The new year starts with evidence that outside Republican campaign groups intend to play early and often in response to concerns that they run a poor second to their DFL counterparts.
One such outside group, the Minnesota Action Network, which is headed by former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, has already launched a mail campaign targeting DFL state senators and representatives.
“Call Senator Melisa Franzen,” reads a flyer that landed Saturday in the mailboxes of district 49 voters in Edina and Bloomington. “Tell her to start 2015 off on the right path and oppose wasteful spending.”
Franzen is one of nine DFL state senators that many Republicans believe are vulnerable in 2016. In addition, the Minnesota Action Network is directing mail at three DFL House members who they also believe could be vulnerable in 2016. The messages — on taxes and education — vary slightly, but the intent is the same: to get out early on the next election cycle to help Republicans retain control of the Minnesota House — and re-take it in the Senate.
After Mark Dayton’s reelection as Governor, Republicans were quick to point out the need for a rich, coordinated and committed group to take on the DFL’s most prominent and effective “outside” group: Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a non-profit education and advocacy group that legally receives contributions in unlimited amounts from donors whose names are not required to be disclosed.
In a New Year’s Eve email to supporters that assessed his campaign, GOP candidate for governor Jeff Johnson acknowledged Democrats superior operation by extending a sideways compliment to ABM. “It appears that third-party spending against me was between 4 and 6 times greater than third-party spending against Dayton,” Johnson wrote. “People love to complain about negative advertising, but if done correctly, it is very effective.”
Johnson also urged the formation of a third party group “dedicated solely to winning the governor’s office.”
But 2016 will be all about control of the legislature. Republicans, who gained House seats in rural districts in 2014, have yet to recover from the ground they lost in the suburbs in recent election cycles, hence the focus on Franzen.
A first-time candidate, Franzen defeated then state representative Keith Downey in 2012, a year when the ill-fated marriage amendment ballot measure galvanized not only liberals but social moderates, the kind of people who count for a lot of votes in Edina and Bloomington.
The political arm of the Senate Republican caucus, under the leadership of David Hann, has already begun the groundwork of finding the right candidates.
In the meantime, the Minnesota Action Network is trying to soften the ground for those candidates, telling voters that as the legislature prepares for its 2015 session, “it’s time for them to start spending responsibly.”
As the legislative session progresses, it’s likely the Minnesota Action Network will continue similar voter outreach efforts, essentially starting the 2016 campaign before the book is closed on 2014, with an eye on a campaign even further out: the 2018 governor’s race.