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Republicans try to figure out what went wrong with legislative races

MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Warroad residents Tyler Klugherz and Danielle Lesser reacting after President Barack Obama is declared the winner at the Republican Party gathering in Bloomington.

The business groups that gathered at the Bloomington Hilton to monitor the results of Minnesota’s legislative races had early indications Tuesday night of the Republican losses that led to a DFL takeover of the House and Senate.

“It was a wave that we weren’t expecting,” said Mike Franklin of Minnesota’s Future, one of the independent expenditure groups that spent millions in support of mainly Republican candidates.

They were outspent by DFL groups like Alliance for a Better Minnesota, but Franklin and others weren’t blaming money for the change of hands. 

“My guess is that the marriage amendment was extremely useful to the Democrats’ enthusiastic turnout machine,” Franklin said. “In what was looking like the absence of competitive statewide races, it became the proxy campaign for a lot of DFLers to get organized around.”

As the votes came in, it appeared that both the marriage and voter I.D. amendments served as the statewide campaign that offered Democrats the coattails they needed to reverse control of the Legislature, almost precisely seat for seat.

But the consensus among Republican observers, operatives and even candidates is that there was another factor. “Did Republicans lose women?” Franklin mused.  

In a candid conversation in a private room at the Hilton, as Minnesota Republicans watched local and national races go to the Democrats, one woman just sighed, “They have got to stop talking about rape.”

From that frustration emerged the victories of DFLers Yvonne Selcer in Bloomington, Terri Bonoff in Minnetonka and Melisa Franzen in Edina. They are all moderate women who capitalized on the perceived anti-female reputation and actions of their opponents.

But just being a woman wasn’t enough, of course. Pam Wolf lost her Senate seat.  Terry Jacobson lost to Paul Rosenthal in 49B in Bloomington and Minnetonka, stunning her supporters who saw her as a moderate Republican, ideal for the district.

“Being a woman, why didn’t that benefit Terry?” asked Christopher Cole, a supporter from Bloomington.

Cole didn’t want to directly blame the marriage amendment, but said, “It seems like it did drive turnout in 49B.” At first privately, and now more publicly, Republicans are saying the amendment backfired, especially in vulnerable suburbs like Edina, Eden Prairie and Eagan, where voters are decidedly liberal on social issues.

Franklin and others point to Republican Congressman Erik Paulsen, who easily won re-election, as the model for future GOP candidates. Articulate and presentable, they say candidates like Paulsen are what the party needs, not candidates who want to talk about abortion and saving the state from same-sex marriage.

To get those candidates, some Republicans argue that the party needs to move away from its revered caucus system and have early primaries instead.  “Republicans have got to stop being afraid of primaries,” Franklin said. “Primaries are good for candidates.  Even the more conservative candidates come out a little sharper.”

The glimmer of hope for Republicans is that even in upset losses, like those in the Twin Cities suburbs, many district profiles may remain relatively conservative on the issues of jobs, the economy and taxes. So a swing back across the aisle in two years is not unlikely.

Republicans may have learned a few lessons this cycle about the wisdom of their political strategies. And they may have gained insight into the mind of the Minnesota voter. But it’s a certainty that they are not ceding those lost districts to permanent DFL control. It’s a matter of picking the right weapons, and candidates, the next time around.

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 11/07/2012 - 11:13 am.

    Recipe to lose both houses of legislature:

    1- Claim to focus like a laser on jobs
    2- Put divisive (and non-job related) constitutional amendments on the ballot
    3- Include a sex scandal, and remind people of it a month before election time
    4- Shut down government to avoid any sign of weakness by compromising
    5- Run party coffers into the red, while preaching fiscal restraint
    6- Fire your party chair and snipe via the press

    Not sure what else they could have tossed in. They covered all the bases.

  2. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 11/07/2012 - 11:25 am.

    Oh, and I have to point out the irony of Mr. Klugherz wearing a Dropkick Murphy’s shirt. Here’s the lyrics to their song “The Worker’s Song”:

    “Yeh, this one’s for the workers who toil night and day
    By hand and by brain to earn your pay
    Who for centuries long past for no more than your bread
    Have bled for your countries and counted your dead

    In the factories and mills, in the shipyards and mines
    We’ve often been told to keep up with the times
    For our skills are not needed, they’ve streamlined the job
    And with sliderule and stopwatch our pride they have robbed

    We’re the first ones to starve, we’re the first ones to die
    The first ones in line for that pie-in-the-sky
    And we’re always the last when the cream is shared out
    For the worker is working when the fat cat’s about

    And when the sky darkens and the prospect is war
    Who’s given a gun and then pushed to the fore
    And expected to die for the land of our birth
    Though we’ve never owned one lousy handful of earth?

    [Chorus x3]

    All of these things the worker has done
    From tilling the fields to carrying the gun
    We’ve been yoked to the plough since time first began
    And always expected to carry the can”

    Ah, irony…

  3. Submitted by mark wallek on 11/07/2012 - 11:28 am.

    Nothing went wrong

    The difference will be the difference between a clogged and free flowing drain, as far as the nations future goes. In this case, clogged is the lesser of two evils.

  4. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 11/07/2012 - 12:14 pm.

    Here is a list

    Government shutdown
    Higher property taxes as a result of LGA cuts
    Stupid amendment 1
    Stupid amendment 2
    It is not enough to be a woman; it is about women’s rights, especially health and reproduction.
    The problem the GOP faces nationally and here in MN is that a significant percentage of the GOP believes that all of the above were good things.

