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My Republican friends, the system is broken

Our record in the GOP is clear: we are endorsing candidates for statewide office that can’t win. 

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Election Day is one week away from today and by all available public polling, coffee shop talk, water cooler chatter and blunt common sense, the Republican endorsed candidate for the U.S. Senate Kurt Bill will lose to U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar.  First, I want to thank Representative Bills for running for the U.S. Senate. While I don’t agree with the strategy and messaging from his campaign, Representative Bills has taken on a monumental task in challenging Senator Klobuchar in her bid for re-election.  He has campaigned all across Minnesota, taken time away from his family and given almost a year of his life to this campaign.  But he will lose next week and Republican campaigns in Minnesota will never be the same again.

I decided to publish this post this week, before Election Day, because Republicans like myself will be door-knocking, lit-dropping and phone-calling for endorsed candidates all across Minnesota over the next seven days. But after Election Day, when the signs for Kurt Bills’ campaign will either be quickly removed from yards, or left to buried in the upcoming snow, Republicans will be burned-out from the 2012 elections.  The days and weeks after an election are like days after Thanksgiving; people are tired, stuffed from too much turkey and they want to rest. The last think they want to talk about are recipes on how to make a better turkey (or campaigns). 

So in the last week of the 2012 election cycle, I’d like to ask my Republican friends to think about what’s going to happen one week from today and understand that if we want the Republican Party to succeed in Minnesota, we need to recognize the system is broken.  I’m not trying to take time away any time from all of the hard work that needs to be done in the next seven days.  I’ve been watching from a far and have been so impressed with the hard work of so many Republicans across Minnesota.  

As Republican gather to volunteer at campaign offices this week in one final push for our endorsed candidates, I’m hoping the timing of this post will encourage Republicans to take just a few minutes to think about our party and how it can be a successful statewide party for generations to come. I believe the Republican Party in Minnesota will have many successes next Tuesday, but the defeats our party will face, specifically in the election for the U.S. Senate, will be too great for us to ignore.

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According to the latest polling in the U.S. Senate race, Representative Bills is polling at 22 percent, versus 65 percent for Senator Klobuchar. This is simply shocking.  Eric Ostermeier, who blogs at Smart Politics for the Humphrey School of Public Affairs recently wrote a post about how the GOP should brace for a devastating election night for the Bills’ campaign:

“Kurt Bills’ poll numbers show him with the second lowest support of any GOP U.S. Senate nominee since the DFL merger and third lowest since direct elections began 100 years ago.

Just two years after the Republican Party swept into control of both chambers of the state legislature and knocked off the longest serving Congressman in Minnesota history, the GOP is preparing for what might go down as one of their most lackluster election cycles this November.” Source: Smart Politics, October 19, 2012. Click here for the complete post. 


“With some undecideds undoubtedly going to break for Klobuchar, the first term DFLer is now poised to become just the 12th woman to reach the 60 percent mark in a senate contest in U.S. history.” Source: Smart Politics, October 19, 2012. Click here for the complete post. 

I encourage you to read Eric’s complete post, as it should serve as a wake-up call for all Republicans in Minnesota. I don’t believe many Republicans appreciate how historically devistating Bills’ defeat will be. Below are some additional facts to consider:

  • A Republican candidate for statewide office in Minnesota hasn’t received more than 50 percent of the vote in 18 years.  The last Republican to receive over 50 percent of the vote statewide was former Republican Governor Arne Carlson in 1994.
  • During the same 18 years, 7 DFL candidates for statewide office or president have received over 50 percent of the vote statewide. 
  • The last Republican to win statewide office was former Governor Tim Pawlenty in 2006, almost 6 years ago.

In 1975, Ronald Reagan said, a “political party cannot be all things to all people. It must represent certain fundamental beliefs which must not be compromised to political expediency, or simply to swell its numbers.” I couldn’t agree more.  I don’t believe the answer is to abandon our party’s “fundamental beliefs”, but our endorsed candidate for the U.S. Senate earning less than 25 percent in a statewide election should be clear evidence that our party’s endorsement process is broken and the manner in which Republicans are running campaigns needs to change.

