Minnesota DFL, GOP in day-after event: Nobody’s delighted

DFL Party Chair Ken Martin
DFL Party Chair Ken Martin

In a day-after-Election-Day event at the U of M’s Humphrey School, DFL Chair Ken Martin and state Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, picked over the mixed results of Tuesday in Minnesota.

Maybe it was just because he’d been up all night or because his party had been clobbered nationally (he called it a “real bloodbath”), but Martin seemed to have generally mixed feelings about the results, even though the DFL had swept all the statewide races and maintained its 5-3 advantage in the congressional delegation. He seemed laid especially low by the Republican takeover of majority control of the Minnesota House.

And Benson, likewise, seemed more somber about the Republican losses, by near-landslide margins, in the races for governor and U.S. senator than jubilant over the success in the state House. She said her party has relied too heavily on Obama-bashing in recent years, and needs to develop “an uplifting, positive vision” for the future. “It can’t just be about Barack Obama anymore.”

Powerful division

Both panelists noted the powerful, growing division of the state between DFL strength in the cities and Republican strength in rural Minnesota.

Martin said that Republican gubernatorial nominee Jeff Johnson had carried 53 of Minnesota’s 87 counties, but that Dayton had carried all of the most populous counties, which led to his substantial margin of victory.

Benson said that the “metrocentric” legislative session, which left “Greater Minnesota feeling abandoned,” was a key to Republican success in winning the House. “Why should farmers trust the DFL?” she asked, since the party had “ignored” their needs and priorities. But her party’s performance in the Twin Cities suburbs was below what Republicans need to win statewide races.

In the governor’s race, Martin opined that Republican attacks on Gov. Mark Dayton’s “personal traits” had backfired.

Benson said the Republicans are still being undermined in statewide races by the state party’s ongoing financial problems. Republican looked enviously at blue states like Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois that elected Republican governors, and Minnesota Republicans will be studying those races to learn “how they did that and what we can do.”

Turnout disappointment

Martin expressed disappointment in voter turnout, which was down from recent midterm elections. “We invested a lot in turning out drop-off voters” (the term professionals use for voters who vote in presidential years but drop out of the electorate in midterms), but did poorly, especially among the young, he said. His belief is that “negative campaigning turns people off.”

State Sen. Michelle Benson
State Sen. Michelle Benson

On the other hand, he said, 65 percent of those who voted before Election Day voted DFL, and the overwhelming majority (73 percent) of the early voters who voted for DFL candidates were in the category that the party professionals rate as “sporadic voters,” which suggests the early voting option is helping the DFL substantially.

Moderator Larry Jacobs of the university’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance noted that the DFL had won the female vote by a 20-point margin, and asked Benson what the Republicans were doing wrong. She replied: “We don’t listen and engage on the issues that really matter” to women voters.

Noting that Republicans nationally are now talking about how they are ready to compromise with President Obama to get things done, Martin said “but when it’s time to do it, they won’t.”

“If there’s a silver lining for Democrats” in losing majority control of the U.S. Senate, Martin said, “it’s that the Republicans now own Congress,” which, he implied, will give the public a clear understanding of who is responsible for the failure of Congress to get things done.

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Comments (31)

  1. Submitted by William Lindeke on 11/06/2014 - 10:50 am.

    what are the real issues

    The GOP framing here about “metrocentric” poilicies seems purely cultural. What are the specific “metrocentric” policies?

  2. Submitted by Mike Worcester on 11/06/2014 - 11:30 am.

    “Metrocentric” My Kiester

    During the last biennium the DFL:

    Repaid the funds owed to our public schools, which had disproportionately impacted rural districts.

    Boosted LGA funding, which had a tremendous positive impact on rural communities with lower tax bases.

    Expanded Medicaid eligibility, which greatly aided the numbers of those in rural Minnesota who did not have insurance or access to basic preventative care.

    Increased funding for transportation construction, which helped boost commerce and travel for rural areas.

    And that’s just a small part of the picture.

    How are any of these “metrocentric”?

    • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 11/06/2014 - 12:05 pm.

      You left out Destination Medical Center

      Which benefits Rochester and SE MN.

      Look at the bonding bill:

      Civic centers in Rochester, St. Cloud and Mankato

      Funding for home and community based health workers and funding for rural broadband.

      Upgraded facilities at colleges throughout the state.

      I’m trying to figure out what rural MN wanted that they didn’t get this last session.

