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Where does the DFL go from here?

MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
A DFL party attendee reacting to the unfolding events on election night.

As poll closed across Minnesota on Election Night, excited Democrats filed into the Hilton Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, ready to start a party more than a year in the making.

The event was the culmination of a bizarre election cycle, but the DFLers in attendance felt good: Nearly every poll showed Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, would beat Republican nominee and former reality television star Donald Trump. Assuming that was true, Democratic candidates down the ballot would ride her coattails, keeping the state Senate blue and possibly even flip the Minnesota House, giving the party complete control of government for the next two years.

Clinton wasn’t the only reason activists were feeling confident, though. Minnesota Democrats are known for their sophisticated campaign operation, and they had out-raised and outspent Republicans once again, mostly through a vast network of labor unions and wealthy individual donors. They also touted their superior ground game, especially their efforts to turn out voters early this year. And they had the best data. They were the first state party in the country to create a statewide voter file, in the early 2000s, and they’d been refining it ever since. 

But as results starting rolling in, with Trump winning state after state, the mood shifted. Prominent speakers like DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar took the podium to energize the crowd. But the news just kept getting worse. As the hours passed, the large crowd thinned until just a few groups were left, huddled in small circles on the floor. By the end of the night, Republicans had expanded their majority in the Minnesota House and were on track to take over the Senate, and Trump was on his way to becoming the next president of the United States.

Now, Minnesota Democrats find themselves ideologically and geographically isolated. They lost control of the Senate after the GOP flipped seven seats in Greater Minnesota, while House Republicans defeated two longtime DFL representatives in Grand Rapids and Bemidji. What’s left is a DFL Party confined to Minneapolis, St. Paul and the inner-ring suburbs, with a few reliably blue seats scattered about the Iron Range and in regional population centers. 

Along the way, a lot of conventional campaign wisdom was left shattered: that money, paid media, superior data and ground operation — or even disciplined messaging — are required to win an election. And now, Minnesota Democrats — from the highest-ranking officials to they party’s newest activists — are looking inward, questioning the way the party runs its campaigns and the message it sends voters. And they are digging through piles of data to figure what went wrong — and where the party goes from here. 

Economics vs. social issues? 

DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin has spent the last week pondering these questions, but there are a few pieces missing from his analysis, particularly final voter data from the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office. Once that’s in hand, Martin said, he’ll have a better understanding of whether the programs they put in place worked.

But a few things are clear: Trump got the same vote percentage in Minnesota as 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, but Clinton lost 19 counties that President Barack Obama won that year. That means a lot of people who voted for Democrats in 2012 either didn’t show up or didn’t vote for the party this time around, and part of the reason was a message that didn’t focus on the economy, Martin said.

The economy was the defining issue of the 2016 election. There was job growth and the unemployment rate fell in the last year, but household incomes for many people are still depressed. “Clearly there were a lot of white, non-college-educated, working-class voters who were frustrated and anxious about their future and they wanted change,” Martin said. “We have to figure out how to speak to white, working-class voters in a better way.”

DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin speaking to Election Night party attendees.
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin speaking to Election Night party attendees.

It didn’t help that a month before election day, rising premiums for people on the individual marketplace of the state’s health insurance exchange, MNsure, helped drive that message home. Voters were quietly simmering, and Trump and Republicans down the ballot benefited, particularly in the exurban and rural parts of Minnesota.

“We’ve all seen the aggregate data that says the economy is good, but people don’t feel it themselves,” said Darin Broton, longtime DFL strategist with Tunheim Partners. “Democrats needed to put that into context, that we’ve made progress and there’s more work to be done. Average folks are still struggling and they are struggling to understand, ‘Where are we going?’”  

Meanwhile, over the last four decades Democrats have shifted their focus and message to more environmental, social and civil rights issues, Broton said. “We continue to talk about social issues, and every time we talk about social issues we keep getting our hand slapped, and last week we got our hand slapped pretty hard,” he added. “People think, ‘Why are we focusing on those issues? Those aren’t the things that affect my family right now.’” 

