Minnesotans are known to be passive aggressive; our nature is sometimes described as stoic. So it shouldn’t be surprising that to date the DFL race for governor has been fairly boring. It makes one think: Could this strategy work for victory in November?
In 1998, the DFL faced the most important and best opportunity to reclaim the governor’s office after eight years of GOP Gov. Arne Carlson. The excitement consisted of three well-known sons of famous fathers in what many thought would be a highly contested and exciting battle for the future of the party. DFLers thought no matter who the nominee, they would likely reclaim the governor’s office. The eventual nominee was a popular attorney general who had been elected statewide four times and crushed his opponents in the primary. Of course, Skip Humphrey eventually lost the general election.
In 2002 and 2006, DFLers felt again they had well-known standard bearers in Roger Moe and Mike Hatch who had the right pedigree to be governor. But then in 2002 came the Paul Wellstone plane crash and the drama that followed, as well as the Judy Dutcher E85 gaffe and Hatch’s subsequent losing of his temper in 2006, and DFLers lost the race by 21,000 votes.
So you may excuse DFLers from not being too excitable in 2010. It’s not that they don’t have passion for the candidates, it’s just that the crowded field and nature of the race means being measured may be the best strategy.
In most years, state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher would be the DFL front-runner. But while she still is a leading contender, she has not taken an overly aggressive approach to becoming the DFL nominee. On the other hand, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak would be the dark horse. Add a former U.S. senator and a well-funded savvy political animal, and 2010 starts to look a lot like 1998.
Contrast with GOP race
The difference is that the DFL race is remarkably quiet. Unlike Ted Mondale challenging the DFL establishment, you have Rep. Paul Thissen putting out the same thoughtful ideas but in a manner respectful of the party and honoring the endorsement.
In contrast, Republicans’ highly contested race between state Reps. Marty Seifert and Tom Emmer has had staffers trashing each other, candidates speaking of the other with deep sarcasm, and the ever-influential Taxpayers League taking sides. No other word can describe it: It’s nasty.
For the DFL, the two largest and most influential unions (Education Minnesota and SEIU) haven’t endorsed. There have been no visible attacks by one candidate toward another. And staffers, while loyal, haven’t gotten in on any Twitter fights and have remained civil even behind the scenes.
Perhaps DFLers are taking a play out of President Obama’s playbook of “no drama.” Or perhaps in a year of the overly excitable Tea Party, keeping a low profile until later in the campaign is a wise strategy.
Whatever the reason, it seems to be working. DFLers have outraised Republicans in the race for governor, unions are reserving their resources, and the GOP still doesn’t have a candidate for attorney general.
The race will surely get more attention from the public and the media after next weekend’s DFL convention, where delegates likely will endorse a candidate. The primary race among the DFL endorsee, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton and former DFL legislator Matt Entenza will start the Monday after the convention.
One can expect the first ads, from Entenza or Dayton, to start running the week after the convention. Meanwhile, the GOP is likely to become unified after its convention and sit back while DFLers battle towards the primary.
But if the DFL could find a way to stay boring until after the August primary, it might be a winning strategy. After all, the jobs outlook and economy will likely have surged to better places, some of the attention to the Tea Party is likely to have waned and Gov. Tim Pawlenty will probably be less popular than he is now.
What would be worse? DFLers get all excited and have campaigns and candidates behave like they have since 1998. If that happens, the result could be the same: They lose.