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A new wrinkle: Will reNew be the game-changer?

Second of two articles

This weekend’s DFL Party state convention is sporting a new look that could be a game-changer in the battle for endorsement for governor.

The new factor is reNew Minnesota, an umbrella group of progressive organizations that has endorsed three candidates but promises to coalesce around one of them at some strategic point in Saturday’s balloting.

The block of 100-plus delegates already has picked its three favorites: Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Rep. Paul Thissen and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, in that order.

“We’ve been at this for a year and a half,” said Dan McGrath, executive director of TakeAction Minnesota, the leading organization behind reNew. “The way politics has been done in the past, is people walk into the convention as lone rangers. Candidates make their case and people vote. We’ve inverted that. We’ve said, ‘Here’s what we want, let’s hear what you have to say about it.’ ”

Key question: Will delegates stay disciplined?
Discipline is the key to any political movement, and McGrath is convinced that the reNew delegates will follow through on their pledge to swing their vote to a single candidate when the group decides it’s time to show its muscle.

Dan McGrath
Dan McGrath

Say that after the fifth ballot, the group decides as a whole it’s time to settle on one of their three choices. Those reNew delegates who have been supporting Candidate Y suddenly will swing their vote to the group vote, in support of Candidate X.

Former DFL Party Chairman Rick Stafford, a super-delegate who has been attending conventions for decades, is eager to see if reNew can really pull it off.

“I think it’s going to be damned tough for a [reNew] delegate who might have strong feelings for a certain candidate to suddenly switch,” Stafford said. “They’re going to be saying, ‘My candidate still has a chance. I can’t switch now.’ ”

But McGrath says the reNew delegates do understand “that the movement we’re building is bigger than any one candidate.”

At some point in the balloting, reNew floor managers will call for a caucus, and the decision will be made.

“People understand that reNew is more important than one candidate,” he said. “They will stick with the process because they know we are more powerful sticking together than we are going our separate ways.”

A game-changer?
Assuming there are no surprises and that this is a long, multi-ballot convention, the reNew block could be the game-changer.

Think about it. Assume that each of the three reNew endorsees receives roughly a third of the 100 reNew support in the early ballots. But suddenly, reNew makes its shift to one candidate, who suddenly will be the recipient of roughly 66 new votes.

That will be a breathtaking moment at the convention — if it happens.

Because this has been a race of co-leaders, there’s been considerable speculation that the endorsement ultimately could fall to whoever is third after the early ballots. Becoming the “consensus candidate” has been the strategy of Thissen, as well as Rep. Tom Rukavina and Sen. John Marty, for some time for one good reason: It’s their only hope of endorsement.

It does seem possible that a third-placer, most likely Thissen, could emerge because it’s hard to imagine Rybak supporters switching to Kelliher and impossible to believe that Kelliher’s most ardent supporters ever could switch to Rybak. (The antipathy of the Kelliher campaign toward Rybak and his campaign is not even beneath the surface.)

“I really think we’re in a good spot,” said Thissen’s campaign manager, Gia Vitali. “There’s anxiety. There’s a ton to do. But you can win being the underdog. We’ve already proven you can do that.”

Her point is that Thissen, one of the least-known candidates in the field when this long process began, has been on the upswing for months.

Vitali believes that early in the balloting, it will become evident if the “third place” strategy has a chance.

“There are high expectations on that first ballot,” she said. “We think the mayor and the speaker need to be over halfway to 60 percent on the first ballot to continue their momentum.”

If at that point one or both is not, the theory goes, it will be perceived as weakness by the convention and the search for that other candidate will begin in earnest.

Rick Stafford
Rick Stafford

The theory seems sound. But Stafford, the convention veteran, doesn’t buy it.

“The history shows it just doesn’t happen,” Stafford said. “Every convention there’s talk about it, but you don’t see it. The thing to watch for in the early ballots is spread [between the candidates]. If one [top] candidate has spread, it’s a very strong position to be in.”

Who wins in Kelliher-Rybak showdown?
Go with that, then. If it comes down to Kelliher and Rybak, who wins?

Kelliher has the advantage of having more super-delegate support than anyone in the field and those players can influence individual delegates. If an elected official, a state legislator, for example, sits down, face to face with a delegate who’s on the fence, the impact can be considerable.

Kelliher also has done a good job of selling her rural roots, meaning she could end up scoring well among Greater Minnesota delegates.

