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What’s really behind Tarryl Clark’s DFL endorsement decision

Tarryl Clark, the former state Senator from St. Cloud now seeking the DFL nomination for Congress in the northern Minnesota 8th District (to challenge first-term incumbent Repub Rep. Chip Cravaack) surprised no one by announcing Thursday that she will no longer seek the DFL endorsement in the race, will not abide by the endorsement process and will go directly to the primary against the endorsee.

Except she didn’t quite say that because -- despite sending out an 11-paragraph long email  to supporters on the topic -- she never mentioned the words “abide,” “endorsement” nor “convention.”

In an interview yesterday, Clark said that her decision had nothing to do with the possibility that she might not win the endorsement. In fact, she expressed confidence to me that if she had stayed in the endorsement contest, she would have been endorsed.

To be blunt, this is simply not credible. I asked Clark if she was aware of any case of a candidate who dropped out of an endorsement contest even though they believed they were in position to get endorsed. She replied: “I’m not focused on what other people have done. I’m focused on the lives of the people in the 8th District.”

On the night of the Feb. 7 precinct caucuses (the first step in the selection of delegates to the congressional district convention at which the endorsement would be awarded), a straw poll was taken. It came out:

Former Congressman Rick Nolan: 1,546 votes.

Duluth City Council member Jeff Anderson: 1,035.

Clark: 414.

That’s a really distant third for Clark in the endorsement campaign.

Understanding the code

Nolan has pledged to abide by the endorsement. Anderson said he would abide if everyone in the race committed to abide, but Clark's decision now means that Anderson will decide later whether he might also run in a primary.

Clark signaled early on that she would not abide by saying that she would abide as long as it was a fair process. Experienced observers of the long-running Minnesota political game of who-will-abide understood the code.

There is a slight extra awkwardness to the non-abidement (no, that’s not a word) of Clark, because in addition to her state Senate term, and her unsuccessful 2010 race for Congress against Michele Bachmann in 6th District, Clark also previously served as associate chair of the DFL Party (2003-5).  In that capacity, she toed the party line on endorsements, which is that DFLers are supposed to go through the endorsement and abide by it. She sought the endorsement, pledged to abide by the endorsement and received it, in all of her previous races. She benefitted from the usual delegate bias against non-abiders in 2010 when she entered the race as the only abider against two non-abiding candidates.

DFL Party Chair Ken Martin issued the obligatory press release yesterday expressing “disappoint[ment] to hear that Tarryl Clark will not be abiding by the DFL endorsement,” which, Martin noted, will “force a primary election” and “risks wasting valuable DFL resources and drawing the focus away from the real goal of defeating Chip Cravaack.” (In such cases, the party usually helps the endorsee defeat the challenger and the chair always rebukes the non-abider for postponing the day when the party can unite against the Republican.)

Nolan also issued a statement of “disappointment” over the news. 

Personally, while I understand how it looks to party chairs, I grew up in another state that lacks the Minnesota obsession with abiding by endorsements. I hold no religious views on the subject. The law and the rules permit candidates to challenge the endorsee, which is what primaries are for. In her statement (Headlined: “The People will Decide”) Clark mentioned revered DFL names (former Gov. Rudy Perpich, current Gov. Mark Dayton and long-time 8th District Congressman James Oberstar) who at various points in their careers challenged an endorsee in a primary (although, as I mentioned, she managed to do it without mentioning the endorsement process.)

Win the endorsement?

In our brief interview Thursday, I asked Clark whether it was fair to conclude that she was going directly to the primary because she didn’t believe she could win the endorsement.

Answer: “ No, absolutely not. I think it’s extremely important with what’s at stake, with what’s happening in Washington, with what people like Congressman Cravaack and [Wisconsin Republican Congressman Paul]  Ryan [author of the House Republican budget proposal] are trying to do, to our families, our communities, our seniors, that we reach out to as many people as possible. This is about reaching out broader, not narrower,” in other words, to campaign to the broader primary electorate. She mentioned that about 3,000 people went to caucuses last month while 70,000 voted in the primary in 2010. She mentioned miners who work 12-hour shifts and old people who can’t drive at night as examples of people who have a hard time participating in the evening caucuses. She mentioned the Koch Brothers and the Tea Party as the kind of forces that the DFL is up against; she accused the Repubs (including Cravaack) of shifting the conversation away from how to create jobs and onto divisive, emotional social issues like contraception; she made the case that her life experience and fund-raising ability make her the best DFLer to take on Cravaack.

