A promising campaign strategy for the DFL: be boring

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.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Erik Hare on 04/20/2010 - 08:52 am.

    Boring will take you some distance, yes. But the DFL wins when we get out the vote:


    I think what you mean rather than “boring” is that we have to turn down the noize and get back to a politics based on reality. Reality is pretty sobering, yes, but not necessarily boring.

    The DFL has to make the case that it has real solutions for real people, but there still has to be a spark of “Yes, we can!” at the bottom of it all if a real GOTV strategy is going to work. GOTV is more than just a lot of phone calls – it’s getting people energized enough to ID as DFL voters first. Boring won’t do that.

    Turning down the noize will be a good start. But only a start.

  2. Submitted by Henry Henry on 04/20/2010 - 10:22 am.

    “and Gov. Tim Pawlenty will probably be less popular than he is now.”

    Not that I disagree with you, but would you like to back up your assertion or just leave the statement dangling?

  3. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 04/20/2010 - 11:49 am.

    DFL “boring” really means to cover-up the typical “tax and spend agenda.”

    If the DFL actually campaigns on their true agenda and the media reports on this agenda, they lose.

    Mr. Olson will allow the “cover-up” continue.

  4. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 04/20/2010 - 12:47 pm.

    How exciting is fixing a broken state? Minnesota is shabby shadow of its once greatness, thanks greatly to a bunch of selfish, mean-spirited anti-gummint so-called conservatives. There is not a Republican governor in our state’s history that would be proud of where our Governor-in-self-imposed-exile Tim Pawlenty has taken this state, all in the name of trying to impress even bigger hillbillies in Iowa.

    I know why Seifert wants to be governor; he doesn’t think this is enough of a train wreck and wants to smash it up a little more.

    Personally, I don’t know why any sensible person would want the job. You can’t tax your way out of it and you can’t cut your way out of it, making EVERYBODY unhappy.

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 04/20/2010 - 04:00 pm.

    Since both Seifert (noisily) and Emmer (more decorously) have signed the Anti-Tax Pledge, it is highly unlikely that electing either of them would give us a real change from the Pawlenty Agenda: “Repeatedly Cutting Taxes Is the Way to Make Minnesota Strong and Right-Wing Forever No Matter How Many May Suffer or How Many Counties, Cities and Towns Fall Apart.”

  6. Submitted by Colleen Morse on 04/21/2010 - 09:03 am.

    I just don’t understand why any great number of Minnesotans would want more of a Pawlenty-type regime. It’s a complete failure, it negates the value and worth of the poor and minorities and it’s bringing Minnesota even further downhill. Don’t Minnesotans remeber when we were one of the very best states to live in for many, many reasons? Let’s bring Minnesota back to what she is capable of being.

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