There’s a do-or-die mentality surrounding the true believers of the Independence Party movement in Minnesota this year.
Given what IP supporters see as the left-right extremes of the gubernatorial candidates of the DFL and Republican parties, they believe their party’s opportunity for electing the state’s next governor is as good as it ever can be.
“It is no secret,” said IP Chairman Jack Uldrich. “The other parties are creating the environment. The perfect storm seems to be on the horizon. … I’m very optimistic, and to be honest, if we are not able to pull it off this year, I’ll be hard-pressed to say under what circumstances we can win.”
Uldrich sees a national mood swing toward that third — independent — choice. He points to Republican Gov. Charlie Crist’s recent decision in Florida to make his bid for the U.S. Senate as an independent and notes Michael Bloomberg’s success as the independent mayor of New York as signs of growing discontent with a two-party system that has made many cynical.
Looking for a viable ‘middle way’
The key, Uldrich said, will be to “capture some of the enthusiasm”of the Tea Party movement and prove to restless Democrats and Republicans that there is a viable middle way.
Of course, that’s always been the key. And the one time the IP was able to pull off a victory is when they offered up a celebrity, Jesse Ventura.
Now, Uldrich said, they need to win with their ideas.
The IP members take step one in their process Saturday at Normandale Community College when they’ll endorse their gubernatorial candidate.
Tom Horner, who has moderate Republican roots, is the heavy favorite to win endorsement over Rob Hahn. John Uldrich, the chairman’s father, is also in the field, which may include a couple of others.
Unlike the GOP or the DFL, the IPs will settle their endorsement with one ballot, using instant runoff voting, also known as ranked-choice voting, which was the voting system used in Minneapolis city races last fall. That means the 250 delegates to the convention will rank their top three choices in order of preference.
If no single candidate wins 50 percent of the vote on the first count, the person with the least votes will be dropped and that candidate’s second-choice votes will be distributed among the other candidates. If there still is no winner, the candidate with the fewest votes will be dropped and that candidate’s second-choice votes will be distributed. The process will continue until a candidate has received a majority of the vote.
Horner is expected to win without second-place votes needed.
‘Neutral’ Uldrich expects a Tom Horner endorsement
“I’m neutral,” said Uldrich, “but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t win. From what I’ve seen, he’s been doing the behind-the-scenes work necessary to get delegates to the convention.”
Assuming Horner does win, Uldrich’s next task would be to persuade the other candidates not to challenge the endorsed candidate in a primary.
That seems unlikely. These are independent people, after all. Hahn, for example, casts himself as the classic independent.
“You can’t masquerade as an independent when you’ve spent your whole life with one party or the other,” he said, noting that Horner’s been a lifelong Republican and a previous IP gubernatorial candidate, Tim Penny, was a lifelong Democrat.
A rookie to electoral politics, the St. Paul businessman — he owns Hahn Publications — is also a fiction writer. His newest novel, “Robbob for Governor,” is at the printer now, he says. It’s the story of an idealist running for governor. Hahn is insistent that his run for governor is not a publicity stunt to help promote the book.
Rob Hahn sees himself as strongest IP candidate
“I think in the past the party has put up good individuals, but not good candidates,” said Hahn.
With the exception of Jesse Ventura, Hahn thinks the IP candidates have been too bland. He refers to Horner as “Republican lite” and says that some of the gubernatorial forums he’s attended, which have included candidates from all parties, have often tended toward boring.
“I throw a zinger now and then just to stay awake myself,” he said. “People are afraid to say what they think. I’m not afraid.”
So it’s been Hahn who has suggested that the state needs “a fat tax,” which would be a tax on foods purchased at fast-food restaurants.
“The state needs the revenue, and why should we all have to pay the health costs for the lifestyles other people pick?” he asks.
He admits that idea wasn’t so popular among heftier IP members.
“I bring a Q factor,” he said. “I’ll throw out ideas, even if they upset people.”
For all Hahn’s color, look for the IP to quickly endorse Horner, who has attracted delegates to the convention. Additionally, Horner has been working to gain the support of community leaders political figures. Earlier this week, former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, a Republican, and Penny, a former Democratic congressman, publicly supported him.
To quickly win over the support of respected leaders is vital to Horner. Not only do such endorsements raise Horner’s name ID but also allow others to see Horner as viable.
“It’s not enough to simply be the best candidate,” said Uldrich.
Picking ‘best candidate’ only part of the challenge
He believes many voters looked at both Penny, who carried the IP gubernatorial banner eight years ago, and Peter Hutchinson, who was the party’s choice four years ago, as “the most qualified” to be governor. But the public saw neither as having a chance to win in the closing weeks of their campaigns, so voters therefore fell back to their traditional parties.
“We’ve had great candidates,” said Uldrich, “but if we’ve learned anything, I think it’s that we know our endorsed candidate will have to swing harder. It’s not enough to be the best candidate. I think our candidate has to have some edginess.”
In the past, it’s been assumed that IP candidates likely hurt DFLers more than Republicans. Assuming Horner is at the top of the IP ticket, the quick assumption this time is that he’ll be able to draw from the moderate Republican crowd, which is feeling squeezed out by the selection of Tom Emmer.
But if either the DFL’s endorsed candidate, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, or Mark Dayton ends up winning the primary, IP supporters think there’ll be plenty of room to attract moderate DFLers as well. (No one in any party seems to have yet figured out DFL primary challenger Matt Entenza’s niche in all of this.)
Many in the IP tend to believe that Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is the one DFL gubernatorial candidate who might have closed their party’s window of opportunity. But Rybak fell to Kelliher, who will represent “politics as usual” to many independents.
Long term, Uldrich still would like to see his party build from local offices on up. But for the moment, the focus must be on the governor’s race. Among other things, the party needs to attract 5 percent of the statewide vote to retain major-party status.
Hitting that number won’t be difficult. But IP activists have much, much higher aspirations this time around.
“I’d like this to be more than just a Minnesota race,” said Uldrich. “I’d like others to see this as a road map to how you can win.”
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.
Check here Saturday for The UpTake’s live streaming of the Independence Party state convention, which begins at 10 a.m.