They had to have a very wide stage at Thursday’s AFL-CIO political meeting, wide enough to seat all 11 DFL gubernatorial candidates.
There they all were, from the officially running candidates to the unofficial. In alphabetical order: Sen. Tom Bakk, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, former legislator Matt Entenza, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, former legislator Steve Kelley, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Sen. John Marty, Rep. Tom Rukavina, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Rep. Paul Thissen.
“Please hold your applause until all are introduced,” said the emcee.
Good idea. Time was limited. The question-and-answer session with the gubernatorial hopefuls was scheduled to last only two hours.
How’d they do? Well, nobody bombed. Here’s my rundown:
MOST PASSIONATE: (tie) Dayton and Bakk. Both men clearly were in their element.
Dayton, who sometimes can seem so bumbling, was full of fire as he addressed a crowd that will hold considerable clout in determining who ultimately wins endorsement.
“Read my lips,” Dayton said. “Tax the rich. They can afford it — I know that.”
At another point, Dayton got off a zinger at Gov. Tim Pawlenty: “Tim Pawlenty’s running around the country saying, ‘I’ll do for you what I’ve done for Minnesota.’ God, help us all.”
Bakk, who has been critical of Dayton’s “tax-the-rich” over-simplification of the state’s budget problem, spoke from the heart, constantly referring to his union “brothers and sisters.”
“My dues are paid through the end of the year,” said Bakk, a union carpenter and business agent. “Everything I’ve bought in my life is thanks to that union card. … Whoever can connect with workers is the next governor of Minnesota.”
Bakk also reminded the union leaders that the last DFL governor — a fellow Iron Ranger, Rudy Perpich — began with a simple slogan: “Jobs, jobs, jobs.” He said he has his bumper stickers ready: “Jobs, jobs, jobs. Bakk for governor.”
DEEPEST UNION ROOTS: Rukavina. All but a couple of the candidates brought up their own union roots. But Rukavina could accurately say, “I was weaned on union roots.” Rukavina’s father, mother, daughter and a whole Iron Range full of relatives are union folks.
FUNNIEST: Rukavina. “I’m 5-3,” he noted. “I’ve had to do more with less all my life.”
At another point, he described his political philosophy by citing “a guy from Anoka. He called me ‘the love child of Paul Wellstone and Jesse Ventura.’ ”
MOST SURPRISING: Kelley. He has the reputation of being competent but bland. But Kelley connected with his audience on at least a couple of occasions.
When Kelley was asked about the state’s budget woes, he had this: “I teach public budgeting [at the Humphrey Institute]. I’ve thought of inviting Tim Pawlenty to take the class. But then, I hate flunking students.”
Kelley struck again later in the program when he described the DFL’s need to come up with a new approach to selecting gubernatorial candidates who will appeal to independents.
“We can’t get rid of this governor soon enough,” Kelley said. “… There are two models. There’s the Skip Humphrey, Roger Moe, Mike Hatch model. That’s done a good job of reaching Democrats. … Or there’s the Amy Klobuchar, Obama model where you reach out.”
BIGGEST DREAM: Bakk, saying he wants Minnesota to re-emerge as a mining center by going after nickel and copper.
“My dream is that we’ll mine the copper and build the factories that make the pipe and the wire. From the mine to distribution, it will be all Minnesota.”
He was quick to add, “we’ll figure out how to do this and protect the environment.”
MOST COURAGEOUS: Marty, who didn’t change his progressive message a bit for a crowd that is likely a bit more conservative than he is. Marty pushed an across-the-board platform of universal health care, concern for the poorest and investment in education and took on the subject of the stomping he took when he was the gubernatorial candidate in 1994.
“I’ve run and I’ve lost,” said Marty. “I know people talk about that.” He went on to explain he was running at the height of the Gingrich Revolution. “Obama and Paul Wellstone also lost by substantial margins [before making comebacks]. You win by not ducking the issues.”
MOST COUNTRIFIED: (tie) Kelliher and Entenza. Both emphasized their Greater Minnesota roots.
Kelliher, who represents an upscale south Minneapolis district, spoke of her farm roots as a child: “I’m a bridge from rural to city. … I can drive a pontoon, a tractor, a mini-van.”
Wealthy St. Paulite Entenza made a couple of long references to growing up poor in Worthington, the son of an alcoholic father who left his family.
MOST CITIFIED: Rybak and Coleman. The respective mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul made it clear they will be officially starting their campaigns soon, likely before November’s mayoral elections.
MOST INTERESTING COMPARISON: Gaertner. When asked about electability, Gaertner said, “I’ll get there the same way Amy Klobuchar got there. People trust prosecutors.” She also noted that polls show a 69 percent disapproval rating of the state Legislature.
MOST OPTIMISTIC: Thissen. “Minnesota is extraordinary and special,” he said. “We have to think big.”
BEST CLOSING: (tie) Bakk and Dayton. In his summation, Bakk apologized for not being able to attend a social function with the union leaders last night. He explained that he had to travel quickly back north: “Yesterday, I became a grandpa.”
Dayton, the last of the candidates to sum up his positions, promised to be brief.
“Never stand between your audience, the bar, the buffet and the bathroom,” he said.