But Kelliher’s big problem is that in the final days before the convention, she hasn’t been able to seal the deal.

Many at the Capitol believe Kelliher has done a good job as House speaker, despite being in a very difficult spot. Not only has she had to deal with an uncompromising governor but she also has had to work with Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, which is not an easy task.

Around the state then, there are still many DFLers who believe that the DFL-controlled Legislature has failed in its showdowns with Gov. Tim Pawlenty and, rightly or wrongly, those failings are laid at Kelliher’s feet.

In conversations with many party activists, it’s also clear that there is an “anti-incumbency” feeling among many DFLers, that the party would be better off going into the primary and the general election with a fresh face.

Despite now serving his third term as mayor of Minneapolis and despite surprisingly high recognition around the state, that “fresh-face” factor bodes well for Rybak who is not tied to the Capitol’s hard-fought budget battles of recent years. Additionally, Rybak plays well with suburban delegates, who play a bigger role than ever at the convention.

Still, the question is if Rybak can win enough of the institutional support — the support of super-delegates and old labor leaders — to reach the 60 percent needed for endorsement.

But almost certainly somebody, probably late Saturday night, will hit that magic number, because delegates are arriving in Duluth with one mission: to endorse.

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

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 04/23/2010 - 09:23 am.

    Thanks for a rational, well-reasoned and researched discussion of this weekend’s DFL convention, Doug.

    I didn’t catch even a whiff of horse race (or horse manure, for that matter)!

    We can only hope other parts of the media do as well.

  2. Submitted by Jeff Goldenberg on 04/23/2010 - 11:39 am.

    Mr. Grow:

    You have been one of the most active journalists covering this weekend’s DFL Endorsement. This piece has been your most cogent by far. Keep up the good work.

    Apologies to those who don’t like horse races. The next 30-35 hours is horse race time.

    Marty and Rukavina are longshots.

    Kelliher, Rybak and Thissen represent the smart money. ReNew could be the whip that gives it to one of them by a nose.

    Odds at 11:30 am Friday
    Rybek – 5-2 and steady
    Kelliher 9-2 and falling
    Thissen 6-1 and gaining

    I’ll put my money on Thissen.

  3. Submitted by Erik Hare on 04/23/2010 - 11:43 am.

    Best article on the convention yet, by a wide margin. This is how it will likely go down. Thanks!

  4. Submitted by Peter Nickitas on 04/23/2010 - 12:01 pm.

    I appreciate Doug Grow’s detailed analysis of the now-opening DFL convention.

    I see this “reNew” as an illusion of a new progressive force. First, the entity emerges from the innards of the DFL. No system can change from internal energy only. No evidence exists of outside forces changing the DFL in any fashion. Second, the entity eyes the two purported frontrunners, Rybak, a closet-case crypto-Republican and Kelliher, who, as speaker of the House, has the same title, half the charisma, a farthing of the power, and proportionate popularity that Speaker Nancy Pelosi enjoys on the national stage. The entity eyes a third candidate, Thissen, from the Legislature. This shows “reNew’s” commitment to the status quo.

    The entity shows no analysis of positions that Sen. Marty or Rep. Rukavina champion, namely, truly accountable health care reform in single-payer health care, progressive taxation, or economic reform and accountability.

    In my opinion, independent voters will see “reNew” as “S.O.S.” (same old (stuff/sh*t), depending on whether you believe in 7 Dirty Words or not).

    I see this as an another example of erosion of democracy in this state, following the Governor’s unilateral unallotment and the effort to take democracy out of the judiciary by abolishing judicial elections.

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 04/23/2010 - 01:31 pm.

    Peter N. (#4) Democracy is not threatened by the proposal to keep the system of election judge appointments by the governor and confirmation by the electorate at the next election.

    It IS threatened by free-for-all campaigns most likely won, if this kind of campaign mirrors those of political ones, by the candidate with the most money. Also influenced, of course, by candidates stating their positions on hot-button issues — and thereby their likely votes.

    And since the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision, corporate-funded advertising designed to smear and/or discredit those candidates who may seem likely to support citizens instead of corporate profits.

    This kind of campaign is unlikely to result in the installation of judges who are there to represent the Minnesota constitution and enacted law, not a political party or big money with an agenda.

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 04/23/2010 - 01:31 pm.

