woman nominee (which they do) or for the candidate that they believe will give the DFL its best chance against Tom Emmer (whom they believe is Margaret), but also a win for the endorsement process, and that win would be especially sweet if it came in a low-budget effort against two self-financing millioinaires.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar took the stage early and said that if Margaret wins, “it will be a grass roots win,” which was a reference to that angle.


House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, acting as master of ceremonies, told the crowd that he had received a call from his good friend Tom Emmer. Emmer (Sertich claimed) wanted him to tell the DFLers at Jax to be sure and tip their servers generously. As you can imagine, that brought down the house.


As you know by now, Kelliher’s lead never got any bigger than it was in the first hour, with those good Ramsey returns. The lead lasted almost all night, on a big screen where results posted by the secretary of state’s website were displayed. But it kept shrinking.

Heading into Tuesday, the conventional wisdom had been that high turnout was good for Dayton, low turnout was good for Kelliher. Despite her lead, the smarter number crunchers were noticing that turnout was way above projections. Way above.

Around the room, there was a quest for a new conventional wisdom, in which a big turnout could be good for MAK, perhaps because the vaunted DFL get-out-the-vote campaign had exceeded all expectations.

Kelliher running-mate John Gunyou spoke, emphasizing again that the Kelliher campaign was “people-powered” in contrast to its opponents’ reliance on TV ads. He said that as of the poll closing hour, Kellliher/DFL phone bankers had called two million voters, 100,000 of them on Tuesday alone.

Gunyou said that as an Air Force veteran, he hated to admit it, but in this race “it’s not the air war that wins. It’s the ground game.” This got a cheer, but slow steady shrinkage of Kelliher’s lead on the big board was deflating the mood.


At Dayton headquarters, the candidate has remained accessible to press and supporters all through the evening. But Kelliher is following the tradition of remaining in seclusion, apparently at the home of a friend in the neighborhood, until she is ready to either concede or announce that her opponent has conceded.

Her lead keeps shrinking. Now there’s talk of a recount, which will apparently be triggered if the final margin is 2,000 votes or less.


As we head toward midnight, the big screen still shows Kelliher ahead (although now within the recount range) but those in the room who are getting an Associated Press feed know that votes, not yet on the SOS website, have put Dayton ahead. There’s an awkward 20 minutes or so, with half the people in the room seeming to know the bad news, and half still staring at that screen where Margaret’s microscopic lead is still displayed.

I ask Melendez what he knows about where the last uncounted votes are located. He says the most common rumor is that most of the late votes are in St. Louis County, but that everything he knows is coming from David Brauer’s Twitter feed. Nice going, David.


At 11:55, the AP says Dayton is ahead by 335 votes. The big screen is still way behind. Every update is bad news for the MAK supporters.

Now Dayton’s lead is outside the range that would trigger a recount. We still haven’t seen Kelliher all night. Klobuchar has made a second appearance to try to pacify the crowd. Keith Ellison also tried to lift spirits.

Now it’s 12:30 and there is a lot of bustle near the stage. Gunyou and his family are assembled near the stage, a path is being cleared, presumably for the candidate herself, and it seems palpable that Margaret will concede momentarily.

She appears, striding purposefully through that path, stops to hug Gunyou, she has as big a smile as I’ve ever seen on her, but the eyes are not smiling. Then, surprisingly, she says no, she’s not ready to make an announcement. She’s “optimistic” that the last votes will improve her situation. She’s on the stage less than a minute. A powerful sense of anti-climax as we are told that that’s it for tonight.


Wednesday morning, Kelliher spokester Matt Swenson tells me MAK will make an announcement at 3 p.m. at a location to be determined.

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Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 08/11/2010 - 11:20 am.

    I was afraid this was going to happen and have said so for some time.

    The problem is that those active politically on the DFL side seem overwhelmingly in favor of Margaret. And those are not stupid people…

    But in the end the election will be won by ordinary people and to them Dayton is a more comfortable choice than Kelliher.

