Can Tom Horner capitalize on spate of newspaper endorsements?

Tom Horner
MinnPost/Terry Gydesen
Tom Horner

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.

Tim Penny
Tim Penny

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.

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Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/18/2010 - 10:45 am.

    If Tim Penny can’t help but mention his delusional belief that he was a viable candidate in the 2002 race, people really need to stop inteviewing him.

  2. Submitted by Norman Larson on 10/18/2010 - 11:13 am.

    Are the Duluth newspaper and some others Up North that endorsed Horner under the same ownership?

  3. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 10/18/2010 - 11:49 am.

    No one – I mean NO ONE, not even the reporters who work for a newspaper – read editorials any more. If a major newspaper put the words “call this number and win $1,000” in an editorial they’d be giving the money to the opinion editor of the neighboring newspaper.

    And I used to write editorials.

  4. Submitted by DeeAnn Christensen on 10/18/2010 - 12:30 pm.

    I read editorials…every day.

    I was astouded that the Strib’s endorsement came so much earlier than past endorsements. Is the Strib attempting to manipulate the system with this early announcement? Do they hope their announcement will give Horner’s campaign the impetus and time to generate a groundswell?

    Who appointed them kingmakers?

  5. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/18/2010 - 12:33 pm.

    For a candidate on a shoestring budget it can’t be anything but positive.

    “All publicity is good publicity, as long as they spell your name right.”

  6. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/18/2010 - 12:37 pm.

    The fact is, Tom Horner is operating on a shoestring budget. So this is good news for his campaign. Although more than anything it probably falls under the category of:

    “All publicity is good publicity, as long as they spell your name right.”

  7. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/18/2010 - 01:12 pm.

    Tim Penny did a lot better as a DFLer than as an IP.

  8. Submitted by Laura Knudsen on 10/18/2010 - 01:38 pm.

    These endorments show that Horner has proven himself as a viable leader across our state. They follow numerous other endorsements ranging from professional groups to former leaders. I am pleased the newspapers decided to endorse earlier this year to allow the endorments to be apart of the conversation in these important final weeks.

  9. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/18/2010 - 01:43 pm.

    Since Horner is, indeed, pulling votes primarily from moderate Republicans and former Republicans who are now “independents,” both of whom find Emmer’s record, his ideas, and his personality to be beyond what they can accept in a potential governor,…

    these endorsements will work very powerfully against Emmer by encouraging people who can’t bear to vote for a Democrat but really didn’t want to vote for someone as radical and distasteful as Emmer’s previous record and earlier statements make him out to be (all toned down for the campaign with the help of his consultants),…

    –they’ll encourage all the Republicans who really WANTED to vote for Horner–

    to stick to their guns and do so.

  10. Submitted by Marlin Henjum on 10/18/2010 - 03:48 pm.

    Is it possible the once reputable Star Tribune is endorsing the man who is most likely to treat the Twin City Metro area favorably? After all we still don’t have a new Vikings stadium.

  11. Submitted by John Hakes on 10/19/2010 - 10:14 am.

    That so many different newsrooms are finding their own particular language to reach the conlcusion that Tom Horner should be Minnesota’s next governor speaks volumes.

    And in fact, I am still waiting to see the FIRST genuine, substantive, and supportive piece for either the Emmer or Dayton candidacies.

    Anybody know of one?

  12. Submitted by John Hakes on 10/19/2010 - 10:43 am.

    Editorial boards, not ‘newsrooms’, sorry 🙂

  13. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 10/19/2010 - 12:04 pm.

    You people who read and contemplate editorials have a lot more faith in my former profession than I do. Most editors live in ivory towers and put out news to entertain and sell newspapers to the little people more than inform and enlighten the masses. One of my lifetime embarrassments is that I didn’t realize that until I was nearly 40 years old and had been reporting and editing for more than a decade.

    Tom Horner spent his life influencing the press. That’s what he did and he was very good at it. His job was to manipulate public opinion. And that’s what he did to these editorial boards – used his learned skills to influence them. However, Horner has never been elected. He’s never run government. He’s never been in the hot seat. He was on the outside making comments, slanting stories and peddling influence. That is not a skill set that serves a governor well. He’s like electing a spy to be president.

  14. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/19/2010 - 04:15 pm.

    It can’t hurt, but it won’t help much either.

    Print media is in decline, and the fact that most dailies are still endorsing candidates is evidence that they are slow to change. I’ve always believed that endorsing candidates flies in the face of impartial reporting and feigning impartial reporting.

    MinnPost: Thank You for not endorsing candidates.

  15. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/19/2010 - 04:53 pm.

    #2 – Hannah Angelica

    Yes indeed. A (very Republican) company called Forum Communications owns the Bemidji Pioneer, the Duluth News Tribune, the Grand Forks Herald, plus 21 other newspapers in Minnesota, 4 in Wisconsin, 3 in North Dakota and 1 in Wisconsin. Forum also owns TV stations in Bismarck and Grand Forks and a Fargo radio station. They are in a position to influence public opinion throughout the state. Too much power in too few hands, I’d say.

    I’d guess that the owners came to the decision that all three Forum newspapers mentioned in the article would endorse Mr. Horner.


    Mr. Horner is an intelligent, sincere and talented person. BUT his measures seem too timid to make appreciable inroads into correcting the mess left by Tim Pawlenty. Only Dayton sees that we must return to collecting the BILLION DOLLARS PER YEAR IN REVENUE LOST PER YEAR by the Ventura and Pawlenty tax cuts for the wealthy in order to make real progress toward fiscal health.

  16. Submitted by Tony Powers on 10/28/2010 - 11:19 pm.

    It sounds like everybody here has their mind made up….I won’t hold my breath, but I’m in Horner’s corner. Good men, not political parties, should be in charge.

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