One bright spot for Democrats in the 2016 election: U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan survived a competitive and expensive challenge from Republican Stewart Mills and a Republican wave. Trump beat Clinton in the district, the first time a Republican presidential candidate has won the Iron Range since before the Great Depression. Democrats say Nolan won, at least in part, because he had a convincing message about the economy. He supported mining in his district, he urged the federal government to crack down on illegal dumping of subsidized foreign steel and he pushed for some of the highest tariffs and taxes ever imposed on steel from China and other nations.

Attendees of the DFL Election Night gathered at the Hilton Hotel
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
Attendees of the DFL Election Night gathered at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Minneapolis watching the election results.

The 2017 legislative session, which convenes in January, will provide an opportunity for Minnesota Democrats to re-define where they stand on economic issues, especially in a year where lawmakers must craft a budget.

“Minnesota is a prairie populist state from way back,” said Ryan Winkler, a former DFL representative who knocked on doors for Democrats this summer and fall. “People expect to have a shot at working for a living and having a decent life. The economy is denying them that, and the politicians, primarily at the national level, have proven to do nothing about it. Economic populism is the only path for the Democrats back the majority.”

A fresh look at candidate recruitment

In hindsight, the 2016 election was also about rewarding outsider candidates like Trump. At the top of the Democratic ticket, Clinton represented the establishment, and all the way down the ballot in Minnesota, there were Democratic candidates who could easily be cast in that mold too.

In about a half dozen races in the state House, for example, Democrats recruited former DFL representatives to run in rematches against Republican incumbents. In the end, none of them will make their way back to the Capitol.  “In a year when voters want change, it’s not good to run candidates who have been there before and candidates who, like it or not, represent the past,” Martin said.

Bernie Hesse
Bernie Hesse

The conventional wisdom in politics is the best candidates are often not those who are most politically motivated — they may be reluctant to run at first. For Democrats, that will likely mean pushing to recruit more candidates who say no the first time around. “It’s the end of the era of recycling candidates,” said Bernie Hesse, director of special projects with the UFCW Local 1189 union. “We need to start digging deeper than we have in the past for candidate recruitment.”

They may have just gotten some help in that department, though. Jake Sanders, a DFL director in Minnesota’s rural 7th Congressional District, in western Minnesota, said the party unit struggles to keep some Republicans from going unopposed in legislative races. But after Trump was elected, there’s been a surge of people contacting the party and asking how they can get involved.

“People are coming out of nowhere,” he said. “People who aren’t political are coming out and saying, ‘How can we help?’”

Not enough listening

As the dust began to settle on the 2016 election, Paul Marquart found himself part of an endangered political group: moderate Democrats who represent red territory. The nine-term state representative from Dilworth, a small town near Fargo with a population of 4,104, was the only Democrat who held onto a rural Minnesota House seat that went for both Romney and Trump. And his district went big for Trump — by 22 points — while re-electing him by about 7 points.

Marquart has a history of voting with both Republicans and Democrats, which he makes sure to tell voters, but the biggest secret to his success in rural Minnesota isn’t all that secret: Marquart knocks on every single door in his district — every single year. No matter what.

“There is so much of this targeting that takes place,” he said. “I just go up and down every street, I knock every door and I listen,” he said. “[Former DFL Senate Majority Leader] Roger Moe really put it well when he said, ‘Doing that you build up a reservoir of goodwill and you will be able to survive.’”

Rep. Paul Marquart
State Rep. Paul Marquart

Marquart’s strategy worked. In other rural districts, however, activists say the party relied too much on data and voter lists — and not enough listening to real live voters. “One of the things we do wrong, the [DFL] thinks of people as voters to win … we think of it as a game,” Sanders said. “But we should be thinking of them as people and listening to them. It goes back to that bubble, we didn’t listen. We didn’t listen to the people and they didn’t turnout.”

