While Republican legislative leaders choose their words carefully and defensively to explain how they lost their majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate, some of their candidates are not so hesitant.
“The constitutional amendments may have been an overall factor,” said Terry Jacobson, a first-time candidate for House seat 49B in Bloomington and Edina.
“It was a big effect,” said state representative Larry Howes, who lost his eighth bid for a seat representing Bemidji and Walker. “They were so easy to campaign against; we spent all our time explaining why it wasn’t bad. We were on defense the whole time.”
“You look at the state government shutdown. You look at the two amendments. Were any of these three things part of this?” speculate Ted Daley, who lost his bid for a second term from Senate District 51 in Eagan.
Leadership treads carefully on the role of the amendments. GOP Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers defended the marriage amendment at a news conference the day after the election. “We put it on the ballot because a majority of legislators believed it was the right thing to do,” he said
“I think it’s kind of mixed,” said David Hann of Eden Prairie, who led the Senate Republican election team and will be the caucus minority leader. “There are some in greater Minnesota who feel the amendments were helpful. There are some who say they were not helpful.”
Count Howes in the latter group. Although he voted for the marriage amendment, he believes his caucus erred in putting it on the ballot. “The fact that they had two amendments and they wanted to do four,” he said. “Some of us that were more moderate wanted to stop.”
Howes, like Jacobson and Daley, was hit with tens of thousands of dollars in negative mail, radio and on-line advertising. The Alliance for a Better Minnesota alone spent more than $28,000 against Jacobson, more than $33,000 against Howe, and more than $32,000 against Daley. Republicans, who lobbed their own rounds of negative ads, were outspent almost two to one.
Yet Howes, Jacobson and Daley, with varying degrees, say they had a positive campaign experience.
Newcomer Jacobson was especially enthusiastic. “I had a wonderful campaign team,” she said. “Going out door knocking, I absolutely loved it. I think people were really excited about me as a candidate.”
“I knocked on thousands more doors this time,” said Daley. “The website was stronger. Facebook and Twitter presence was stronger. I had far more physical, person-to person connections. They were good conversations.”
‘Get off my property’
Except when there wasn’t a conversation at all. “There were a few people who slammed the door in my face before I could get the words out my mouth,” Daley said. He said that when asked about his party affiliation and he answered Republican, occasionally the response was: “Get off my property.”
Howes, too, describes bittersweet moments. “I still met a whole lot of new people,” he said.
Howes identified a number of factors for his loss. “It wasn’t the fact that I wasn’t known. It was just the Obama factor.”
Also, for Howes, it was the relative weakness of the rest of the ticket in District 5A. “Obama, Klobuchar, Peterson, Nolan,” he ticked off. “Why would you split the ticket? And Romney got hammered up here.”
Daley wonders why Republican polling didn’t factor more accurately the DFL get-out-the-vote effort.
“The polling I received, unofficial polling, sounded like things were getting better,” he said. But “I started doubting our polling; I questioned our folks. The results are two things — the down ticket effect and turnout. I lost on both accounts.”
Directly and implied, the three candidates shared concern that the Republican Party was taking a bruising for its image. “What I heard was, the Republican war on women. We need to do something to address that,” Daley said. On Republican attempts in the last legislative session to pass restrictions on matters like contraception, Daley said: “You can’t do that kind of stuff.”
But that kind of stuff provided fodder for the negative ads that weakened otherwise strong suburban candidates like Daley and Jacobson.
Hann sounded frustrated. “There is no mean-spiritedness on the part of the Republican Party agenda,” he said. “The tactic has been to portray that. That’s the thing we have to be better at overcoming.”
Noting Republican losses in the suburbs, Hann acknowledged they would be battle grounds for the foreseeable future. “The contested districts will still be the same contested districts the next election,” he said. “We’ll be back.”
And so will some of the candidates who lost this round. Daley, an Iraq and Gulf War veteran with a West Point degree, is looking for a leadership job in public-private policy development. Will he run again? “The quick answer is yes,” he said.
Jacobson said “absolutely” she would run again. “I am very concerned about the fiscal issues we will face in our state and nation,” she said. “This is more of concern for me that personally losing the election.”
Howes said he will not run again. But he leaves legislative life with advice for both parties: “When Republicans took control of both bodies, they didn’t know why. And if you don’t know why, you venture on a course that isn’t a true course. Hopefully, the Democrats know why they won.”