DFL CONVENTION PREVIEW
First of two articles
The gubernatorial candidates for endorsement all will be smiling confidently as they mingle with delegates arriving in Duluth for the DFL state convention, which begins Friday: “How you doing?” “Great to see you.”
But those smiles will be masking twisted nerves, sweaty palms, flipping stomachs. After months of telephone calls and panel discussions and house parties and handshakes, it’s decision time. Sometime late Saturday, there are going to be four former gubernatorial candidates.
Break it down one more time:
The players: House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Reps. Paul Thissen and Tom Rukavina, Sen. John Marty and former Rep Matt Entenza.
Kelliher and Rybak go into Saturday’s endorsement balloting as the leaders. Both are expected to hit 25 to 30 percent of the vote on the first ballot, far short of the 60 percent needed.
The key target for the others is to hit at least 4 percent of the votes on the first ballot. Below 4 percent means see ya later. The drop-out rule increases by 4 percentage points each ensuing ballot.
Entenza, who has made it clear for months that he’s headed to the primary no matter the outcome of the endorsement, is the one candidate unlikely to survive beyond the first ballot. In fact, there is considerable speculation that Entenza will pull out of the endorsement race before the first ballot to avoid the appearance of a poor showing.
The deciders: 1,200 elected delegates, plus as many as 130 “super-delegates,” elected officials and party leaders who did not need to go through the caucus process to get a ballot in Duluth. It’s believed that as many as 10 percent of the delegates are arriving in Duluth undecided about whom to support. No DFL convention probably has had fewer labor-affiliated delegates. As many as 40 percent of the delegates may be first-timers, meaning they may not have the old-time loyalties of delegates past.
The strategies: Each candidate is approaching the convention with the same general goal. Win over as many undecideds as possible and then start picking off the delegates of the candidates who fall by the wayside in the early balloting.
Now, we get into the areas of the great unknowns. This convention may be unique because unions, traditionally power players on the floor, are not lined up behind just one or two candidates.
Lots of activity below the surface
That’s the big-picture stuff.
It’s what’s swirling beneath the surface that makes this convention so intriguing:
• At what point, for example, will a new experiment in Minnesota politics, reNew Minnesota, unite behind one of its three endorsed candidate (Rybak, Thissen, Kelliher)?
• Will such powerful unions as Education Minnesota, the Service Employees International Union and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees get directly into the fray, or will they continue to stay relatively close to the sideline?
These unions’ non-positions are the stuff of rumors and conspiracy theories.
On Wednesday, for example, Javier Morillo-Alicea, president of Local 26 of the SEIU, came out in support of Rybak.
“I’m writing today to tell you why I support R.T. Rybak for governor,” Morillo wrote to delegates and fellow SEIU members. “I take this step as an individual — the four local unions that represent SEIU members in Minnesota have decided not to endorse a candidate for now. But after consulting with member leaders of Local 26, I know I am representing their views as well.”
This individual endorsement is intriguing on every level. It’s good for Rybak, certainly, because his one great weakness to date has been his ability to garner much support among large unions. Now, he’s got Morillo, a personal friend and usually the political face of SEIU, in his corner.
But will Morillo be able to bring other SEIU-affiliated delegates to Rybak? Or does his individual endorsement mean that SEIU leadership is so fragmented in whom to support that those with SEIU affiliations are going to be spread out across the board?
It’s believed, by the way, that many SEIU leaders wanted to support former Sen. Mark Dayton, who is the giant question mark hanging over a convention he’s not attending. Instead, he’s primary-bound.
AFSCME endorsed Dayton months ago, and the union’s executive director, Eliot Seide, said this week his organization will not be present in Duluth. But in the next breath, he said that “200 to 250” of his union’s members are delegates to the convention. He doesn’t believe they’ll vote as a block, but …
One longtime party activist, who asked not to be named, is a Dayton supporter and will not be a delegate at this year’s convention. She believes that there will be large numbers of Dayton-leaning delegates at the convention who will tend to support “whoever would be the weakest candidate in the primary.”
But former DFL Party Chairman Rick Stafford, who is a super-delegate, doesn’t buy that. Though he is a Dayton supporter, he said he believes most delegates, even those who ultimately will support Dayton, will want to endorse “the strongest candidate possible.”
And then there’s Education Minnesota, which has been keeping its powder dry. Certainly, Dayton held out his arms to the teachers and their union in a fiery news conference a week ago. And Kelliher, too, has been said to be working the teachers hard.
Friday: Could a group of progressive organizations decide the endorsement?
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.