    Will reNew be the game-changer?

    Well, let’s see.

    Back in 2002, I received information that the St. Paul public school board had made contributions to the leftist PAC, “Progressive MN”, using money from the district’s general fund.

    The district was, at the time, in the middle of its third multimillion dollar excess referendum levies in three years…claiming that if more money was not forthcoming, the children would suffer.

    When confronted with documented evidence, then board Chairwoman Ann Carroll publicly said the money was for “Latino Outreach”. I contacted PM’s executive director, Dan McGrath, to get some information on their “Latino Outreach” program.

    Dan told me there was no such program.

    When I asked him for an explanation of what the money was used for, he refused to answer. I asked Dan how he could morally accept money from a school district that was struggling financially, and how he thought he was going to be able to explain it to district taxpayers…his answer, and I’ll never forget it, was, “We are very good at what we do.”

    Turns out the cash was used to pay for board members’ attendance at a PM fundraising banquet, and to purchase the use of their political contact database for use in the referendum campaign. The gig was up, and, after an investigation by the CFPDB, PM was forced to return the loot. This is all public information.

    Evidently “Progressive Minnesota”, under Dan McGrath’s direction, has managed to finally soil its reputation to the point they have had to re-incorporate under a fresh name.

    “reNew” is quite ironic given it’s history.

    Misappropriating money meant for struggling public school students. Is that something the Democrat party supports?

  7. Submitted by David Brauer on 04/23/2010 - 01:47 pm.

    Just a factual note on Swift’s name-change conspiracy theory:

    The name was changed in 2006 because Progressive Minnesota merged with another organization, the Minnesota Alliance for Progressive Action. As in many mergers, a third name (Take Action Minnesota) was chosen because it was a merger of equals, and a new name was fitting.

    Given that this was four years after Tom’s anecdote, it’s doubtful that 2002’s circumstances, forced a rebranding.

    By the way, here’s the Campaign Finance Board’s ruling on the complaint, which did involve a $180 expense impermissably given. Another $3,000, presumably for the outreach, was not affirmed as a violation:

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 04/23/2010 - 02:30 pm.

    The “outreach” was the use of PM’s political database, Dave. PM never had a “Latino Outreach” program…even McGrath couldn’t make that stretch. But by all means, you feel free to give it a go.

    “…it was a merger of equals, and a new name was fitting.”

    Are you suggesting that “Minnesota Alliance for Progressive Action” has a history of receiving misappropriated funds from struggling public school’s Dave?

  9. Submitted by David Brauer on 04/23/2010 - 02:39 pm.

    You know I’m not, Swiftee, but thanks for playing.

    Looking for the documentation to back up your outreach change, that’s all. It’s not in the CFDB doc, so all we have is your uncorroborated testimony. But I’m open to your case if you can post the evidence you claimed in #6 (which does appear to conflate the $3,000 spending with the $180 returned).

  10. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 04/23/2010 - 04:03 pm.

    All the doc’s, including my sworn testimony, are on file with CFPDB. You’re a “reporter”, right?

    Go to it.

  11. Submitted by David Brauer on 04/23/2010 - 04:14 pm.

    Sorry, Tom, this is your claim to prove; I’m not doing your legwork. But given that the money returned as per the CFDB ruling was not the outreach money as you conflated in #6, I think the dog will bark but the circus will move on.

  12. Submitted by Dan Vogel on 04/23/2010 - 05:13 pm.

    The antipathy does not bode well for the election

  13. Submitted by Peter Nickitas on 04/23/2010 - 11:46 pm.

    Judicial elections should remain unchanged.

    Adopt the Quie bill, and big business will buy the judiciary for the price of the governor. Adopt the Quie bill, and every judge will be subject to ongoing pressure to maintain the status quo to avoid being named to stand for retention.

    The Quie bill responds to a problem that does not exist in Minnesota. Quie bill advocates point to the nasty Wisconsin Supreme Court election as an event to avoid. I agree. One should avoid that kind of election by exposing candidates who stoop to bigotry, racism, and corporate pandering. Wisconsin responded to the Gableman election fiasco by doing the right thing — directly opposite to the Quie bill — by increased public funding of Wisconsin Supreme Court elections, and keeping all other judicial elections unchanged.

    That is the antidemocratic undercurrent in Minnesota that must be exposed, stopped, and reversed.

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