      • Submitted by Jon Lord on 11/06/2014 - 01:17 pm.

        I believe

        much of it was a vote against Obama. We, this nation, is trying to sugar coat it and that includes all television media outlets with “Faux” entertainment news leading the way. Sad!

    • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 11/06/2014 - 08:42 pm.

      Small, but perhaps misleading

      “Repaid funds…” as required by law so it didn’t matter who was in charge, just how the economy was doing after the recession.

      “Boosted LGA funding…” where most of the money went to the metro area, including, after a decade of no funding, rural area Coon Rapids.

      “Expanded Medicaid eligibility…” which far and away aided more people (by sheer numbers) in the metro area, especially Mpls./St. Paul.

      “Increased funding for transportation construction…” by a fairly insignificant amount (as noted by the Governor and Senate Majority leader Bakk calling this next session all about transportation) and as evidenced in projects all around the metro area.

      That’s how.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/06/2014 - 10:03 pm.

        Those poor rural folks

        I always find the city folks here very amusing, they seem to see those country folks as poor. And maybe folks in the non-agricultural areas are harder up, but so are a lot of folks in downtown.

  3. Submitted by kevin terrell on 11/06/2014 - 01:20 pm.

    metro centric environmentalists

    I was at the session, and one of the examples of “metro centric” policies was placing an obvious, hard core environmentalist from the metro to oversee ag policy. (I didn’t catch the name, nor do I know who that person is.)

    That also pretty much matches what I heard from people on the Iron Range regarding Polymet and mining in general: people opposed to it are militant metro environmentalists and really have no idea of what they are talking about.

    Since I have yet to meet someone opposed to Polymet who has actually visited the mine site and read the EIS, I have a hard time disagreeing with that viewpoint.

    • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 11/06/2014 - 03:06 pm.

      Do you mean?

      Dave Frederickson, Mark Dayton’s Commissioner of Agriculture, who with his wife farmed for more than 20 years, represented Swift, Yellow Medicine, Lac Qui Parle, Chippewa, and Redwood Counties in the Minnesota Senate from 1986 to 1994 and:

      “[from ]1991 to 2002, . . .. served as president of the Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU)” and “subsequently served as president of the National Farmers Union (NFU) from 2002 to 2006” where “[i]n both organizations, he worked on federal farm policy and other issues important to farmers and ranchers.”

      Do you mean that “obvious, hard core environmentalist”?


      • Submitted by kevin terrell on 11/06/2014 - 05:29 pm.

        just reporting…

        I have no idea who was referred to regarding ag oversight, as I said. Just telling you what I heard at the session.

        As for Polymet – I had someone working for me spend 6 weeks looking at the EIS, talking to a full range of stakeholders, visiting the site and then summarizing the findings in a 30 page document that I worked with him to complete. I’m rather confident we looked at the issue, from all sides, more critically than anyone else I have met.

        From the EIS: “water quality is predicted to be essentially the same between the Continuation of Existing Conditions Scenario and the NorthMet Project Proposed Action”.

        Translation: doesn’t really change anything.

  4. Submitted by Lora Jones on 11/06/2014 - 02:35 pm.

    Whoa — talk about gross generalizations

    and ones that, like most such, are destined to be untrue. I’ve talked to many people on the Iron Range, and most importantly because it is in their backyard, the northern Mesabi, Tower and Ely. There is no consensus backing of Polymet, and there is considerable concern over the EIS. If you don”t have concerns about the EIS, I suspect didn’t read it very critically. 500 years of cleanup and an abysmal record of going bankrupt and sticking the taxpayer? For a maximum of 300 jobs for a maximum of 20 years, very few of which will continue through the entire term or benefit current residents?

  5. Submitted by Beth-Ann Bloom on 11/06/2014 - 02:57 pm.


    I wonder how much is in the message…..For example when the minimum wage goes up the media shows city dwellers at the Capitol, but the many rural Minnesotans who are paid minimum wage are not visible. Looks like the action benefits only the metro so it is an easy path to run against those folks in the Minneapolis which unfortunately touches on issues of race and class too

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/06/2014 - 09:47 pm.


      When minimum wages go up, so do prices… Maybe rural folks, especially older people on fixed incomes don’t see a higher minimum wage and higher costs as a good thing.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/07/2014 - 02:53 pm.