Look, this isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve heard talking points strung together many times. I just wish Clark had acknowledged that she was dropping out of the endorsement contest because it was clear that she wouldn’t be endorsed and switching to a primary campaign because she still believes she can win a primary.

Clark’s email announcing her decision doesn’t seem to be online as a press release or anything, so if you want to see whether you agree with my treatment of her circumlocutions, a link to the full text is just below under "information and documentation."

Update and correction: When I wrote the original version of this post, I hadn't spoken to candidate Jeff Anderson and I mischaracterized his position on the endorsement process. My bad. I've spoken to him now and fixed the error. I'll post a bit more soon on the complexities of his current stance, since Clark's announcement, on whether he will continue to abide by the endorsement process.

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Comments (29)

Spin, spin, spin…

I’ll endorse Eric’s second-to-last paragraph. I wish the same thing. That said, absolute honesty from someone running for office is as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth.

Yes, it’s disappointing – and I’m not even a primary opponent – that Clark can’t bring herself to say what’s actually happening, but “spin” is endemic among political personalities and PR types, regardless of party or ideology. Sometimes, it’s necessary, more often it’s not, but once in the habit, it’s obviously hard to break with past behavior.

Mr. Cravaack already has one foot in New Hampshire, I believe it is, where his actual family resides, and if I remember correctly, he was a commercial and military pilot before running for Congress. His emotional attachment to, and life experience in, the 8th District might well be pretty minimal, but we’re not going to get the aforementioned absolute honesty from him, either. The rules allow him to represent the District if he’s elected, whether he actually lives there or not, and he was elected.

Politicans residence of record

Ray, Chip has young children. He spends most of his time in Washington, because that is where the job he was elected to do obligates him to be.

Do you begrudge his kids the companionship of their father?

And BTW, do you happen to know in what city Fran Franken whips up hotdish these days?

You tell me

It's my understanding the Fran and Al Franken reside in Minneapolis. Where do you assert she "whips up hotdish?"

Franken's address

Franken may own a condo in Minneapolis, but let's get real. Five minutes after Al "re-discovered" his Minnesota roots after residing on the East Coast for 40 years...(umm..or burned every bridge in media) he was looking for an out of town job.


I thought as much.


There are some spooky mindreaders and channelers on this site who seem always to know what people "think" or "thought."


So that is why they live in New Hampshire. That is quite a drive to DC. Since you bring up Senator Frankens wife, do you think only Republicans should live together?

Who is the Election for?

I'm having a difficult time understanding how Ms. Clark's sidestepping the DFL endorsement process will help the DFL or the people of the 8th District (unless her agenda is really to re-elect Chip Cravaack).

I would encourage Ms. Clark, along with Mr. Nolan and Mr. Anderson to ask themselves,...

Are you seeking to represent the MN Eighth District for the good of the citizens who dwell there, or in order to validate some deficit in your sense of well being?

Whose interests are being served by Ms. Clark stepping outside the endorsement process and forcing whoever wins the primary to start fundraising and campaigning far later than they would if they had been able to start immediately after the district nominating convention.

No doubt there are big money conservatives, the Koch Bros., et al, who will throw huge amounts of money into the campaign in order to protect the man who defeated Jim Oberstar (and who no longer, for all intents and purposes, even lives in Minnesota).

It would be sad and unfortunate if any of the potential DFL candidates were so focused on their own ego-driven agendas that they were willing to pursue courses of action that make a DFL victory far more difficult if not impossible.


Any chance that we could get some specifics from her on how to deal with budget problems?

So what

Quite frankly, the endorsement process really just spends money to coalesce the party support (hence endorsement). If she wishes to run in the primary, I don't see the problem.


