Two-time U.S. Senate candidate Mike Ciresi this afternoon endorsed Tom Horner, in the process becoming the first prominent DFLer to stand beside the Independence Party gubernatorial candidate, who has attracted considerable endorsement support from former Republican officeholders.
Ciresi, who lost to Mark Dayton in a Senate primary race in 2000 and dropped out of the Senate race prior to the DFL convention’s endorsement of Al Franken in 2008, insisted today that he remains a Democrat.
“Of course I’m a Democrat,” the 64-year-old attorney said at a state Capitol news conference.
He noted that his support of Horner marks only the second time in his life that he will have voted for someone other than a Democrat.
Who was the first?
He wouldn’t divulge that, though he did say he supported Dayton after losing in the primary.
Ciresi, in announcing his support of Horner, tried to prove his DFL Party loyalty by noting that he and his spouse have made financial contributions to Democratic House members Betty McCollum and Tim Walz and to Tarryl Clark, who is challenging Rep. Michele Bachmann in the 6th District. Additionally, he said, they are supporting several U.S. Senate candidates outside of Minnesota.
“Is it state or party — which comes first?” Ciresi said. “I think the world of Mark Dayton.”
It’s not ill will toward Dayton that led him to this endorsement, he said, but rather his belief that Horner is the best candidate for the times.
Horner at the news conference acknowledges that his best chance of winning depends on swinging undecideds into his corner, as well as attracting “soft” supporters of Republican Tom Emmer and Dayton. He noted that polls show a big enough pool of such voters to give him a legitimate shot.
It’s hard to know how much sway Ciresi actually has among those in his own party. Though he invested heavily in his two Senate races, he was rejected soundly. He often groused about the party apparatus and its endorsement process. He likely doesn’t have high name recognition outside the political insider circle.
It should be noted that of all people, Michael Brodkorb, deputy chairman of the Republican Party, does think Ciresi’s is a big DFL name.
“Mike Ciresi is a household name in DFL circles and has strong liberal credentials,” Brodkorb commented this afternoon on Twitter. “Dayton’s campaign has to be upset today.”
No matter the size of the Ciresi name, the endorsement is at least an indication that Horner is something more than the second Republican candidate in this race, which is how both the DFL and the Dayton campaign have tried to characterize him.
Horner said he first got to know Ciresi back in the early 1990s, during Minnesota’s landmark case that paired Blue Cross Blue Shield and the state’s attorney general, Skip Humphrey, against the tobacco industry.
Ciresi was the lead attorney representing Blue Cross Blue Shield in one of the first cases of its kind. Horner was doing public relations work for the insurance company at the time and, after the massive settlement, did public relations work for one of the resulting anti-smoking organizations that was formed.
This led Horner to speak, very briefly, of old PR clients. He received no state money for his work, he said in answer to reporters’ questions. Rather, he said, his pay came through the settlement.
Horner seldom speaks of his former clients and their ties to government.
Ciresi said he’s been drawn to the Horner campaign “because his message is broader, more inclusive.”
Horner even implied that winning over the endorsements of such people as Ciresi is a bigger deal than Mitt Romney coming to Minnesota to support Emmer or President Obama coming to the state Saturday as a show of support for Dayton.
Minnesotans, Horner said, should not be “pawns in the fight between national Republicans and national Democrats.”
In answer to another question, he told reporters that he expects to announce more endorsements in coming days but did not specify from which party they might come.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.