Elizabeth Glidden is a member of the Minneapolis City Council, meaning she’s in constant contact with the city’s mayor, R.T. Rybak.
“I love R.T.,” Glidden said. “He’s a wonderful mayor.”
But … she supports House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher for governor.
“She’s the best candidate for governor,” Glidden said. “She’s historic — she’d be the first female. But more importantly, you need to be ready to go to work from the first day in a much different environment than a mayor operates. You have to be able to bridge divides immediately. She can do that. We are in a crisis situation in our state. There are no chances for do-overs. She’s ready to do the job on the first day.”
What more could underscore the closeness of this race than an “I love R.T.” person supporting Kelliher?
Both candidates draw unexpected support
Both candidates are drawing support from places that might seem unexpected. Both say their race is close, though Kelliher is quick to add, “I’m winning.” Both, of course, say they’d be the more electable candidate in November, which assumes the endorsed candidate can get past Mark Dayton, Matt Entenza and Susan Gaertner in the August primary.
Despite the closeness of the race, it’s probably been easier for Rybak to pick up positive headlines than Kelliher. In terms of statewide politics, he’s the new face on the block. When he picks up support in Greater Minnesota, the story reads: “Rybak shows surprising strength.”
When she picks up outstate support, it’s ho-hum. He came in as an underdog, while Kelliher, the powerful House speaker, started picking up traditional institutional DFL support from the time she announced she was entering the race.
Is there almost a Barack Obama (Rybak) vs. Hillary Rodham Clinton (Kelliher) aura to this race?
“He would like to make it Obama-Clinton,” said Kelliher, “but it’s absolutely not.”
She says that “there never has been a candidate quite like me. I’m a 42-year-old mom who is able to run the House, run for governor and connect with people across the state. I’m the former 4-H president who has been president of the PTA in a city public school. It’s hard to put me in a box, though I think R.T. is trying to do that.”
With the Legislature out of session for the rest of this week to observe Passover and Easter, Kelliher finally has a chance to spend a few days campaigning full time. But she won’t use this time to knock on doors and shake hands with delegates and alternates.
“People don’t want to see you the week of Easter,” she said. “They don’t mind talking on the phone, but they really don’t want to see you in their living room.”
So for the rest of this week, she will be attached to a phone, constantly talking to delegates, more of whom are coming to her side each day, she says. (Rybak also says he’s winning over delegates each day.)
Kelliher says significant endorsements imminent for her
She also said political observers will see a series of significant endorsements coming her way in the next two or three weeks.
Some members of Kelliher’s campaign staff seemed upset over my Tuesday story on MinnPost. The story, covering the fact that Rybak had picked up his first legislative endorsements of the campaign, noted that four of the seven legislators who came out for Rybak are women. The story also raised the question as to whether gender is an issue in this campaign.
The Kelliher staffer grumbled, “R.T.’s making an issue of gender.”
I explained to the Kelliher supporters that I was the one who had raised the gender issue and that Rybak was responding to my questions.
The campaign — even Kelliher — seems of two minds on the gender question. The campaign’s knee-jerk belief is that it should not be an issue.
“This race is about who’s qualified,” said Kelliher. “It’s about real experience of reaching across the aisle to accomplish things. People are looking for a candidate who’s qualified. … I don’t think that it [gender] is the decision-making point. There are men and women, young and old, who think the fact that I grew up on a farm is more important. They like that I have that experience. They like the fact that my kids are in public school. I understand the [education issues] in a very real way. I’ve run those book sales to raise money for my kids’ schools.” (This appears to be a shot at Rybak, whose kids went to private schools, as did the mayor.)
But the Glidden comment — “she’s historic” — shows that Kelliher’s gender is meaningful. No Minnesota woman has represented a major party for governor on the November ballot. There are many DFL activists still fuming over the fact that, eight years ago, Roger Moe won the endorsement over two qualified women, Judi Dutcher and Becky Lourey.
But without much prodding, Kelliher does admit that gender is a factor in the race and that delegates should be aware that a qualified woman would be an asset on the ticket, particularly in the primary.
“DFL primary voters are 58 percent women,” she said. “I’m qualified, and we can make history here.”
Electability is ultimately the key to the hearts of most long-suffering DFL activists. Rybak and those legislative supporters he introduced Monday push the idea that he’s the fresh face, not tainted by Minnesotans weariness with the partisan fighting between Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the DFL-controlled Legislature. The Rybak campaign also tries to score with the idea that he has “executive experience,” as a mayor.
Rybak comes close to being openly critical of the Legislature.
“There are a lot of wonderful people in the Capitol,” Rybak said Monday, “but there’s a sense in the state that not all the answers can be found in the Capitol. I offer the chance to use the talent in this building [the Capitol] but bring a fresh set of eyes and executive experience.”
Criticism of Legislature annoys Kelliher
The Kelliher comeback to that sort of campaign talk is quick, firm — and almost tinged with anger.
“Haven’t we had enough bashing of the legislative branch?” she asked. “He’s on thin ice. Maybe the ice has gone out. I think people have had enough of that blame-someone-else stuff. … I’ve got both executive and legislative experience,” she said. “I’ve hired, I’ve fired, I’ve built bridges in a highly partisan environment; I’m not sure he has that experience.”
She doesn’t believe that voters have a built-in negative response to legislators. She believes she’s proving it this session, with a governor not known for compromise, that the Legislature is getting things done.
Mostly, though, she talks about the next governor having no time to practice. The budget crisis gets dramatically worse in the next biennium, and the problems are complex.
“Delegates get it,” she said. “The next governor will have to propose a budget 12 and a half weeks after getting elected. Six of those weeks, you’re not even governor. You’re not going to have time to read a lot of studies about what other people think. You’d better have a clear sense of what you’re dealing with and your plan for the future of the state.”
Who’s better equipped to be the state’s top executive, a powerful legislator or a big-city mayor?
Rep. Jeff Hayden of Minneapolis worked as an aide to Minneapolis City Council Member Gary Schiff. He watched Rybak closely and likes the mayor personally.
“He’s got a vision,” said Hayden, “but I’ve learned as a legislator that it takes a different skill set to work at the Capitol than it does at City Hall. The mayor only has to count to seven [the number of city council votes needed to win support on an issue]. The mayor is working with a small group of people who usually only disagree on technicalities.
“Even in our [DFL] caucus,” Hayden continued, “she’s dealing with people who are very moderate to very liberal. You can disagree with her, but there’s never a sense of retribution. She’s willing to work across the aisle. … She’ll be a great governor.”
Passions among the two candidates’ supporters are only going to increase as the April 23-25 convention nears.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.