Just as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was arriving at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Minneapolis for a Tom Emmer fundraising event this afternoon, two Republican Party officials were hustling the other direction.
Michael Brodkorb, the deputy chairman of the state party, and Mark Drake, the party’s communications director, were headed to the state Capitol, where Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner was introducing an array of former Republican legislators who were announcing their support for Horner. The looks on the two men’s faces indicated that this was serious business.
Certainly, the Horner announcement dimmed the luster of the Gingrich visit to Minnesota, for it seemed to be further indication that the Republican Party is divided between longtime (more moderate) and newer (conservative) party members.
Following the fundraising luncheon, Emmer and Gingrich met with reporters for about 20 minutes.
Emmer, Gingrich downplay ‘defections’
Both tried to dispel the notion that the split is serious.
Emmer wasn’t particularly diplomatic about it: “You’re talking about people who disavowed being Republican some time ago. … They openly supported Obama.”
He went on to say that defecting Republicans were the same pols “that got us into the problems we’re having.”
Gingrich didn’t seem quite so ready to toss overboard the defectors in Minnesota — and elsewhere.
“There are a number of people (old-line Republicans) who can’t imagine re-thinking government,” Gingrich said. “There are a number of old-time traditionalists who keep saying, ‘You’ve got to be practical.’ If we were practical, we never would have balanced the budget.”
(Time out for context here: On Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden was in town to rally support and raise money for Mark Dayton. He gave President Bill Clinton credit for balancing the federal budget. Today, Gingrich was saying that he and Annette Meeks, one of his staffers in the 1990s, were responsible for getting the budget balanced. Meeks now is Emmer’s running mate.)
Gingrich, the consummate no-new-taxes conservative, appeared to be well-versed on the Horner movement in Minnesota and proceeded to tie the Independence Party candidate to those longtime Republicans who aren’t true anti-taxers.
“There are some who say we need some taxes increased,” Gingrich said, adding that if Horner raises “half the taxes Dayton would raise, Minnesota would still lose half the jobs. … The real danger is Dayton. He’ll raises taxes by billions.”
Electing Dayton, Gingrich said, would make “Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas richer.”
With a nod to Emmer, Gingrich said Republican candidates must continue to “campaign on principles.”
What does that mean?
Of late, Gingrich, who is campaigning across the country, is blasting the Obama administration.
“Obama’s model is to kill your job and give you a food stamp.”
He praised Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who may end up as a foe of Gingrich in the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
“Your unemployment rate is lower than the national average because he cut taxes, cut regulations and encouraged business,” Gingrich said. “The states with the lowest unemployment rates have the lowest taxes.”
Both Emmer and Horner, however, have said that the Minnesota tax climate is not friendly to business.
Over and over, Emmer rejected the notion that his campaign is pushing moderates to Horner. He repeatedly said that “the people I’m seeing” agree with the Emmer-Meeks message.
Vin Weber sees Horner hurting Dayton more
Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman and now party consultant, attended the Gingrich-Emmer fundraiser and media conference.
Despite the Horner campaign’s announcement today, Weber said he believes that, on Election Day, Horner will hurt Dayton more than Emmer.
“I’ve watched the last couple of [gubernatorial] cycles,” Weber said. “I don’t think he [Horner] is taking more from the Republicans than he is the Democrats. … In the end, I think Horner will hurt Dayton more.”
But it would seem that today’s Horner news will give the Dayton campaign and the DFL more fodder to paint Horner as “the second Republican in the race.” Most of Horner’s key endorsements have come from Republicans, or, if Emmer’s view is correct, “former” Republicans.
Certainly, Horner’s news conference was just one element of tough-luck timing for Emmer.
Getting Gingrich to come to Minnesota was a big deal.
According to Weber, Gingrich is one of the top two headline-grabbing superstars in the party, along with Sarah Palin.
“He [Gingrich] has fewer downsides [than Palin],” Weber said. “He does a brilllant job of framing the message.”
But today, the media competition was not only 13 Republicans coming out for Horner but also the Vikings’ trade for Randy Moss and the first game of the Twins-Yankees playoff series.
All of that means diminished media time and space for the Gingrich-Emmer message to surface.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.