At the recent DFL endorsing convention in Duluth, Mark Dayton was denied a pass that would have given him access to the convention floor. Ten years ago, at another statewide DFL conclave, Dayton may not have suffered the same snub but he was persona non grata at both events, nonetheless.
At both conventions, he angered many DFL partisans by pledging to run against the party’s endorsed candidate. While there are similarities between Dayton’s 2000 and 2010 election challenges, there are important differences as well. To begin with, the former DFL party official is running for a different office this year. Today, he wants to be the state’s next governor. Then, he sought to unseat Minnesota’s incumbent U.S. senator, Rod Grams.
Then, as now, Dayton faced a wealthy, self-financed challenger in the DFL primary.
Then, the challenger was Mike Ciresi. This year, Matt Entenza plays that role.
But now, in 2010, Dayton faces a much different DFL endorsed candidate than he did in 2000. Then, the party selected an obscure state senator from the Iron Range, Jerry Janezich, as its standard barrier. Janezich was virtually unknown in the Twin Cities at the time that he received the Senate endorsement, and he struggled to generate support and campaign funds. His dismal third-place showing in the September primary cast a shadow over the entire DFL endorsement process.
Today, the much better-known Margaret Anderson Kelliher has received the DFL gubernatorial endorsement. As speaker of the Minnesota House, Kelliher has a statewide public profile and the unified support of the DFL Party establishment. In 2000, Janezich lacked that support, even with the party’s endorsement, when some influential party leaders opted to support Ceresi.
In 2000, Dayton had served one term in public office as state auditor, a low profile position that attracted little public attention. Now he is saddled with his lack-luster performance in the high profile job of U.S. senator, a job he gave up in 2006 and would probably have lost if he decided to run for reelection. In 2010, moreover, his recent admission of his struggles with alcoholism and depression has not enhanced in his public image.
Ten years ago, Dayton received favorable public exposure for his highly publicized efforts to help Minnesota seniors obtain low-cost prescription drugs in Canada. He used the issue of prescription drug costs to launch some effective TV ads which tied his candidacy to the issue of health care reform. Now, with the passage of the Obama health care overhaul plan, Dayton no longer has that issue to drive his candidacy.
This year he is making an effort to fashion himself as a fervent progressive, in the Paul Wellstone model. But Dayton will have a difficult time selling himself to DFL voters as the next Wellstone given his shy demeanor and his less-than-stellar speaking skills.
At this early stage in the DFL primary battle, Anderson Kelliher is probably the front-runner for the DFL nomination, even in the face of the millions that Dayton and Entenza are likely to plough into their own campaigns.
If the speaker of the House triumphs over her two male challengers in the August primary, she will face a bruising general election campaign when she comes up against the Republican’s likely nominee, fiery Tom Emmer, who just received his party’s endorsement.