The three DFL gubernatorial candidates are crisscrossing the state, attempting to sell themselves.
However, judging by questions at a Monday night session in Minneapolis, Minnesota Democrats are far more interested in winning in November than they are in the individual dreams of Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Mark Dayton and Matt Entenza.
Over and over, the party faithful gathered at Tom Gupta’s Schneider Drugs asked Dayton and stand-ins for Kelliher and Entenza whether the party can come out of the Aug. 10 primary unified.
“I haven’t been in the governor’s office since 1990,” Hy Berman, a retired University of Minnesota history professor told Dayton. “I’ve forgotten what it looks like. … The DFL has never won the governorship when it’s divided. It’s not always won when it’s united, either, but [it has] no chance when it’s divided.”
Dayton nodded his head and vowed that on the day following the primary he will enthusiastically support whoever wins the DFL primary.
Vows of party unity post-primary
The stand-ins for the others also seemed to agree that on Aug. 11, all DFLers will be arm in arm.
In a campaign in which millions will be spent, this little event was a classic example of the “retail politics” candidates always talk about. It was held around a replica stove that sits in the middle of Gupta’s store. The area around that stove, which bears an old “Wellstone” sticker, has been the site of meetings of progressives for years.
Monday night’s gathering was far larger than most with more than 30 people around the stove and flowing into the nearby store aisles.
They’d come hoping that all three candidates would be on hand. As it turned out, Kelliher was in the northern part of the state, turning on her “No Stone Unturned” campaign tour. Entenza, who had expected to be at the drugstore, ran late at another “retail politics” event in Blaine.
“Matt’s not going to be able to make it tonight,” one of his staffers nervously said at about 9 o’clock.
“Don’t worry, we’re not going to hurt you,” said Gupta.
“We didn’t take a vote on that,” came a shout from one of the aisles.
The lack of candidates didn’t diminish the passion in the store.
This group represents the antithesis of the Tea Party. These progressives believe government can — and must — lead the charge on a litany of problems that include: high unemployment, costly health care, high college tuitions, crowded K-12 schools, and gaps among the races in both education and employment. Government, they believe, must also inspire a sense of community.
But, at least in this group, there was a sense of desperation. How can DFLers support all those goals and win over the hearts and minds of Minnesotans?
One woman put it this way to Dayton: “How can you beat a Republican who simply says, ‘No taxes?’ ”
“With truth,” replied Dayton, nodding toward a young man with a video camera. “Everywhere I go, there’s a Republican tracking camera. I guess they’re hoping I’ll say something progressive [laughter up and down the aisles]. I’ll pay half of the cost, if they [the Republicans] will run it as I say it. I’m not going to raise everybody’s taxes. Tim Pawlenty did that. ”
The woman was not impressed.
“In this age,” she said to Dayton, “you have a nano-second to say something to counter their message. Tom Emmer’s message will be ‘No taxes.’ What’s the response?”
“My taxes won’t hurt you,” said Dayton. “His will.”
All three candidates draw praise
Each of the candidates drew some praise.
A black woman lauded Entenza for selecting a black woman, Robyne Robinson, as his running mate. “That’s huge in communities of color,” she said.
Another praised Kelliher for using the endorsement process.
Dayton’s progressive politics also won praise.
But always, the message came back to getting DFLers unified behind a single candidate. There was real concern that the DFL campaign will get ugly, with DFLers attacking each other. Don’t let it get personal, those gathered pleaded.
“How we doing so far?” asked Erin Murphy, a state representative from St. Paul who was Kelliher’s stand-in at the event.
“So far, so good,” said former state Sen. John Hottinger, who was among those attending the session, “but there are two months to go.”
“We’re focused like a laser on Tom Emmer,” said the Entenza spokesman, noting that a recent poll showed that each of the DFLers was running ahead of Emmer.
Dayton suggested the primary will work as “a springboard” for whichever DFLer wins.
There were light moments, too, such as a comment from a student at Bethel College.
“I’m surrounded by Republicans,” he said.
“I grew up surrounded by ’em, too,” said Dayton. “They’re called my family.”
There was laughter but a quick return to concern: Can DFLers finally get it together?
“When this thing [the primary race] is over,” said Berman, “there has to be a public get-together. There has to be a symbolic tour of the state, showing you support whoever is the winner.”
“There’s not much difference between the three of you,” said Gupta, “but there’s a helluva difference between you and Tom Emmer.”
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.