Having now read Eric's update/correction, it does appear as if Clark's decision is the first of several dominoes in the row, so to speak. I'm not an 8th District resident, so I don't have a horse in this race, but the conflict in approaches to and about the "L" word seem worthy of further exploration – not least by the candidates themselves.

Jobs are undeniably important, and it seems reasonable that the economy of the district continue to be at least partially based on the extraction of resources that created the area's economy in the first place. On the other hand, whether you want to characterize them as "radical" or not, environmentalists have at least a broad point. Among the economic drivers of the 8th district *is* the environment. I've spent money on motels, meals, and other travel-related expenses on the North Shore as a tourist myself. If the water becomes polluted and the area (I exaggerate for effect here) turned into a giant open-pit mine while the forest is stripped, there won't be much reason for anyone to be a tourist, and the BWCA might well become an unsustainable "island" of wilderness.

It'll be interesting to see how the DFL candidates approach this conundrum, as well as Mr. Cravaack.

There may be a reason our state bird is a loon

Having participated in and observed the political process in five states over the last 35 years, I've concluded that Minnesota's process for selecting party nominees is dysfunctional. At best, it appears to me that there is no correlation between obtaining a party's endorsement and winning a general election. In fact, there may be a negative correlation.

Primary Battle

Go ahead an nitpick her choice of words for a day or two. But the why is where the juicy stuff is.
Here is her path to winning the primary.

1. Money - She won't be running against Bachmann which got her tons of money. She will still will
dwarf the others in the primary. And starting with EMILY's list and other man hating groups she
will raise
boocou bucks from the Twin City Liberals. Mark these words now. She will outspend others like
a Romney superpac

2. She will get constant positve coverage from the 651-612 media megaplex.

3. MPR alone will give more free media then all others combined. MPR has a very large presence in
NE Minnesota

4. Garrison Keillor might even repeat his stunt from 2010 when he used his nationwide audience to
push for Clark.

5. Now imagine a three way primary race. Two men one woman. One pro-choicer in a pro-life district.
I'll assume that that others will be quietly pro-life like Oberstar-Perpich-Solon-Munger.

6. She will have the new generation NGO's and non-profits stumbling all over themselves to help out.

7. She's been wishy washy at best on gun control if not plain PRO gun control. The others will be 2nd
amendment fans.

8. If Sen Amy K's numbers are good enough vs the Republican sacrificial lamb, you may see AK
helping out in unseen ways.

more prophets and mindreaders

When did Emily's List become "man bashing" -- is that what you wrote? I thought they promoted women (with the exception of women like Bachmann and Palin and Amy Koch and a few other undesirables) to not only bring balance to our political system but to bring the unique gifts women (who bring us into life and nurture us) possess. Enough non-TP women to really change the system.

Tarryl Clark ducking out

The news that Tarryl Clark is trashing the 8th District DFL endorsement is no surprise. Two years ago, she ran a disastrous campaign against Michele Bachmann, and decided to move to Duluth so she could try her luck there. (Nobody in the 6th CD was sorry to see her go.) Didn't get much response from DFLers who've lived and worked in the 8th most of their lives, so she's going to tap her financial backers and try to destroy whomever the party endorses. That will save Chip Cravaack, who moved his family out of the state. The fact that virtually nobody who ever did anything in the 8th would not endorse Clark speaks volumes. So she joins the mavericks like Bob Short who thought they were above the process. Her reasons for not playing by the rules are out of the GOP playbook -- the real reason is that she would have finished a distant third at the endorsing convention. Clark and Cravaack would make an attractive pair.

Hubris. Pure and simple. This

Hubris. Pure and simple. This is so disrespectful of we who sit through the grueling endorsement process. While I have great respect for the job Governor Dayton is doing, I was not happy at having spent a full Saturday at a more bruising than usual convention, only to have our endorsed candidate go down to him in the primary. If people are not already turned off by the process, continued attempts to bypass it by some candidates, will certainly seal the deal.

