Modern campaigns have become finely tuned and carefully researched exercises in message development and branding. This year, Minnesota Republicans have a clear choice. Do they choose the anger and hate of the blossoming Tea Party movement, or do they try to stay calm, focused and disciplined on issues and optimism?
The Minnesota congressional delegation has representatives reflecting both camps: a calm and conservative Rep. John Kline and the headline-seeking national conservative poster girl Rep. Michele Bachmann. The problem is that when choosing their candidate for governor, Republicans aren’t sure which personality is best to win in November.
As minority leader since 2006, state Rep. Marty Seifert has been a quote-a-palooza, always coming up with zingers and cute one-liners that the media love. On the other hand, an equally compelling quote machine, state Rep. Tom Emmer, has been a little more like E.F. Hutton, talking less, but when he spoke he was heard and he was bombastic.
Now as these two take each other on, there seems to be a role reversal. Seifert, usually calm and diplomatic, has found himself in the middle of numerous dust ups from his campaign for underhanded innuendo about his opponents. First there were accusations that he aimed to torpedo the campaign of state Rep. Laura Brod, and now there have been suggestions that Emmer doesn’t have the temperament to be governor.
In the other camp, Emmer has done a classic flip from his role as aggressor to victim, launching a website to combat Seifert’s attacks or, as implied on the site, “lies.” He has also used his skills as an attorney to make his case in a more compelling and emotional way — think Perry Mason presenting to a jury.
Tea Party and Ron Paul
In most years, Seifert would be well ahead in the race, but 2010 isn’t most years. It is a year in which Republicans, with strong Tea Party and Ron Paul influences, aren’t sure what leader is best in November.
Last week, Seifert put forth a “Kerry-ism”: he introduced legislation to repeal Minnesota’s renewable energy standard, a law he previously voted for. The bill, which has support from Minnesota’s business community, may be one of those issues that could hurt Seifert in the general election more than it helps him in the GOP endorsement fight.
For Emmer, despite his appeal as the “I’d-like-to- have-a-beer-with-this-guy” vote getter, the state GOP may have on their hands a candidate like former Attorney General Mike Hatch in 2006, someone whose temperament is a walking tinderbox waiting to explode. This has delegates wondering if he’s a fad only viable in the age of outrage or a viable general election candidate.
GOPers have a tough choice. Will they choose the authentic anger of Emmer or the artificial outrage of Seifert?
Whomever they pick, their goal is clear: continue to play up the emotional explosions they have been manufacturing since President Obama was elected. And while that will motivate the extreme constituencies who lost heart during the Bush years, it could turn off a generally sensitive Minnesota electorate able to detect if the outrage is authentic or artificial.
One thing the GOP seems to be missing is optimism — something most Minnesotans seem to respond well to.