We are endorsing candidates for statewide office that can’t win more than 50 percent of the vote, nor a simple plurality of the vote in a multi-candidate race. We are endorsing candidates for statewide office that can’t build the necessary grassroots campaigns needed to win on Election Day.  We are endorsing unelectable candidates, who can’t compete with the political machinery and messaging from the Minnesota DFL and their allies. The record is clear: we are endorsing candidates for statewide office that can’t win.  

Let me also be very clear: there are good people who are working on Kurt Bills’ campaign. I haven’t agreed with everything they have done, but that’s OK.  I don’t believe that because I don’t agree with every decision made by Bills’ staff that they can’t be helpful assisting in helping steer the party in the right direction post-election.  I have been and always will be a fan of Mike Osskopp.  Do I agree with all of his decisions? No. I’m also confident Osskopp doesn’t agree with everything that I’ve done.  But if I want our party to succeed, I want to hear from Osskopp about the challenges he faced managing Bills’ campaign because if there is one person aside from Bills that wants to win next Tuesday, it’s Osskopp.  Everyone has value.

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I hear from so many Republicans how they think 2014 is going to be a huge year for Republicans, as both Governor Mark Dayton and U.S. Senator Al Franken will be up for re-election. I hope I’m not the first Republican to write this, but both Dayton and Franken are going to be as tough as hell to beat (more on this next week, after the election).  A Republican candidate thinking about running in 2014 needs to throw out the campaign playbook designed by the architects of the Emmer & Bills’ operations. There is some overlap in the staff and as I tweeted on July 2, “sometimes getting the band back together isn’t a good thing…”  

But here’s the reality: I believe only one or two candidates could be endorsed for governor or U.S. Senate by the Republican Party of Minnesota in 2014 and have a chance of winning the election. I’m not going to name the candidates, so don’t ask.  But unless major reforms are implemented and the Republican Party of Minnesota overhauls their endorsement process, I believe the Republican candidates with the most statewide appeal will not commit to abiding by the Republican Party of Minnesota’s endorsement and they will run in the primary, bypassing the endorsement.  As a passionate defender of the endorsement process during my time as Deputy Chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota, it’s disappointing to see the party’s endorsement at the statewide level become almost a hinderance, rather than an asset.  Republicans need to hit the pause button on the endorsement process and unless dramatic changes are made, we should consider not endorsing a candidate for the U.S. Senate and governor in 2014, allowing all Republican candidates to run in the primary. 

Finally, our party has evolved dramatically over the last few years.  One organizational advantage I see the Minnesota DFL has over the Republican Party of Minnesota is the cohesiveness between Democrats of different generations.  All political families have disagreements, but I’ve notice over the last few years how Republicans have repeatedly cast aside those Republicans who have fallen out of favor because of policy positions. We have kicked our party elders to the curb.  To quote Ronald Reagan from 1972, the “person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor.” I’ll be the first to admit that in the past I have been too focused on the actions which calculate into the 20 percent allocated to the actions of the traitor and not on the 80 percent actions of a friend of the party.  In retrospect, this was the wrong approach.  There is a fine line between the two quotes from Reagan I used in this post and I haven’t done a good job of balancing the two beliefs.

In order to be a successful party, we need to have a focus on the 80 percent we all have in agreement.  We can be a political party which includes the ideas of Tom Emmer, Al Quie, Jim Ramstad, Norm Coleman, Tom Horner, Tim Pawlenty, Arne Carlson and Kurt Bills. To achieve this level of success, we need to look ourselves in the mirror and be honest with our party’s strengths and weaknesses.  Next Tuesday will provide that opportunity, as we will have successes and failures.  To my fellow Republicans who will be appearing on the ballot next week, I wish you the best of luck and thank you for running.  But next Tuesday is not the end, it’s only the beginning as Minnesotans will be giving our party a big reality check.

This post was written by Michael Brodkorb and originally published on – an inside view of Minnesota politics. Follow on Twitter: @politicsdotmn.

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