“I made a commitment when I ran for this position that we were going to put value behind our party endorsement.”
Who said it?
If you follow inside-the-ball-park politics, you might assume the speaker is Keith Downey, chair of the state Republican Party, whose endorsement process was challenged head-on this year when three candidates — Scott Honor, Kurt Zellers, and Marty Seifert — ran against the party’s endorsed candidate for governor, Jeff Johnson.
You’d be wrong. DFL party chair Ken Martin said it in a post-primary wrap-up. “Last evening, everyone of our endorsed candidates prevailed,” he pointed out.
While the state’s caucus system and the endorsing conventions that follow are criticized for attracting the political extremes, Martin defends the activist base with the same vigor as Downey.
“We feel very strongly about making this grass roots process [that] we have, the caucuses and convention process, continue,” Martin said. “It’s a unique process that allows ordinary people to have a say in the political process.”
Technically, Minnesota is not unique in the caucus route to endorsement. Kansas, Nevada, North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, and Maine have similar processes. In all other states, candidates for office go directly to a primary.
Downey says the system works.
“I think we have displayed over the last six to 12 months that the endorsement carries a lot more oomph behind it, there’s more power behind it,” he said. “We displayed the ability at our convention to endorse great candidates; we captured the imagination and energy of the activist base, the donor base. Those are all good signs that the endorsement has regained some its impact.”
If endorsed candidate for governor Jeff Johnson hadn’t won, Downey acknowledged there would be calls to reconsider. “Had the race gone the other way, I’m not sure that would mean everything,” he said. “Evaluating the value of the endorsement is a long cycle.”
But he was satisfied with the results this year: all but one of the party’s endorsed candidates beat their primary challengers.
To be sure, Martin’s forceful defense of the DFL endorsement was heightened by the contest for auditor. Challenger Matt Entenza lost to incumbent and endorsee Rebecca Otto. Entenza spent nearly $700,000 on the race, forcing Otto and the party to respond in kind in a campaign that became testy and confrontational.
“We’re unified as a party,” Martin said. “Maybe Matt should have thought about that before taking on an incumbent.”
Martin and Downey want the state’s primary to be moved to a date in June, for political pragmatism. The August 12 primary turnout was so miniscule that there’s little information a campaign can glean from examining the votes. And the late date gives non-incumbent candidates only about ten weeks to make a claim they deserve election.
With their advocacy of an earlier primary, the two party leaders also reveal acknowledgement of another political reality — no matter how hard they try to keep the endorsement process relevant, the party’s candidates of choice will continue to draw outside challengers.