Here was Steve Simon’s problem: Throughout the campaign for secretary of state, the DFL candidate hasn’t found it too difficult to show there is a distinct difference between himself and his main rival, Republican Dan Severson.
Simon has presented himself as the rational man in the race, someone who believes in the integrity of Minnesota’s voting system. At the same time, he’s tried to argue that Severson is a wild partisan who sees fraud behind every ballot box. Simon says he wants more voter participation, while Severson wants less.
The problem for Simon is that late in this campaign Severson has dropped the flaming rhetoric, at least in front of most audiences. In Tuesday night’s debate at Augsburg College, for example, the new, mellow Severson went so far as to say, “We trust, for the large part, that our system works and reflects the voice of the people.”
With Severson so restrained, Simon seemed to believe then that he had two roles to fill. He had to be rational and knowledgeable. He did that by frequently mentioning that as a state Representative he’s sought bi-partisan support in pushing election law bills such as the no-excuses absentee voting, which is new to Minnesota this year.
But he also seemed to feel that he had to be the aggressor in the debate, pointing out that Severson — despite the new veneer of calm — is a candidate of “incendiary politics.” If Severson wasn’t going to say hot stuff during their forum, Simon felt obliged to remind people of comments Severson has made in the past. Simon mentioned that Severson once said that Minnesota’s “vote for Obama was immoral,” and that he had recently charged that the president has tried to suppress military voting.
Additionally, Simon called Severson’s big idea — express lanes for people with photo identification — a form of “separate but equal” voting.
Severson jumped on the line, calling it “race-baiting’’ and saying that “Minnesotans are tired’’ of that sort of politics.
Simon’s aggressiveness seemed to reveal some concern that the race is tight. There may be valid reasons for that concern. The secretary of state race is the only one not involving an incumbent, and Severson is known around the state because of his prior unsuccessful run for the position. (In 2010, he lost to DFL incumbent Mark Ritchie by just three points.) Severson comes to the race with a conservative base — but he also believes he’s made some in-roads into traditional DFL strongholds, such as the Somali community near the Augsburg campus. In the final days of the campaign, Severson is using social media to “micro target’’ independent voters, using messages that emphasize his military service.
You’re invited to a festive party and silent auction on Thursday, Nov. 6, at Solera Restaurant in downtown Minneapolis.
One old political pro, former Congressman Martin Olav Sabo, was in attendance at the Tuesday night debate. (The debate was presented by the League of Women Voters and the Sabo Center for Citizenship and Learning at Augsburg.) Sabo’s not sure that Simon needs to be terribly concerned, essentially because he probably won’t have a great deal of control of what happens in the race. Sabo believes down-ticket races are largely determined by what happens in the gubernatorial and Senatorial races. If those races are one-sided, coattails will carry along those of the same party. (Recent polls show the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races in Minnesota are getting closer.)
It should be noted that the Independence Party’s Bob Helland and Libertarian Bob Odden also were involved in the Tuesday night debate, which was attended by about 200 people. Those two actually added a bit of humor — and a few gasps — to the affair.
Helland, 29, spent most of the night deflecting questions about voter participation and talking about the business aspects of the secretary of state’s job. He drew some yuks in his debate summary when he drew on the John Lennon in talking about his chances of winning.
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,’’ Helland said. Given that many in the crowd were collegians when Lennon and the Beatles were at their prime, the line was appreciated.
On the other hand, Odden sometimes had the people in the audience chuckling, and other times raising their eyebrows. He compared Republicans and Democrats to “Coke and Pepsi.” Libertarians? “Sometimes you need some excitement. Try Root Beer or Mountain Dew.”
When he was asked a question about Minnesota’s “Safe At Home’’ program, which is a way for those who want to vote but need their addresses kept secret — usually women who have been victims of domestic abuse — Odden seemed to approve of the program but also wondered out loud: “Are these women getting counseling on making better choices?’’