Alphabetizing the DFL candidates for the 2010 Minnesota governor’s race may be the only way to keep them all straight.
Handicapping what Gov. Tim Pawlenty will do next year in terms of seeking another term is a tough task, but figuring out the political odds on the DFL’s list of declared and potential candidates may be even harder.
Keeping up with the sheer number of candidates today is demanding work for DFL delegates and party activists, let alone most Minnesotans. I’ve avoided the topic for several months, justifying it to myself by saying, “No one is paying attention,” and “The 2008 Senate election isn’t even done yet.”
But I’m ready now with the first of what is likely to be my many musings on the governor’s race and the multiple changing scenarios that will develop in the 17 months before the September 2010 primary.
We’ll start with the field of six declared DFL candidates, each of them raising money and printing literature. They are: Senate Tax Chairman Tom Bakk, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, former state Sen. Steve Kelley and House Health and Human Services Policy Chair Paul Thissen.
Then come the other likely DFL candidates: St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.
And then the possible candidates: House Commerce Chair Joe Atkins, Assistant Majority Leader Tarryl Clark and Hennepin County Board Chair Mike Opat.
That’s 12 candidates, and I still may have left someone out.
For fun, let’s assume they are all in the race and that the majority are willing to go to a primary.
Let’s take them alphabetically and examine some key considerations:
Rep. Joe Atkins — Atkins of Inver Grove Heights has been the boldest legislator in saying he wants to be governor, but the talk hasn’t been as loud this year. His role as chairman of the House Commerce Committee means he has the most active dialogue with business for a DFLer. It’s tough to see, however, how Atkins gets traction or raises the money to be a serious candidate.
Sen. Tom Bakk — The idea of a plain-spoken Iron Ranger running should be very appealing for the DFL, but the challenge for Bakk will be getting the DFL endorsement. While the DFL doesn’t get as many votes from the Range as it once did, the Cook legislator could deliver substantial numbers in a primary. In the general election, he could be the DFL’s most appealing candidate in Greater Minnesota since the late Gov. Rudy Perpich.
Sen. Tarryl Clark — As assistant majority leader, she has been the face and voice of DFLers in the Senate for a few years. If Gaertner and Kelliher are both in the race, the St. Cloud legislator will need the DFL endorsement, which won’t be an easy task for her. A Clark win is tough to imagine, but crazy things have happened in Minnesota.
Mayor Chris Coleman — He inherited plenty of challenges as St. Paul mayor and has handled them well. With strong union relationships and a very articulate, visionary style, Coleman will have a strong chance of securing the party endorsement. Even without the endorsement, he would be a strong candidate in the primary. And other than Bakk, he appears to be the most attractive DFL candidate in Greater Minnesota in a general election.
Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton — Like Entenza, he is likely to have enough personal resources to be financially competitive in a primary. However, his public support was waning rapidly during the final years of his Senate term. If Dayton found an issue (such as prescription drug costs, which he used in 2000) he could gain minimal traction, but he still is not likely to win.
Former Rep. Matt Entenza — His campaign started in 2007, when the former St. Paul legislator launched the MN2020 think tank to raise policy issues about the state, many of them focused outstate. Because of his personal wealth, resources for a primary campaign should not be an issue. But he is hampered by his withdrawal as the DFL endorsed candidate in the 2006 attorney general’s race after criticism of his handling of campaign finance and research issues. You can’t count him out, but it is difficult to see how he builds a substantial base of support in a crowded race. One piece of hot buzz is that 5th District Congressman Keith Ellison will endorse Entenza early. That would help him rebuild some DFL-street cred, but it still would be a long haul.
Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner — The first to enter the race last year, she also gives the DFL its first chance to tout someone with public safety experience since former Minneapolis Police Chief Tony Bouza. If Kelliher doesn’t run, Gaertner could be the dark horse in a crowded primary. She shouldn’t be underestimated, because she is politically very disciplined and did beat the odds in 1994, when she won the county attorney’s race.
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher — She is thinking about running, but the pressure of legislative leadership responsibilities will pull at the Minneapolis House leader until the session wraps up for the year. She is so improved in communication and in articulating a more moderate DFL position for the House caucus that she would be formidable in the endorsement battle and in a primary. Women’s groups are likely to pressure her to run.
Former Sen. Steve Kelley — He is becoming a perennial candidate, and an unlucky one at that. The former legislator from Hopkins ran for the U.S. Senate in 2006 and was the DFL nominee for attorney general after Entenza dropped out but lost to current Attorney General Lori Swanson in the primary. Kelley has the policy ideas and the right attitude on innovation, but his chances at success are very slim.
Hennepin County Chair Mike Opat — His name isn’t regularly mentioned as a candidate, but he is considering it. His bold leadership on the Twins ballpark and his ability to articulate a vision and bring newness the race could be strengths. His best chances are in a crowded DFL primary, where his scrappy and bold style could break through.
Mayor R.T. Rybak — Minneapolis’ leader is the biggest mystery in the field. He has a loyal following that is encouraging him to run, but the sense that he won’t play well outside the city is strong. His early, high-profile role in the Obama campaign gave him great access to the activists, but many of them are new and may not be as passionate for this race. Without the DFL endorsement, Rybak will have a major challenge getting traction in a primary.
Rep. Paul Thissen — He is the least known of the field statewide but is also clearly a rising star within the party. His thoughtful approach on health and human services, hard work and demeanor make him a very attractive candidate. His close relationship with Speaker Kelliher would make his candidacy curious if she also decides to run, but the two Minneapolis lawmakers will have to work that out. Thissen isn’t likely to win this time around, but watch for him in the future.
So there you have it, longer than a Letterman Top 10 List and as unclear as the Franken-Coleman race at 11 o’clock on Election Night.
If I had to pick the top three, they’d be Bakk, Coleman and Kelliher — in, of course, alphabetical order.