    He’s already been elected to statewide office. The GOP might think carefully about how the argument over the worst US senator plays out. Many people – apparently – voted for Dayton. Are you saying they were stupid for doing so?

    So suck it up. And if you think sitting on your hands and letting Emmer (or Horner) win is acceptable, I’ve got some land in Alaska…

  2. Submitted by Daryl Hanson on 08/11/2010 - 11:32 am.

    Those rich Republicans are so bad… oh that’s right these are Democrats but aren’t the Dem’s the party of the poor and downtrodden? NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Submitted by Ross Williams on 08/11/2010 - 12:26 pm.

    The last DFL endorsed candidate to be elected governor was Wendy Anderson in 1972. Since then, they either haven’t got out of the primary or lost in the general election.

    I think the problem is quite simple. The party selection process is mostly focused on its own politics, rather than the voters. Huge amounts of energy go into organizing the faithful to make various group’s leaders the party kingmakers. But those “kingmakers” can’t deliver voters for the candidates they endorse. They are empty suits.

    That problem carries over into election strategies. The idea of GOTV efforts is that if you can get more of your voters to the poll than the other guy, you will win. That works in a close election. But when motivating a shrinking group of the party faithful becomes the focus of your election strategy, you are unlikely to win. To win in the long run, you need to have a strategy for converting the unconverted.

  4. Submitted by Rebecca Hoover on 08/11/2010 - 01:05 pm.

    If you talked to ordinary citizens, many viewed MAK as elitist — funding lavish arts projects and stadiums while ignoring the basic needs of homeless vets and seniors in nursing homes. They saw Kelliher as self-indulgent while others are hungry and as putting forth only feeble and phony efforts to protect the most vulnerable.

    Many also questioned Kelliher’s competence and honesty. She said, for example, that she would improve the efficiency of state government when governor but she did not take advantage of her opportunity as Speaker to do this. Kelliher seemed to play an insiders game — promising one thing and then protecting insiders.

    The rallying of insiders such as Klobuchar around Kelliher did not help matters for Kelliher one bit. With Kelliher, there seem to be insiders and outsiders and Kelliher did not give the impression of being bothered when shutting the outsiders out.

    If Kelliher wants to move ahead in public life, she needs to improve her service to ordinary citizens.

    Kelliher can take heart in the fact that there are always gains from losses. Kelliher can use the lessons from the loss, improve her behavior, improve the service she provides to ordinary citizens and try again.

  5. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 08/11/2010 - 01:13 pm.

    Could the Dayton win have been helped along by Repubs voting Democrat in order to make sure the weaker of the two leaders would be elected? No need for the R’s to vote for Emmer, since his race was a foregone conclusion. Very smart, if so. Let’s hope that trick won’t pan out in November.

  6. Submitted by NIcole Masika on 08/11/2010 - 01:13 pm.

    Dayton had grassroots too, AFSCME COuncil 5, we worked hard!

    yet I was also involved in the DFL caucuses, clearly something is wrong with our endorsement process

  7. Submitted by Brian Simon on 08/11/2010 - 01:18 pm.

    Eric writes
    “Sen. Amy Klobuchar took the stage early and said that if Margaret wins, “it will be a grass roots win.””

    I disagree with the Senator. If MAK had won, it would have been a party-machine win. As noted by Ross Williams, above, the DFL endorsement process has proven to be an ineffective way to identify candidates with broad appeal to voters – even within the DFL primary, not to mention the general election. Perhaps it is time for the DFL to rethink its process. Though I won’t hold my breath.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/11/2010 - 02:08 pm.

    “He says the most common rumor is that most of the late votes are in St. Louis County, but that everything he knows is coming from David Brauer’s Twitter feed.”

    Well even if the Democrat machine sputtered, coughed and died (again), it’s nice to see that it’s component parts held together.

  9. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 08/11/2010 - 03:13 pm.

    Despite this incredibly narrow loss, the grassroots had a huge effect. They damn near over came Dayton’s name recognition and being outspent 4-1 by not just one, but TWO rich guys. Those of you criticizing the people who volunteered for Margaret don’t know what you’re talking about. The endorsement process is open to anyone who wants to participate, and before criticizing the results, you might want to look at current Minnesota elected officials. They’re mostly DFL endorsees. Last night notwithstanding, it’s a highly successful process for building a large party and winning general elections, which is ultimately the test.

