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Key political endorsements can come from longtime ‘bonding,’ strategic moves and, sometimes, by surprise

As the state party conventions draw near, the political endorsements get bigger.

In recent days, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher came up with former Vice President Walter Mondale.

Her top rival for the DFL gubernatorial endorsement, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, countered with former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.

In the midst of this, on the Republican side, Rep. Marty Seifert received the endorsement of former Gov. Al Quie.

IP’s Tom Horner could land Durenberger’s support
And any day now, watch for former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, a lifelong Republican, to give his political blessing to his former staffer, Tom Horner, the leading Independence Party candidate.

On it goes:

• U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar for DFL Rep. Tom Rukavina.

• Nurses for DFL Rep. Paul Thissen.

• Former U.S. Sen. Rod Grams for GOP Rep. Tom Emmer.

Everybody loves somebody.

But how does it happen? Or, in some cases, how doesn’t it happen?

For example, traditionally, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has been a big player at the state DFL convention. But not this year. To the surprise of many, AFSCME endorsed Mark Dayton for governor. Now, because Dayton is bypassing the endorsing convention and going directly to the primary, AFSCME leaders say they also will sit out the convention.

Mark Dayton
Mark Dayton

Interestingly, though, the scuttlebutt is that Dayton was not AFSCME’s first choice. Chris Coleman was expected to receive the union’s endorsement. But he withdrew from the race before AFSCME could endorse and Dayton ended up as the beneficiary of Coleman’s decision.

Eliot Seide, AFSCME’s executive director, says its endorsement of Dayton was not that straight-line simple. He said the union had not settled on Coleman.

“Chris Coleman was, and is, a popular figure in our union,” Seide said. “There’s mutual respect between us. We like the way he sits down at the table and solves problems with us. I know that St. Paul people [AFSCME members] feel very strongly about him. But I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know that we would have endorsed him. I do know that we endorsed Mark [Dayton] without reservation. He shares our values.”

Some endorsements predictable, some not
Some endorsements are pretty predictable.

Rep. Oberstar endorsed Rukavina — but only after fellow Iron Ranger, Sen. Tom Bakk, dropped out of the race. When there were two Rangers in the race, there was no benefit for Oberstar, the consummate pol, for getting involved in an 8th District competition.

On the other hand, regional loyalties are not a guarantee of endorsement.

R.T. Rybak
R.T. Rybak

After Bakk dropped out, Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon of Duluth endorsed Rybak, pointing out that Rybak is more empathetic to the needs of her urban district than Rukavina, who she said never has looked out for the needs of cities in his long tenure in the Legislature.

Endorsements aren’t necessarily a blessing, said Quie, who was governor from 1978 to 1982.

“I don’t recall asking anybody to endorse me,” said Quie.


“I’m just odd,” he said, laughing.

But then, he turned serious.

“I didn’t want anybody to endorse me who has enemies,” he said. “It’s great to get the endorsement of salt of the earth, everyday people. Community leaders, people like that. But others can be risky.”

Marty Seifert
Marty Seifert

There may be an element of risk for Seifert in landing Quie’s endorsement, because in these times, Quie is seen as moderate by what appears to be the new Republican base. (Remember, Quie put the needs of the state ahead of his political career by raising taxes to balance the state budget.)

In some ways, this was a traditional endorsement. Quie and Seifert have known each other, casually, for years.

Quie backs Seifert despite some fundamental differences
“Marty asked me to endorse him some time ago,” Quie said. “I said, ‘I don’t know where you stand on a lot of issues.’ He started putting out his stands and called me again. I said, ‘No endorsement until two weeks before the endorsement convention.’ He asked me again, three days before the two weeks. I told him, ‘What the heck, but you know I’m going to let people know on the two places where you and I don’t agree.’ He said he was fine with that.”

The two issues on which Quie and Seifert disagree are not minor. And Quie was quick to point out the differences at the endorsement announcement:

• Quie made it clear when he endorsed Seifert that he does not agree with Seifert’s no-new-taxes pledge.

