Governor debate preview: why Hannah Nicollet could be Mark Dayton’s new best friend

MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
Gov. Mark Dayton, Jeff Johnson and Hannah Nicollet during last week's gubernatorial debate in Rochester.

Jeff Johnson has some catching up to do. 

A poll just released by KSTP-TV shows that Gov. Mark Dayton has widened his lead over his Republican challenger, 51 percent to 39 percent, a position corroborated in other recent polls.

Tonight’s debate in Moorhead, the second in a series of five, will give Johnson the opportunity to take a more aggressive tone in describing both his own vision and the flaws he sees in the Dayton administration.   

There’s only one problem with that strategy: The Forum News Service and WDAY-TV, the sponsors that initially limited the debate to Johnson and Dayton, have decided to include Independence party candidate Hannah Nicollet, based on a poll taken this summer that showed her with 11 percent support.

At a minimum, Nicollet’s presence in the 90-minute debate will siphon time from the other two candidates. That hurts Johnson in particular, since the debates are precious minutes that he must pack with persuasion.  

Furthermore, Nicollet, who appeared in the candidates’ first debate last week in Rochester, demonstrated only the broadest grasp of public policy. Her answers often meandered, bringing the debate off-topic. A similar performance could prove to be a distraction for Johnson, who will want to stay laser-focused on his campaign talking points. 

As in the first debate, Johnson will do his best to challenge Dayton. “This is where the governor and I differ,” was his polite way of disagreeing. Yet the man who even DFL party chair Ken Martin describes as affable seems incapable of communicating righteous indignation. With the election less than four weeks away, though, Johnson will try to step up the rhetoric.

Dayton certainly will talk about the accomplishments of his administrations and defend the policies he helped enact. He did so in the first debate. 

And as the incumbent, he’s using the office to expand that list: At a news conference Tuesday, Dayton announced that the administration will spend $70 million dollars on road and bridge improvement across the state. In a non-election year, this announcement might have been left to the Department of Transportation.

Dayton has provided few details on his plans for a second term, even in one-on-one interviews. But given the longer format of this debate, it’s likely there will a few questions that move him in that direction.

The debate in Moorhead will be streamed live on the WDAY and Forum News Service websites. 

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by E Gamauf on 10/08/2014 - 09:23 am.

    Siphoning Time

    Is only a big deal if the 2 main parties are heirs apparent to the debate process.

    What percentage is enough to participate? Should it be 15%?
    If a party can pull 10% – it seems a substantial number voters want to see that person in the debate.

    Should an extra 15 minutes be added to the debate for every additional candidate?

    Conversely, 2 candidates against an incumbent says that the incumbent risks a 2 pronged attack.

    Maybe we should assign saddle weights that some candidates must carry,
    in order to make this a horse race!

  2. Submitted by Beth-Ann Bloom on 10/08/2014 - 09:32 am.

    Please re-label this as a personal opinion piece rather than give it the semblance of news or commentary.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/08/2014 - 11:23 am.

    Dayton owes the last 4 years to Tom Horner, so it’s no mystery why he’s so happy to share the stage with Hannah.

    However I think he overlooks the differences present today. Horner was well informed and articulated his plans well. As anyone who watched the first debate saw, that is clearly not the case with Nicollet.

    Horner’s presence and message swayed many thoughtful voters, to the detriment of Tom Emmer. Ms. Nicollet’s appeal to emotion is going to draw from the low information crowd, the very people Dayton is counting on to pull him through.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/08/2014 - 02:57 pm.

      De Ja Vu

      Just like Pawlenty owed his last four years to Peter Hutchenson.

      I guess it all depends on whose ox is being gored.

  4. Submitted by peter tharaldson on 10/08/2014 - 02:36 pm.

    She could also be unregistered alien too

    This drives me nuts. She could be….what? Fill in the blank. That phrase is right up there with “Some say…”. Who? Come on…let’s go get some data.

    In the nearly thirty polled races where Indepedence/Reform Party candidates have been, there has been practically demonstrable nor statistically significant evidence that one side was hurt more (and in very few cases where it is it’s alos mixed as to which side). In fact, the only time pollsters did their job and asked the right question (2008 exit survey), it was learned that 75% of IP voters did not consider the other two candidates worthy of a vote…they would have stayed home.

    To your point about broad policies strokes by Hannah. The Rochester Post Bulletin seems to differ.

    To the outrageous comment about low information voters. That’s a tired old dismissive buzz on right wing and left wing blogs. Statistical evidence shows that when controlled for age, Independence voters tend to be of higher education that their big party counterparts.

    Sorry guys. Let’s call this opinion. When you replace “could” with “does”….then let’s talk.

  5. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/08/2014 - 05:26 pm.

    Kind of patronizing, don’t you think?

    Ms. Nicollet will help Governor Dayton by being a distraction. This will keep Mr. Johnson from showing his laser-focused side, as a persuasive contrast to his affable side.

    All that’s missing are some pats on the head for all concerned..

  6. Submitted by Bruce Anderson on 10/08/2014 - 10:05 pm.

    Ask Norm Coleman

    about his former communications consultant’s (and this article’s author) debate genius.

    And ask Jesse what he thinks.

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