This week’s news of St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman bowing out and House Minority Leader Marty Seifert winning the Republican Party gubernatorial straw poll bring the first signs of clarity to a race that has been otherwise tough to find focus.
Seifert’s decisive win in the GOP straw poll is impressive but not surprising. He has been the perceived front runner since the day Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced he wouldn’t seek re-election. Seifert was the first to hire staff. He’s also presumed to be the top fundraiser and is the most aggressive at traveling the state. That said, there is still a notable undercurrent of GOP leaders and activists who don’t think that he is the best candidate the party can put forth next November.
So who is? The surprise candidate of the race has been Rep. Tom Emmer, whose authentic communication style and plain spoken stories overshadow Seifert’s well-known quirkiness. Emmer gained momentum going into the straw poll and beat former state Auditor Pat Anderson, the leader of one of the GOP’s most effective interest groups, the Minnesota Free Market Institute (formerly known as the Tax Payers League Education fund).
A breakdown of the numbers shows that Seifert’s trouble is that he is not very popular as the delegate’s second choice, meaning that if people aren’t supporting him, they are not likely to. Meanwhile, Emmer and Anderson are battling over the libertarian and socially conservative activists within the party. Seifert’s problem, on GOPer said, is that poll indicates that 63 percent of the delegates don’t think the presumptive leader of the party after Pawlenty is the best candidate to run in 2010.
Dropping out and jumping in
In the near term, rumors will swirl about other GOPers dropping out of the race, and other GOPers getting in. State Sen. David Hann was the surprise strong performer in the poll, but dropout rumors will likely focus on state Sen. Mike Jungbauer, former Minnesota Reps. Bill Haas and Paul Kohls. Don’t expect any sudden moves, but keep an eye on them if they can’t continue to raise funds.
As for getting into the race, the names of these two GOPers are coming up most often: state Rep Laura Brod, who is recovering from a personal health issue, and Minnesota Business Partnership CEO Charlie Weaver.
On the DFL side, Coleman’s move was shocking to the field, but not to those close to him. His passion for his home city, where he is mayor, ultimately outweighed his ambition to seek an office that many thought he was a front-runner for. Most notably, St. Paul has tremendous economic development opportunity with the construction of the Central Corridor, the resurgence of office and retail-entertainment in Lowertown, and the potential for high-speed rail to Chicago.
Those are infrastructure and economic opportunities that St. Paul has positioned itself for over the past 30 years. If the favorite son continues to attract jobs and investment to the city, he will be well-positioned to run for any office in the future.
And what does that do to the DFL field?
It helps state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher tremendously. Many of the party faithful were conflicted over Coleman and Kelliher as to who would be the strongest statewide candidate and receive the party’s endorsement. If Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak decides to get in, Kelliher will be able to capitalize on her popularity among key DFL allies outside of Minneapolis and DFL delegates.
So as the race begins to shake itself out, there is still a lot of campaign left. The two parties are in different places. DFLers understand that once Rybak decides, they will have their pick in a group of candidates who all can make the case for winning. GOPers, however, feel like they need one or two more candidates to really put their best foot forward.