With many rural seats lost across the country, some fear the Democratic party will become some kind of Tea Party version of the left, with politicians in the urban core doubling down on messages that worked in the metro area. Clinton barely eked out a victory in Minnesota on election day, proving that Democrats can still win statewide races by racking up votes in Duluth and the Twin Cities metro area. But the DFL path back to the majorities in the Legislature must include seats in rural Minnesota. 

“As parties become essentially more radicalized, there are fewer rural members in the DFL caucus and it becomes harder for them to have their voices heard,” said Aaron Brown, a longtime DFL activist and writer from the Iron Range. “It becomes kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, that the DFL will focus on urban and suburban issues and Republicans will work on at least placating what rural members want.” 

For Martin’s part, he’s still considering his next step. He’s been chairman of the DFL Party for the last six years and three election cycles. He will decide after Thanksgiving if he wants to run for another cycle at the helm of the party.

Whatever he decides, he knows things need to change in the party. “I do believe that people are more fired up than they ever were before,” Martin said. “The key for us is to make sure that party is big enough to bring all those people and ideas in and focusing it on that single task of moving it forward. That’s a big job. How do we get people to stop hand wringing and move them into a state of action.”

Comments (51)

  1. Submitted by M Cathcart on 11/16/2016 - 11:38 am.

    DFL engagement with real people

    I live in a strongly DFL district; participated in the caucuses and I voted in the 2016 election. However, my household saw no doorknocking, received no mailings nor phone calls, experienced absolutely no get out the vote effort by any candidates. In the past, there have been all of the above including multiple calls specifically to make certain that the household had voted. If I had been unable to get to the polls and had not requested an early voting ballot, my gote would have been lost. Parties that make assumptions about voters and which take votes for granted are positioning themselves to lose seats. DFL, revise your strategy. The lists might be great (although having done phoning in previous elections, I am pretty sure they are not perfect) but nothing beats human contact and conveying the idea that each voter is important.

  2. Submitted by Bob Petersen on 11/16/2016 - 11:49 am.

    We are hearing…

    many stories of how many people voted differently this time around. This article sums it all up, not listening. The Dems all over relied too much on data and their base. For POTUS, Trump went against the normal play book and look what happened. Yes, he spoke a lot of unlikable things. But here’s the rub. The Democrats biggest play was to tie as much around Trump as possible. It didn’t matter what he was saying and tie all the Republicans with him. What the Dems didn’t think of is that people were actually listening as the Republicans were listening to the people and not of the headline slamming from the now proven left aiding mass media.
    The electorate is tired of being treated second class. Wages of the rich have gone way up since Obama has been in office, the ACA is a nightmare as the Republicans predicted and is beginning to erode the middle class, the focus on environment over everything is tiring, people constantly descried in segregated make up of education and type of work they are in, the consistent give always to non citizens, the constant spending of money that our children can never possibly make up, the constant being told what to think and say in an ever growing PC society, the lack of focus of security of our citizens is not what the electorate wants, and how government needs more and more yet the working people are not seeing more money. The Dems have been no egotistical in slamming it down everyone’s throats and not listening.
    The Republicans can also be faulted for doing a lot of not listening as well. But there comes a time when people get fed up. And the good people can’t afford to spend time protesting, needlessly stopping freeway traffic, and rioting with destruction of property as some protesters are doing. They just want to earn a living, keep as much of what they earn, expect the government will protect them, and be left alone.

    • Submitted by Helen Hunter on 11/21/2016 - 07:43 am.

