Changes being made in the Tom Emmer gubernatorial campaign operation have everything to do with the changing nature of the race and not dissatisfaction with the current Emmer team, according to Bill Walsh, Emmer’s spokesman.
The GOP-endorsed candidate and the campaign have come under criticism for recent missteps, including Emmer’s handling of the controversy over his tip credit remarks, as well as his misstatements on biodiesel and veterans benefits.
The first of those changes comes with the “stepping back” of Tom Mason, who has deep Republican roots in the state dating to his days as a member of former U.S. Sen. Rudy Boschwitz.
Mason, who has been a paid consultant for Emmer, is leaving that position to devote full time to his public relations company. He will continue, however, to act as a volunteer consultant, according to Walsh.
“Everything turns to light speed starting next week,” Walsh said, referring to Tuesday’s primary election, which will mark the start of Emmer’s campaign in earnest against the DFL and Independence Party nominees. Walsh said Mason knew all along that he would be unable to be a part of that campaign and maintain his company.
The big question is whether there will be changes at the very top of the organization, where Rep. Mark Buesgens, a close friend of Emmer’s, has been campaign manager since Emmer won endorsement at the Republican Party convention.
Walsh wouldn’t say whether Buesgens is being replaced.
“We’ve been working on an addition to the team,” said Walsh. “We’ve been working for some time on an addition.”
It would seem likely that the Emmer team is looking for someone with experience running a statewide campaign — and someone who might have less personal connection to Emmer than many of the players who currently surround the candidate.
If that happens, it would be similar to a move that Sen. Al Franken made during his Senate race against incumbent Norm Coleman two years ago. After Franken won the DFL endorsement, for instance, his campaign was languishing. Stephanie Schriock, a campaign pro, was brought in and received huge credit for organizing and focusing Franken’s effort.
At present, Emmer’s campaign is loaded with people, such as Buesgens, who have a great sense of personal loyalty to Emmer and share his conservative convictions. But few, including Emmer, have experience in a statewide race.
Walsh would not say when the “addition” to the staff will be named. But he did say that the campaign will move “into high gear” the day after the primary.
“We’ve done our research, we’ve done our writing, we’re ready to go,’’ Walsh said.
Polls, including the newest poll released by KSTP-Survey USA, have shown Emmer consistently lagging behind any of the three DFL opponents, but especially behind Dayton.
Dayton, who has a 16-point lead over Margaret Anderson Kelliher for the Tuesday primary, has a 14-point lead over Emmer in the latest poll.
Emmer’s team has pointed out that while the three DFL candidates all have been hammering Emmer, the Republican campaign has been keeping its powder dry.