  10. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 08/11/2010 - 03:20 pm.

    Marcia, “Could the Dayton win have been helped along by Repubs voting Democrat in order to make sure the weaker of the two leaders would be elected?”

    Maureen Reed got 30%, even though she dropped out shortly after filing and endorsed Clark, even though DFLers are very motivated in that district. The Republicans have messed around in Democratic primaries in other states, and it would be silly to think Minnesota is immune. That result in the 6th CD primary is a strong indicator Republicans, having no competitive primary, and making it clear they preferred to run against Dayton, acted to pick the weakest Democrats. Since Dayton won by an amount barely avoiding a recount, and a couple other primaries had surprising results too, it’s possible if not probable Republicans decided the DFL primary. The problem isn’t the endorsement — and bear in mind Dayton wasn’t denied it, but chose not to seek it though he had a decent chance — but the open primary, that let’s voters choose the candidate of a party they have no intention of supporting.

  11. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 08/11/2010 - 03:25 pm.

    Brian, “If MAK had won, it would have been a party-machine win.”

    What do you think the “machine” is? It’s loads of people willing to volunteer their time. These same people you attack are the same ones who keep the party going between campaigns so it’s there when campaign season starts. It’s not just some candidate coming along and jumpstarting it, even when he has buckets of personal wealth to spend. Seriously, before criticizing, contact your local party and find out who they are. I think you’ll be surprised at just how accurate “grassroots” is.

  12. Submitted by John E Iacono on 08/11/2010 - 04:34 pm.

    “since 1972” is a long long time for a party endorsed candidate for gov to be elected.

    One would think that SOMEONE in the party might wonder why that might be, in a state supposedly left leaning, and which has successfully elected senators and representatives at the national level.

    Apparently, however, it is not to be — to the comfort of the repubs.

  13. Submitted by Theo Kozel on 08/11/2010 - 05:03 pm.

    “If you talked to ordinary citizens, many viewed MAK as elitist — funding lavish arts projects and stadiums while ignoring the basic needs of homeless vets and seniors in nursing homes. They saw Kelliher as self-indulgent while others are hungry and as putting forth only feeble and phony efforts to protect the most vulnerable.”


    Actually, if you talked to ordinary citizens and mentioned the name Margaret Anderson Kelliher the most likely response would be “who?”.

    I think someone has an axe to grind…

  14. Submitted by Bob Spaulding on 08/11/2010 - 06:10 pm.

    I suspect the divide between DFL endorsees and DFL winners has more to do with therise of influence of expensive media, rise of interest-group politics, diminishing community and social capital, and more than anything, the increasing role that money and expensive marketing plays in our elections.

    The DFL endorsement remains the one and only free and open endorsement process supporting the party, where everyday people across the progressive side of the spectrum are welcome to help play a major role in shaping the future of our democracy. For most of us who don’t have something like a union or major corporation to wield influence on our behalf, it’s our one and only chance to shape the future of Democratic politics. Imperfect I’m sure, but freer and more open, than any other endorsement I’ve ever heard of.

  15. Submitted by David Willard on 08/11/2010 - 08:36 pm.

    To the conspiracy theorists out there worried that those wascally wepublicans were hijacking the primaries, I think Republicans were too busy voting for Chris Barden instead of Sharon Anderson to eventually beat Lori “I am out of my element” Swanson.

  16. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/12/2010 - 11:49 am.

    Actually it’s the Independent party that’s elected (and re-elected) 40% Tim Pawlenty.

  17. Submitted by John E Iacono on 08/12/2010 - 01:10 pm.

    And if the dem had won, the repubs would be saying “It’s actually the independent party that elected him.”

    Truth: the people, made up of dems, repubs, and independents elected him over two opponents by the way they voted, just as would have been the case if a dem had won.

    It leaves sour grapes for the loser.

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