There are two classes of Minnesota voters who might be impressed by the raft of newspaper endorsements Independence Party candidate Tom Horner has received in the last few days.
One group is the “waverers,” those engaged people who would like to vote for Horner but fear a vote for him might lead to the election of either Republican Tom Emmer or DFLer Mark Dayton.
And the other is made up of voters who don’t follow politics closely. They might end up being impressed by the support Horner has received from a cross section of newspapers — if they learn about it.
Horner camp moving to build momentum
Not surprisingly, the Horner campaign quickly tried to turn all those newspaper endorsements into votes this morning.
First, the campaign cranked out a quick news release summing up the praise that the Independence Party candidate received in endorsements in the Star Tribune, the Duluth News Tribune, the Fargo Forum, the Bemidji Pioneer, the Grand Forks Herald and the West Central Tribune. Then it released the text of a letter from two Republicans (or perhaps former Republicans) — George Pillsbury, a Republican state senator from1971 to 1983, and Bill Belanger, a 26-year Republican state senator — that was sent to newspapers across the state supporting Horner.
“Independence Party candidate for governor Tom Horner is willing to risk telling Minnesota voters what they need to hear, not what they want to hear, about our $5.8 billion state deficit,” the two wrote. “Horner is the only candidate to embrace the 21st Century Tax Reform Commission’s vision to position Minnesota for economic growth in the emerging global economy.”
All of these flattering comments for Horner are nice, but the key question is: Do they matter?
There are varying degrees of enthusiasm and doubt about the impact, mostly based around one big thing: MONEY.
The endorsements are whispers. Can Horner turn them into shouts?
Steve Schier, political science professor at Carleton College, says the bottom line is that the endorsements, though vital to Horner, probably aren’t enough to move him closer to a victory.
“Horner’s endorsement by editorial boards is essential to the success of his campaign,” Schier said. “While necessary, the endorsements are far from sufficient to give him a serious chance of victory. That will only come with more popular attention and support. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t appear to have the poll standing to rate as a possible winner nor the campaign resources to improve that poll standing. So the news of the endorsements is good for him, but probably not good enough.”
Endorsements could buy time for Horner
The endorsements, however, just might buy Horner a bit more time. Those wavering voters — “I’d like to vote for Horner, but I don’t think he has a chance” — may keep wavering for a few more days.
The key, says former IP gubernatorial candidate Tim Penny, is whether Horner’s campaign has the resources to advertise the endorsements.
“As it is, each endorsement matters only to the readers of each paper,” said Penny, who was the recipient of a large cross section of newspaper endorsements in 2002.
Penny believes that the scope of the endorsements, from so many newspapers from so many portions of the state, especially could affect voters who aren’t engaged in the race but will decide to vote.
“Those people will be impressed,” Penny said.
But only if they hear about it.
That means television and radio advertising.
There are a couple of things especially helpful to Horner about the endorsements.
Two factors in play
One, they are coming earlier than is typical. Two, they are coming in a year when the gubernatorial race is the only big statewide race.
Many of the endorsements he received, Penny said, came only a week before Election Day, when it was too late to help.
“By that time, my campaign was reeling,” Penny said.
Recall, he was running in the year of the Wellstone plane crash. Before the crash, Penny said, he was running evenly with Tim Pawlenty and Roger Moe. The crash, and the emotional outpouring that following, sent most people “scurrying back to their parties.”
It was the Senate race, not the gubernatorial race, that captured all the headlines in the final days of the campaign, Penny recalled.
“This time, the governor’s race is the big enchilada,” he said. “These endorsements can have an impact. … The endorsements give him momentum, which he needs.”
But he keeps that momentum only if he can buy enough advertising time to capture the attention of those who don’t follow politics — or the endorsements of the newspapers in their respective regions.
So, does the Horner campaign have sufficient resources to blare the word across the state?
“The short answer is yes,” said Horner campaign spokesman Matt Lewis. “And I agree with Tim. Although there will never be enough resources, our treasurer has informed us that nearly every dollar we are raising right now can, and will, go directly into those buys and getting out the vote. So, I honestly tell people that’s where their money is going. We can make a buy right now. We just need to make sure it’s the right buy as we won’t get a lot of shots at it.”
It should be noted that neither the Dayton nor the Emmer campaigns are particularly surprised by the newspaper endorsements, especially the Star Tribune endorsement, after the newspaper did a virtual endorsement of Horner weeks ago.
And the Emmer campaign, it should be noted, didn’t seem impressed by the Horner endorsements.
Carl Kuhl, a campaign spokesman, had this to say:
“Mr. Horner previously worked as a newspaper editor, and then worked in and around government for over 30 years. He has spent his entire career as a member of the media; improving the image of his clients in the media and influencing government to spend more. It is no surprise that many of the state’s media elite would endorse his candidacy as he has worked for years to shape their opinions. Unfortunately for Mr. Horner, his campaign reached a plateau weeks ago and past history suggests that no amount of endorsements from the state’s newspapers will change that.’’
But the reality of the endorsements will force both the Dayton and Emmer campaigns to keep pounding home their theme to respective voters that a vote for Horner is actually a vote for their opponent.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.