With Norm Coleman out of the Minnesota governor’s race, what you see is likely what you’ll get from the Republican Party.
“I do believe the door is closed on anybody else,” said Pat Anderson, who withdrew from the race for Republican Party gubernatorial endorsement last week, choosing instead to attempt to win endorsement for state auditor. “Only somebody of Norm’s background had a chance. And I do think if he’d gotten in, it would have split the party badly.”
Perhaps none of the political players was more affected by Coleman’s decision than Anderson. A week ago, she was considered — by herself and others — to be running third in the race for endorsement, behind Reps. Marty Seifert and Tom Emmer.
Convinced that Coleman was going to enter the race, perhaps with Rep. Laura Brod as his running mate, Anderson decided to switch to the auditor’s race, which she won in 2002 and lost in 2006.
She believed Coleman was entering the race because of polling she said he was doing in the last few weeks. Anderson told MinnPost this morning that she also believed he was being pushed to get in, even though she thought that “he saw no way he was going to win endorsement.”
Her take: “He would have had to go to a primary, which I think that Norm would win. But that creates so many hard feelings.”
So he’s out, and she’s out of the gubernatorial race.
Anderson and others now believe the GOP field looks like this:
The leader: Seifert, who won the party’s straw poll at its fall convention, followed in order by Emmer and then Sen. David Hann, who moves out of the pack and into the top tier.
Hann, the most-quiet-spoken of gubernatorial candidates, understands he’s now in a position to get some attention from party activists who have been wondering what Coleman would do.
“At this point I don’t think any candidate has the requisite number of votes to win endorsement,” Hann told MinnPost. “I do think this [Coleman’s decision] means there will be people willing to take a harder look at all of the candidates. The argument we’ve been making [at forums] is that I’m a conservative candidate who can appeal to voters in Minnesota who may not be conservative. I believe that I have the style, the demeanor, that would appeal to voters in the state. The struggle we’ve had is that the people who end up as convention delegates want a more confrontational style.”
Rep. Jim Abeler, considered one of the few moderate office-holders in the Republican caucus, agrees with the punditry that it’s too late for anyone else to get into the race — and that delegates to the convention are going to be most intrigued by the candidate who comes across as the most conservative.
Abeler noted that the Seifert-Emmer showdown is a replay of the two men’s contest to win the post of House minority leader, a race won by Seifert.
“Marty won because he came off as the moderate,” said Abeler, laughing. “He’s no moderate in anything. But that was the perception.”
That “moderate” label may be the big thing that hurts him in his battle for endorsement where Emmer is seen as the “true conservative” by many of those who likely will end up as delegates to the state convention.
“Ironic,” said Abeler of the labeling problem Seifert may have.
Like Anderson, Abeler was convinced that Coleman would enter the race. With Coleman out?
“What I see coming is hard right from the Republicans and hard left from the Democrats,” said Abeler, “and I don’t know if the Independence Party will have enough traction to be a factor in the middle. It’s an interesting process.”
Abeler doesn’t see any new Republican faces “in the weeds ready to get into the race.” For one thing, it would be too late to have a chance for endorsement, he believes. Secondly, Republicans tend to avoid primaries, especially in years when DFLers are all but certain to have a primary showdown.
With DFLers in a primary, Abeler said, there’s little room for a Republican moderate picking up crossover primary votes.
Anderson hopes that with Coleman out, it will be easier for candidates to raise money. She also hopes that Coleman’s farewell means there will be more attention paid to other statewide races, such as attorney general, secretary of state and her race for auditor.
“We still don’t have an attorney general candidate. I thought the candidates we had for auditor were weak,” she said. “All of the focus on the race has been on the gubernatorial race. We’re just three months out from the convention. Maybe now, some of that focus will change to other races. It was real tough for everyone to get a real campaign going as long as Norm was making a decision.”
Perhaps the happiest person involved in Minnesota politics is Jack Uldrich, chairman of the Independence Party. Coleman’s decision, Uldrich believes, gives the IPs an even better shot at winning the middle.
“Coleman’s departure from the race is further proof that the Republican Party is driving people away rather than bringing them together,” Uldrich responded in an e-mail. “Because the Republicans will now likely endorse a more extreme candidate, this makes it even more likely that the Independence Party’s candidate will regain the governor’s office in 2010.”
Tony Sutton, the chair of the Republican Party, missed much of the flurry of activity last night that preceded Coleman’s announcement. After the Vikings’ game, he went to bed with the flu, turning off his phone en route to the bedroom.
“I missed a call from Norm, I missed all these twitters and tweets,’’ Sutton told MinnPost. “I was wide awake at about 2 a.m. and I saw all of this and I thought, ‘My goodness, it’s Sunday night!’ ”
Like so many others in his party, Sutton was surprised by the Coleman decision because he, too, had been hearing the rumblings that Coleman was going to jump in.
But with Coleman out, he agrees with the assessment that the field is set.
“I won’t speak for the delegates, but it’s hard for me to imagine someone else getting in,” he said. “It would be very difficult. Brian Sullivan and now Norm are out. Our congressmen all say they don’t want it.’’
Sutton is satisfied with the field and with Coleman’s decision.
“It adds clarity,” said Sutton. “The field is set.”
Not surprisingly, he says he likes the party’s position.
“I think this field represents our new base,” Sutton said. “This is a younger bunch, forward looking. I think as we get into the spring, summer and fall, we’ll cut a nice contrast with the Democrats.’’
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.