I agree

What candidates who choose to bypass the endorsement overlook is that the people they count on to do the volunteering are the same people who attend caucuses and think that since they're putting in the time, not to mention money that isn't big by any means but entails digging deep into their pockets, they think they should get more to say about who will be the candidate than someone who just votes in the primary, and may not even support the winner in the general election. They're right of course. Expecting them to work hard for a candidate without a say in who will be the candidate is ridiculous, and discouraging. I saw Dayton have a struggle to win over the grassroots and build a ground game. Clark would have the same problem if she wins the primary, though as badly as she did in the caucuses, I expect all she'll accomplish in the primary is to spend a bunch of money.

That sounds uncomfortably like . . . . .

the Citizens United ruling saying "money is speech" with the unfortunate corollary that "more money = more speech" - thereby potentially granting more weight to the voices of some members of the electorate than others.

While volunteerism is always appreciated, if it's done so with the expectation of that particular return (i.e. "My say-so counts for more than yours does") then I guess I have a problem with the concept.

How is it disrespectful?

The thing is, more people are likely to vote in the primary than participate in the endorsement process. The fact that the endorsement process doesn't result in a candidate on the final in at least some cases suggests that the endorsement process is merely a process, not a result. In the end, Dayton WAS identified as the DFL candidate for governor, and he was the candidate that eventually won, by however little margin. Had the endorsement held, who would have ended up at the Capitol? We can't know. But considering the close victory of Dayton, had the lesser-supported (yet endorsed) candidate been on the ballot, we very well could have ended up with Emmer. Instead, we ended up with Dayton and not Entenza or Emmer. I doubt you or any other DFLer with a single shred of interest in the political process would have been happy at all if we ended up with Emmer because Dayton followed the process.

I'm glad that you participated in the process, but it isn't about the convention or the party or respect for any particular individual involved. It's about who people want to vote for.

DFL Primariers

Why have the endorsements process at all? Let's just let big labor and PACs decide who our elected officials are.

That's what primaries are for

A person's vote earlier in the process is no more valuable than a person's vote later in the process. Suggesting that endorsement would only be replaced by "big labor" and PAC selection of the candidates is ridiculous. If "big labor" and PACs had that much influence, they'd have it regardless of the format. In fact, the endorsement process is more likely to be influenced by "big labor" and PACs by making sure those that vote in line with those entities participate in the endorsement process when there are fewer people to balance them out. If a candidate is forced to run or not run in view of that small body of voters, that removes some of the choice of the larger body later on.

With all due respect

Hubris is the coin of the leftist realm.

No respect

And I'm not fooled into thinking that you were trying to give the "leftists" any. Disingenuity is unbecoming.

Clark will not abide?

Very undude.


If Tarryl Clark's motivation is really that obvious, I would expect that the primary voters would reject her (conspiracy theories not withstanding). If she does win (and the competition so far is underwhelming), it will be a statement about primary voters.
While primary voters may not be representative of the electorate as a whole, they are more representative than the party insiders who dominate the caucuses (and yes, I have participated in caucuses myself).
A precinct caucus straw poll is hardly a definitive prediction of how strong a candidate will be in the general election. Eric Larson's somewhat overheated (if not misogynistic) observations could also be taken as a statement of why Clark would be the strongest DFL candidate.

Good looking is almost a disqualifier

Ms. Clark, like Ms. Palin, got an awful long way on her cheekbones.
Mr. Cravaack's chin seems to have been his primary qualification for office.
I'm beginning to think we really need to disable our television networks so we will have to listen to what these people actually have to say.

Karl Rove said it very well when he declared "Politics is TV with the sound turned off."


Well, it worked for Saint Ronnie.

I actually feel sorry for all

I actually feel sorry for all of those folks who waste their time and money with the DFL party caucus. They work hard spend countless hours on phones and the net plus vetting persons to move forward in elections. After all of that hard work they get slapped in the face when persons like Mark Dayton and Tarryl Clark go to the Primary to get their way. Shows they only care about getting their own way.

I am one of those people

who attended and participated in caucuses (are you?).
Nevertheless, I realize that we are a very small proportion of the party voters; I would hesitate to disenfranchise them by eliminating primaries, which seems to be what you are advocating.