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DFL appears well-poised for comeback on eve of state convention

Nothing brings together a political party like losing.

Given the beating the DFL took in the 2010 legislative races, that means DFLers this weekend are expected to offer a state convention quite different from the recent one held by Republicans.

Ken MartinMinnPost/Jay WeinerKen Martin

“No controversy or division,” predicted DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin of his party’s weekend gathering in Rochester. “I’d say there’s a greater degree of togetherness than I’ve seen for a long, long time. When you lose, it brings people back together.’’

The contrasts these days between the GOP and the DFL couldn’t be greater.

At their convention in St. Cloud last month, the last of the old-line Republicans watched as their party was taken over by a mixture of followers of Ron Paul and the Tea Party crowd.

“A small party got even smaller” is how Martin described what happened at the GOP convention two weeks ago.

DFL challenges pale next to GOP’s

Beyond that, DFLers aren’t dealing with the debt that plagues the GOP.

Yes, the DFL has about $200,000 in debt on its books, but not only does that pale in comparison to the $2 million of Republican debt, it does not have to be repaid in this election cycle, according to Martin.

And there’s still more that would seem to put the DFL in a strong position heading into its convention: Those at the top of the ticket, President Obama and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, appear to be strong in Minnesota. Republicans, meanwhile, have no headliners to rally behind.

At about noon Saturday, Klobuchar will be endorsed with great excitement for a second term.

But it is Gov. Mark Dayton who will play an especially crucial role for the DFL in the fall elections.

Key election role for Dayton

“He’s the ace up our sleeve,” said Martin of the coming campaigns. “He’s going to hit the trail hard, working for our [legislative] candidates.”

There’s a bit of political irony in the role Martin expects Dayton will play — given that just two years ago, Dayton wasn’t even allowed on the convention stage because he was bypassing the endorsement process.

And if he does hit the campaign trail on behalf of DFL legislative candidates, it also will be a significant change from the campaign practices of recent governors.

By his second term, Gov. Tim Pawlenty seemed more interested in self-promotion than the campaigns of GOP legislative candidates. (That probably explains why Pawlenty’s name is seldom mentioned by current Republican legislators.)

And much to the chagrin of Independence Party members, Gov. Jesse Ventura did virtually nothing to build his party.

Before Ventura, Republican Gov. Arne Carlson held little clout in his own party. While Carlson was extremely popular with mainstream Minnesotans, he couldn’t even win endorsement from his own party, which by 1994 had been taken over by social conservatives.

Come November, of course, the key for DFLers will be winning in suburban districts. Dayton and his tax-the-rich mantra may not be hugely popular there.

“But it [tax the rich] doesn’t play horribly, either,” said Martin, “but that’s not really going to be the focus of the campaign.”

Two-pronged focus

Coming out of the convention, DFLers hope for a two-pronged focus: The shift of school funds to balance the budget, and the loss of the homestead property tax. Those issues do play well across the state, including the suburbs.

But those are post-convention issues. The convention itself will be focused on “rallying the troops.”

Ever since November 2010, when the DFL lost majorities in both the House and Senate, party leaders have been pounding on the message that the DFL faithful can’t sit out elections. Martin frequently notes that there were 90,000 fewer DFL voters in 2010 than in 2008 and that a swing of just 700 votes in House races and 2,200 votes in state Senate races could have kept the DFL in the majority.

Among other things, DFL majorities would have meant that voters would not be voting on a restrictive marriage amendment and a Voter ID amendment. (Martin will introduce resolutions at the convention seeking official DFL opposition to the two amendments.)

The legislative sweep of 2010 means the GOP currently has a 11-seat advantage (72-61) in the House and a 37-30 advantage in the Senate.

That’s a lot to gain back in one election cycle.

And though their internal problems seem small, compared with the GOP’s problems, DFLers do have some cracks in their unanimity.

The old labor coalition remains in decline. Iron Rangers have a vastly different view of the world (“more mining!”) than urban DFLers (“hug the trees!’’). And somewhere in the middle are those suburban values.

But after what happened at the polls two years ago, Martin believes miners, lumberjacks, tree huggers and suburbanites all will be focused more on what unites them than what divides them.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Andrew Kearney on 06/01/2012 - 01:22 pm.

    Not so sure

    I am not so sure that Democrats are as united as Ken Martin thinks. It is only by comparison with the R’s that the DFL look united. Many DFL’ers in the base are lukewarm about Obama and Klobuchar. They have taken it out on the party legislative moderates. Kory Kath is a good example. While the press reports on resignations like Kath there are also unreported stories like Kathy Saltzman not running or in 11-B the lack of endorsement even with former representative and vote getter Tim Faust offering to re-run. The primary in CD 8 is another example of the inability of the party to come together. There is a purging of the moderates going on in the DFL it is just not in the news. The result is lack of enthusiasm among the base for the elected national candidates and among moderates in legislative races. This may result in lower turnout,cross party voting or undervoting that may make the difference in some races.

  2. Submitted by Evan Roberts on 06/01/2012 - 03:35 pm.

    The flip required is not huge

    Winning back the majority means flipping 4 seats in the Senate and 6 in the House for bare majorities in both chambers. I think a long-term story of Minnesota politics is the gradual replacement of outstate DFLers with suburban DFLers. So open seats outstate make the task harder than it looks. But in a state with fairly drawn boundaries flipping 4 out of 67 and 6 out of 134 seats is not a huge order.

  3. Submitted by Pete Barrett on 06/02/2012 - 02:23 pm.

    Wither Eichten?

    Too bad we no longer have MPR host Gary EIchten. It would be fun in a train wreck watching way to tune in and hear him try to make this one sound interesting.

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