    Listening to Kerri Miller this morning a GOP caller, clearly a Christian Conservative, had a ton of vitriol for Obama, Dayton, etal. She could barely say their names. She was against insurance coverage for contraception. I bet Vin Weber was shedding tears during her call.

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/07/2012 - 01:03 pm.

    The distracting social issues are used by Republicans to cloak the grinning skeleton of their economic policies.

    That tactic is a little tattered these days.

  6. Submitted by Elsa Mack on 11/07/2012 - 01:38 pm.

    What about horrendously bad management? As Dmitri points out above, the Republican party in Minnesota has shown itself to be thoroughly incompetent at managing money and personal issues, while pretending to have some kind of authority on both. The only bills they managed to send to the governor were ones they knew he would not sign. Then they tried to force their agenda via badly written and unnecessary constitutional amendments.

    They cost the state money, wasted everybody’s time, made asses of themselves, and accomplished nothing. It’s no shock to anyone with sense that they’ve been thrown out.

  7. Submitted by Sam Welter on 11/07/2012 - 02:36 pm.

    Soft Serve

    I think the article touches upon some problem areas for Minnesota’s Republican Party, but doesn’t really say a whole lot. On the other hand, I think commenters Dimitri Drekonja, Bill Coleman, and Elsa Mack really bring the issues into focus: MN’s GOP went off the rails in 2010, ignoring what they were sent to do in order to push an extremely ideological agenda.

    It bears pointing out that the author of the piece, Ms Brucato, is a longtime ally of Republican causes. She may have a blind spot for, or even a stake in keeping hidden, just how truly awful our state’s last legislative session was.

  8. Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 11/07/2012 - 03:19 pm.

    A Closer Look

    The last two years afforded the electorate a closer look at what happens when second-rate talent and unethical characters join with the arrogant and ambitious to assume power as a majority.

    I hope the DFL can focus on serving the entire state and the GOP can draw lessons about the limits of extremism, but I’ve been wrong about this before.

  9. Submitted by Michele Olson on 11/07/2012 - 09:58 pm.

    Here’s where you stop going wrong:

    Stop believing in exclusivity. Stop voting people off the island: he’s not a real Republican, she’s not a real American, they’re not really a couple.

    Embrace what is different and frightening for you..

    The mean girl act might work on the playground and on Facebook, but it doesn’t work in the election booth.

    Get back to fiscal responsibility, not telling people how to live their lives.

    The Minnesota Republicans badly handled the last few years. Oh, and also? You should be deeply ashamed of yourselves.

  10. Submitted by John Branstad on 11/07/2012 - 10:26 pm.

    The company you keep

    When thinking about the moderate members of the MNGOP (an obviously endangered species), the phrase “you are known by the company you keep” comes to mind. The ridiculously poor excuse for leadership shown by the MNGOP (both in the legislature and the party as a whole) over the last two years was a millstone around the neck of Ms. Jacobson and Mr. John Howe of Red Wing. While they may indeed be moderates themselves, the extremist agenda pushed by the MNGOP left voters with a large case of buyer’s remorse. It’s unfortunate when moderates get caught up in a wave against their party, but one can also argue those candidates should’ve done more to moderate their party as a whole.

  11. Submitted by William Pappas on 11/08/2012 - 03:07 am.

    poor republican governance

    Both Neal and Charlie are right on. Republicans are stupid not to understand this: In addition to the impact of the amendments to energize progressives, the Republican Party has backed itself into a corner with precious few constituencies left to represent. No longer, even in Minnesota, can they count on rich and middle class white men to carry their majorities. Another clear example of republican futility was how the Vikings stadium politics played out. While Dayton worked tirelessly to quickly vet all stadium financing options until he found one that did not require a referendum the democrats had an honest party debate on the entire issue. Meanwhile, Dean and particularly Zeller, hid in the corner with pained looks, rendered impotent by their fealty to Grover Norquist and fearful their actions may lead to the loss of the Vikings and consequent blame. The contrast in their pitiful governance and the Governor’s willingness to roll up his sleeves and actually govern the state was stunning. Personally, I don’t believe in taxpayer dollars for pro sports palaces and billionaire owners but I give credit to Dayton and other democrats for their willingness to risk political correctness to find a solution for the Vikings. And yes, no longer can Republicans count on the bigotry of their social issues to provide a significant edge in voter turnout. In fact, those issues have now become a liability. Good for Minnesota!!

  12. Submitted by William Pappas on 11/08/2012 - 03:14 am.

    Why so glum

    The couple in the picture must have really good insurance from their workplace. They also must have healthy growing retirement accounts that will enable them to retire early and pay for high priced insurance that will replace the competitve and affordable type they could buy under Obamacare. They probably don’t need social security since republicans most assuredly will shrink that to the point of ineffectiveness and don’t mind paying a lot more for medicare and receiving a lot less.
    Do you suppose this couple actually thinks that giving the rich and powerful more tax cuts and deregulating the way banks can pilfer their money will elevate them financially. They must be rich is all I can figure.

  13. Submitted by David Mensing on 11/10/2012 - 05:16 pm.


    It seems to me that voters realized that overreacted by installing Republicans in charge of both houses of the legislature. I don’t know if the current situation was an overcorrection or if this is “normal”. Minnesota had had a Democratic majority in the state Senate for years and has voted Democrat for president every election since ’72.

    It does point out how important the gubernatorial election was in 2010. We would have had a Photo ID law, the Castle Doctrine law, and a decidedly different remapping of the districts with an Emmer administration. It seems to me that the state is better off without those changes.

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