“He did tell me that he’s for reforming the tax system,” said Quie. “I told him, ‘Well, that gets you a little closer to where I am.’ “

Al Quie
Pogo Press
Al Quie

• Quie favors a constitutional amendment that would help protect Minnesota judicial races from becoming too political. Seifert opposes it.

Still, an endorsement is an endorsement.

Some of those endorsements come from simply picking up the telephone.

The Rybak campaign insists that it never solicites the endorsement of former Democratic Party head and former presidential candidate Howard Dean. Instead, his pledge of endorsement, announced last week, came in the dead of winter.

“One freezing dark cold day, one of our staff people was listening to the phone messages that had come in overnight,” said Rybak’s campaign manager, Tina Smith. “You need to understand that a lot of our organizers came out of the Dean 50-state strategy [Dean’s strategy for winning control of the Congress when he was party chair]. They think the world of Dean. They were yelling in the office, ‘You’ve got to listen to this!’ We rush out to the phone and hear this message: ‘Hi, this is Howard Dean, I’m ready to support R.T.’ It was completely unsolicited.”

The Rybak-Dean connection was made when themayor was chairman of Dean’s presidential campaign in Minnesota in 2004. Their relationship was solidified during the time when Minneapolis and St. Paul were bidding for either the Democratic or Republican National Convention of 2008. Rybak was in frequent contact with Dean, but the Republican Party pulled the trigger faster than the Democrats, which is how the Twin Cities ended up hosting John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Dean’s endorsement has been worth both excitement and cash to the Rybak campaign. Last week, Dean appeared both at a rally of Rybak supporters, followed by a fundraiser that brought in $35,000, according to Smith.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher
Margaret Anderson Kelliher

Kelliher, however, landed the big endorsement when Mondale, the state’s most beloved DFLer, stepped to her side last week.

How’d that happen?

The Rybak people say they don’t know.

“We didn’t even reach out to him, not because we wouldn’t have loved to have his endorsement but because we didn’t feel it was right to bother him right now,” said Smith. “Maybe that was a mistake on our part. But we’re confident he will end up supporting whoever emerges from the convention.”

Neither the Kelliher campaign nor the former vice president were available to comment on what brought the two together.

But all sorts of things make the two a natural fit. For starters, although Kelliher is the youngest of the DFL candidates, she is surrounded by more of the DFL old guard than any of the others. Former Gov. Wendy Anderson, former U.S. Rep. Martin Olav Sabo and Joan Growe, former secretary of state and U.S. Senate candidate, all have been in Kelliher’s corner. All certainly could have been reaching out to Mondale.

Beyond that, recall that it was Mondale who was promoting women for high office long before it was fashionable when he named Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate during his 1984 bid for the presidency.

Beyond that, the two have somewhat similar backgrounds, being raised in rural Minnesota before moving up, step by step, through the political ranks.

But the most meaningful endorsement of all may be coming up before the May 8 Independence Party convention.

Tom Horner
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
Tom Horner

Horner, who appears to be the party’s most likely candidate, hinted strongly to MinnPost that Durenberger will announce his official support of his candidacy.

That would matter because Durenberger, who served as U.S. senator from 1978 to 1995,  represents a more moderate Republican Party, from an era now past. His support of Horner might lead other moderate Republicans to follow.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 04/21/2010 - 02:32 pm.

    So Al Quie is endorsing Marty Seifert in spite of two MAJOR reasons he should never be governor of this state.

    We’ve lost $1 billion per year in badly needed revenues since the 1999-2000 tax cuts for the wealthy that Pawlenty has refused to reverse.

    Seifert is also willing to let the selection of judges be by popular election instead of gubernatorial appointments that voters decide at the next election to end or to continue.

    Candidates for judgeships can hustle for votes by promising decisions that will please one interest group or another AND corporations can spend kazillions defeating candidates that promise impartiality instead of support for corporate interests over the needs of ordinary people.

    That Mr. Quie saw these things and endorsed Seifert anyway is hard to understand.

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