Norm Coleman is reshaping the Minnesota Republican Party’s gubernatorial field — even though he hasn’t yet announced his political plans.
Convinced that Coleman will get into the race as early as this week, Pat Anderson announced this morning that she is ending her bid to receive the party’s endorsement for governor and instead will try to win back her old job as state auditor.
Anderson’s move is significant, because she was considered among the top three candidates — along with Marty Seifert and Tom Emmer — in the current field of Republican candidates as the race moves ever closer to the crucial Feb. 2 precinct caucuses.
Emmer, especially, could be bolstered by Anderson’s decision because the two have been courting the same libertarian/Tea Party supporters in recent months. And another factor in her decision appears to be that Emmer has been getting strong positive feedback from potential delegates.
Anderson was lone woman in GOP gubernatorial race
Anderson was the only woman in the Republican field, a factor that was both helpful — and hurtful — to her bid, she said.
Some Republicans liked the idea of beating the DFL to the ballot with a woman gubernatorial candidate, she said. “But I think there are still some [in the party] who aren’t sure about whether a woman should be governor,” she said. “I imagine there are some in the other party who have the same doubts.”
Anderson, by the way, “assumes” that Margaret Anderson Kelliher will win the DFL endorsement but also will face a tough primary battle.
By redirecting her efforts to the state auditor’s race, Anderson, 43, will be trying to recapture the job she lost to DFLer Rebecca Otto in 2006.
In an interview Friday, Anderson said she believes that race — which she lost by nearly 11 points — was dictated by the sorry state of her party at the national level at that time.
“What’s happening nationally has a big impact on the lower constitutional offices,” she said.
In 2006, she said, President George W. Bush’s popularity was in rapid decline and scandals involving Republicans nationally had badly tarnished the party label. She pointed out that both she and incumbent Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer were swept out of office and that even Gov. Tim Pawlenty appeared to be in deep trouble.
“The polls showed that the governor was behind in the last week,” she said. “I think even he believed he was going to lose until [DFL candidate Mike] Hatch blew up.”
Now, she believes that politically, the shoe is on the other foot. It’s DFLers who will be paying a price for unpopular national policies and a still-weak economy.
In switching races, Anderson said it’s important for Republicans to focus on all the offices, not just governor.
But there’s no question, the big reason for her move is her belief that Coleman will enter the governor’s race. She believes the former U.S. senator is being pushed to enter by party figures in Washington, as well as traditional party donors in Minnesota who, she believes, so far have been sitting on the sidelines.
“He is the 800-pound gorilla,” she said.
Here’s Anderson’s take on the race
In that Friday interview, Anderson had given her blunt assessment of the gubernatorial campaign and how events have unfolded to date. Her take:
• It’s been hard to distinguish the candidates without a scorecard. The dozens of candidate forums have attracted large crowds, but the large field has limited speaking time and made it hard for serious candidates to differentiate themselves from one another.
“The differences are minimal,” she said. “We all give the same answers to the questions. People steal each other’s lines. In a way, it’s been a waste of time.”
• Electability, so far, has not been an issue among the enthusiastic audience members showing up for Republican gatherings. “Historically, electability does become an issue,” said Anderson, “but it may not this time.”
“The attitude I’m sensing is that anybody we run will win,” she said.
Anderson does not necessarily share that view; but the unpopularity of President Obama’s policies among those attending the forums is so great that many are convinced that voters will reject all DFLers.
• This is neither your father’s, nor grandfather’s, Republican Party.
“A few years ago, the big question Republican candidates had to answer is, ‘Who is more pro-life, you or your opponent?’ ” she said.
To date, forum questions about positions on abortion and gay marriage have been virtually non-existent.
And those corporate fat cats who were Grandpa’s stereotypical Republicans? Forget it.
“Corporations are seen as being in bed with government,” she said. “They are looking out for each other. Where does that leave the little guy? The little guy, ummmm — I’m looking for a word here — is screwed. I suppose there should be a better word.”
• Who are these guys? Today’s Republican Party is being heavily influenced by libertarians, Tea Party people and Ron Paul followers, and they share these traits: They read the Constitution and they distrust cap-and-trade legislation (“Most Republicans I know, including me, are distrustful of the Al Gore view of global warming.”)
These Republicans, Anderson said, are neither on the left or right. “They’re for freedom,” she said.
• The Pledge. To date, none of the candidates has been confronted with the “no new taxes” pledge that Pawlenty signed in 2002 to prove his conservative credentials while battling businessman Brian Sullivan for the Republican endorsement.
None of the current candidates believe taxes need to be raised to solve the state’s current budget woes, but tax reform is a top issue.
Anderson’s track record
When meeting with potential delegates and donors, she emphasized her track record as an administrator in government. The auditor’s office, under her watch, was aggressive. (She believes the auditing role is an important role for government, because it’s “the watchdog” on how public dollars are being spent.)
She also has stressed — and will continue to point out — her accomplishments during her short tenure as commissioner of the Department of Employee Relations during the second Pawlenty term. Her job was to eliminate her job — and she did, merging Employee Relations into the Finance Department and then moving out of government.
Even when she still was in the race, Anderson acknowledged that it has been Emmer who has done the best job of igniting the passions of the forum crowds. “He’s a great speaker, very passionate, and the activists feel he has a better [legislative] voting record than Marty [Seifert].”
Seifert, she acknowledged, may still be the frontrunner, because “he’s been running the longest.” as House minority leader until stepping down to run for governor, he had been making connections with Republicans around the state for a long period. But she believes his campaign may have peaked.
There’s still one big question Coleman will face if he enters the race: Can he attract those new, enthusiastic Republicans who have been filling forum halls?
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.