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DFL lacks a frontrunner in governor’s race

DFLers, who thought that their field in the race for governor would have more clarity after the summer, are still without a clear front runner.

The GOP straw poll for governor a few weeks ago gave the Republicans a front runner. It is Rep. Marty Seifert. On the other hand, DFLers who thought that the field would have more clarity after the summer are still without a clear front runner.

Without significant early labor endorsements or fundraising reports, DFLers are still speculating who is best positioned to garner the party’s endorsement and win a primary. Everyone in and around the party knows that the deep pockets of former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton and former state Rep. Matt Entenza will have an impact on the race — no matter party endorsement or labor union support.

Buzz among party insiders puts state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher as the front runner, especially since St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman decided not to run. But Kelliher hasn’t had the immediate impact that people predicted.  Her most significant early endorsement is from WomenWinning, a pro-choice group that raises money and pushes to elect women to office.  It is a key win for Kelliher and helps her raise money in some important pockets within the women’s community.

Few endorsements
Labor unions are the most significant and influential constituency for the DFL Party, and so far it has been a lot of dry powder.  That hasn’t always been the case.  In prior years, unions begin to endorse early to help a perceived frontrunner gain momentum. 

In 2002, retired state Sen. Roger Moe locked down early endorsements and in 2006 former Attorney General Mike Hatch was the 800-pound gorilla in a DFL primary — with or without the party endorsement. As a result, many unions lined up to be supportive

Last week’s announcement that the Minnesota Nurses Association endorsed state Rep. Paul Thissen signals that Thissen is impressing many with his campaign, but rarely does his name come up as the leading contender to be the DFL nominee. On the other hand, the Teamsters endorsed someone who isn’t even in the race: Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. Rybak is expected to enter the race after his mayoral campaign, but that won’t automatically make him the front runner.  Over the weekend, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 5, endorsed Dayton.

The key unions that aren’t showing any sign of early endorsement include Education Minnesota and SEIU.  SEIU State Vice President Javier Morrillo recently told MPR that they were likely to wait in their endorsement until next year. And Education Minnesota has screened candidates, but it isn’t clear when they will announce their endorsement.

State Sen. Tom Bakk will likely wrap up most of the building-trade unions as a business representative for the carpenters and is probably the leading contender to line up the Steelworkers, whose largest membership is on the Iron Range.

Within the DFL there are also many sub-caucus groups representing groups such as veterans, GLBT delegates, seniors and numerous others who have relatively minor influence. But in a crowded field, every possible delegate could matter. Other key endorsements for DFLers are likely to come from environmental groups.

One new measurement of support could be Facebook supporters, and while highly debatable as a true measure, a tally as of this week puts Kelliher in the lead with over 1,200 supporters on Facebook, and state Sen. John Marty in second with more than 700.

Finally, another factor that could indicate front-runner status is fundraising, something again that isn’t clear because candidates don’t have to reveal totals until the end of the year. But it’s a factor because people know Dayton and Entenza have the personal resources to stay in the race, with or without endorsements from constituency groups.

So without a straw poll, or a wave of endorsements, the DFL field will continue to jockey for position like a pack of dogs at feeding time — reminded all the time that momentum can quickly emerge when there is money in the race or a few unions line up behind one candidate.