        Simplistic economics

        Prices go up -slightly- (the markets are still competitive), but so does spending (minimum wage workers spend most of their income. This in turn boosts demand and ultimately tax income, which funds the benefits of people on ‘fixed’ (see COLAs) incomes, and the public benefits that they use to supplement them.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/07/2014 - 02:28 pm.

          Slightly is a relative thing, I don’t notice if my lunch out goes up by $1… However many people do….

          Competition does not matter if the same cost increase hits all the competitors. (ie restaurants in town) They just raise their prices unless some substitute good or device is available that did not see the increase. (eat at home or automation) Both don’t do much for restaurant workers.

          So if the US cost of living (COLA) increases significantly, do you want to raise the minimum wage again? Will this encourage people to buy more “Made in America” product or less?

          It is quite the puzzle.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/07/2014 - 11:34 am.

      City dwellers at the Capitol

      Rural voters would see their neighbors, if they looked more closely. The five poorest counties in Minnesota are rural (in order: Mahnomen, Beltrami, Blue Earth, Nobles, and Wadena).

      Agricultural workers are exempt from minimum wage laws, an omission from the FLSA that has Jim Crow origins.

  6. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 11/06/2014 - 05:34 pm.

    Voter Apathy

    I voted, but turn out was low because of absolute voter burnout. 24/7, 365 days a year campaigning, nothing but burned out talking point that say nothing, facts are totally unimportant, polls are measuring the money race and not accomplishments (because there are none), the activist SCOTUS’ Citizen United decision does anything but unite citizens, with good reason the politicians negative poll numbers are sky high, working across the aisle is total fiction, the next election starts before the polls from the current election close, the so called news media isn’t doing it job of sorting fact from fiction and challenging politicians because the politicians only got to the hyper partisan media friendly to them. There is nothing to excite voters. The politicians have us right where they want us, apathetic.

  7. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 11/06/2014 - 09:07 pm.

    You clearly are a low information voter

    His poorly informed comments were aimed at Jean Wagenius, whose policies on water pollution and poisoning of our pollinators by agribusiness irked major corporate interest. Her hard core policies? Like supporting minority farmers, sustaining food banks and not caving to Cargill and Monsanto on every deal?
    The opposition was more rooted in rural Minnesota racism and knee jerk conservatives who actually have their hands out for subsidies more than any “welfare queen”.
    Typical Republican claptrap, personal assaults and no facts.

  8. Submitted by Mike Supina on 11/07/2014 - 01:16 am.

    Rural needs and priorities…

    …that have been ignored has been cited in several news accounts as the major factor behind the DFL losing the MN House but I have yet to see specifically which rural needs have not been addressed. Were proposals out there last session that were not voted on or voted down? Do rural voters simply resent seeing development occur in the metro? Is this an after-the-fact rationale invented to conform to the election results? Can any knowledgable people elaborate?

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/07/2014 - 08:02 am.

      Perception is Reality

      Imagine you are a farmer who lives in SW MN and you are paying some pretty large tax bills. Then you turn on the news at night and all you hear about are Stadiums, Light Rail, Bike Paths, Food Stamps, Highway expansions, Senate office buildings, etc.

      And almost no one is discussing your issues, except to complain about your industry and how to introduce more regulatory hurdles for you to jump through. Who again would you vote for?

      • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 11/07/2014 - 09:30 am.

        No election is going to swing because of the farm vote

        There just aren’t enough farmers. Less than 10% of people in rural areas are farmers.


        The urban/rural split is real and deserves more investigation. The rural economy is not growing as fast as the urban areas but this is not unique to MN. My guess is the people voting out Democrats are upset with national issues and taking it out on local politicians.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/07/2014 - 02:39 pm.


          The example was a farmer, however it could have been a shop owner, a teacher, a convenience store clerk, etc that lives in the rural area.

          The reality is that most citizens think they pay plenty in taxes. And they want to see people talking about how it will be used to help their communities or themselves.

          If all that makes the news is expenditures in the cities, they will not be happy. And remember that Republicans helped ensure that funding was committed to provided good water to SW MN, whereas the DFL fought it.

      • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 11/07/2014 - 09:56 am.

        Colin Peterson.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/07/2014 - 02:31 pm.


          Apparently Colin is quite the DINO, even my very Conservative Farm Bureau member father supported his re-election bid.

          • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 11/07/2014 - 03:40 pm.


            Yeah, because Collin Peterson isn’t a demagogue or a fear-mongerer, and actually works when he goes to Washington.

            The DFL is a pretty diverse group- diverse of opinion, policy, and demographics. I’m not into calling people DINOs, or RINOs for that matter, as I think that people can hold very diverse viewpoints that don’t align 100% with their party affiliation.

      • Submitted by jason myron on 11/07/2014 - 04:41 pm.

        What are their issues?

        We already support them with tax breaks and subsidies. If they don’t like their life’s work, move to where the jobs are. Isn’t that what you free market, “pull yourself up by the bootstraps ” types are always preaching? Why do people who choose to live in rural areas get a pass from that mindset? I left a small town 30 years ago for more opportunity, why cant they?

  9. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/07/2014 - 06:23 am.


    I suppose we will be talking a lot about this going forward. Lots of second guessing. The occasional stab in the back. I expect to be a willing participant in the process. For me, it was always a problem in messaging, or more precisely the failure to have one. It seemed to me a lot during the campaign that the attitude of the DFL was, “look we had a great session, we did wonderful things, we deserve your support going forward.” I happen to think that was true, but I don’t think it was nearly enough. For one thing, we were unwilling to talk about specifics. No one was talking about health care, which seemed to allow Republicans to capture both sides of the issue. We never responded to the senate office building issue, a minor issue, but one that hurt and where the Republican narrative remained unchallenged. What was frustrating to me was that the DFL didn’t seem to have any message going forward. I had a vague sense of what we have done, but no sense of what we wanted to do

  10. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/07/2014 - 06:36 am.

    The governor

    To some extent, I think, the DFL house payed a price for Governor Dayton’s sins. The governor is a good and well meaning man, and certainly the best choice for governor and I have voted for him without reservation. But my greatest impression of his governorship is of an opportunity missed. The governor represents the one branch of government capable of speaking with one strong and effective voice across the state. I and others have complained at long and boring length of the legislature’s failure to tell it’s story effectively. But the legislature has one incredibly high barrier to overcome, it doesn’t have one story, it has 201 stories, told by politicians each with their own set of concerns. The legislature can do better, but I have little confidence in it’s ability to communicate well under even the best circumstances.

    The governor, on the other hand, who has no such barriers, is often inarticulate and remote, at least in appearance. He doesn’t lead arguments, he reacts to them, rarely with any effect. Quite frankly, this inability to communicate effectively has dogged Mark Dayton throughout his political career, it’s what his money, and the money he has access to, compensates for. And ironically, it was the House DFL, which does have articulate and energetic people, which largely initiated the successful political agenda of the last term, that has paid the price for Governor Dayton’s shortcomings.

  11. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/07/2014 - 07:47 am.

    …that have been ignored has been cited in several news accounts as the major factor behind the DFL losing the MN House but I have yet to see specifically which rural needs have not been addressed.

    These are questions I have been asking myself and others. And I have no answers myself. But small towns are struggling, possibly dying. The big local employers where the state has an impact are often nursing homes. The DFL has done a lot for nursing homes, but doesn’t seem to talk about it much. What can we do to stimulate economic activity in small town Minnesota so that these communities grow and prosper not just survive. I don’t have any solutions for that. Now that Republicans control both house of the legislature, I will be looking forward to seeing what answers they provide.

    • Submitted by Mike Supina on 11/08/2014 - 11:02 am.

      Weakening environmental regulations…

      …will no doubt be high on their list though frankly I fail to see the appeal of that policy to any voter, rural or otherwise. One correction: the GOP won control of the MN House; the DFL still controls the MN Senate.

  12. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/07/2014 - 08:06 am.


    One more comment before I go out to some post campaign stuff. A basic problem in our election system is the tension between the needs of statewide races vs. local races. Running statewide means all votes are the same, and effective campaigning means focusing on where there are the most of them, and for the DFL, that’s mainly the urban areas. It’s also true, that the statewide races attract the vast majority of the support. What that means in practice is that the message you hear on TV is focused on Metro interests, intended to turn out voters. The problem is that the voters are turned out in legislative districts where the DFL already turns out large majorities. In legislative terms that support is wasted and to the extent that it focuses on issues that tend to alienate Greater Minnesota voters, is even counter productive.

    In the campaign just passed, the dynamic seemed to be that Minnesotans were happy with what is happening in the state. They expressed that in the governor’s race where two fairly weak candidates turned the election into more of a referendum on where the state was as a whole. But for some reason, that didn’t translate into results on the local level for reasons a lot of us will be exploring for the next two years.

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