      Where to start

      I will reply to two elements of your screed.
      I am extremely tired of hearing complaints about PC, political correctness! It simply means respecting everyone. No more n****r jokes, anti-Jewish jokes, woman jokes, Arab jokes. It means racial slurs and talk about grabbing women’s private parts are no longer acceptable as “just an opinion”, or “just locker room talk”, or if you don’t laugh, you have no sense of humor.
      It means you have to take seriously that everyone is a human being worthy of being treated with dignity and respect. It means you don’t stand around TVs during the Gulf War and jeer at “towel heads”, something I witnessed and rebuked.
      People who complain about having political correctness “slammed down their throats” are the same people who “feel wronged” by being seen by “elites” as ignorant, racist, homophobic, sexist and anti-immigrant.
      It’s almost overwhelmingly tempting to tell you to grow up, since the the Golden Rule hasn’t taught you anything.
      The second thing is your statement “the good people can’t afford to spend time protesting, needlessly stopping freeway traffic and rioting with destruction of property as some protesters are doing.”
      You’re describing as “good” people who, by your further description, just want to be “left alone”. That’s a passive kind of good, and you’re assuming the right to judge that tieing up freeway traffic is “needless”. The protesters you’re referring to were protesting the truly needless killing of black people by cops, and later demonstrating the real fear more than half of us feel at what will happen to us and others under a trump administration. Protesting and demonstrating are traditional political practices. Women, labor organizations, civil rights groups, and others have used them in the past to draw attention to life and death issues. Things much more important than the inconvenience of having traffic tied up or shopping at the Mall hindered.

  3. Submitted by Michele Olson on 11/16/2016 - 12:35 pm.

    Social vs. economic issues

    Didn’t I read about one of our towns losing its boat-building business to a better economic offer in Wisconsin? It’s going to decimate the town. The Democratic party might want to start there. Our governor offered a – for want of a better term – boatload of financial breaks to a millionaire out-of-state family to keep the sports stadium; is anybody doing the same for these folks?

    Social vs. economic issues? As an international mission groups says when people ask why they do more feeding than teaching, “You can’t preach to a hungry child.”

    And if our Minnesota families face hunger, that’s about as social as you can get.

    • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 11/17/2016 - 08:59 am.

      Larson (the boat builders in question here) were saved from bankruptcy in 2010 by federal and state initiatives. The Dayton Administration has done many such deals to bring in businesses or help them expand, from Baxter in Brooklyn Park to Shutterfly and Amazon in Shakopee, Cardiovascular Systems in New Brighton, Andersen Windows in Bayport, and Axis Chemicals in Dilworth among others.

      Most of these programs are either tax credits or exemptions (which in effect raise the taxes on everyone else) or direct payments (which some would argue is picking winners and losers and corporate welfare), so the use of these sorts of mechanisms should be carefully considered.

      • Submitted by Jim Million on 11/17/2016 - 10:49 am.


        The Dayton Administration is very pro-business with regard to Minnesota. The mechanisms you note seem pretty well considered by these people. I don’t think we need enter any discussion regarding economic engine effects. Facilitating/Saving corporate employee jobs is a worthy objective, regardless of political opinions.

  4. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/16/2016 - 12:52 pm.

    Union Voters

    Since 1992, labor organization has urged their members to support Democratic presidential candidates who supported free trade. After those elections, those same labor organizations asked their members to contact Congress and the White House to oppose the same trade deals.

    In fact, every major party presidential candidate between 1992 and 2012 was a free trader. That changed this year, when Trump clearly declared opposition to TPP. HRC came out against it too, but after 20 some years of favoring free trade agreements, her new found opposition rang hollow. What echoed was her previous endorsement of TPP as “the gold standard.”

    So it would appear that union members took their leaders’ message to heart: stop supporting job killing free trade agreements.

    The Democratic National Committee need to shed those Gucci loafers, so comfortable when sipping martinis with mega bank CEOs, and find the Red Wing work boots that are back in the closet. They look and feel great at a county fair.

    And he won’t say it yet but I will: Mills will take one more swing at Nolan’s seat.

  5. Submitted by Jim Lit on 11/16/2016 - 01:22 pm.

    Back to basics

    Apparently the Clinton Democrats forgot about their full name and & a group of voters whom who they are supposed to represent, farmers & labor. Clinton ran an elitist campaign which left out those voters who were the meat & potatoes of the party in the past. She & her campaign staff essentially forgot about middle America & that is one of the reasons she lost among many others.

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/16/2016 - 01:40 pm.

    In fact, every major party presidential candidate between 1992 and 2012 was a free trader.

    Yes, that is a problem. Whenever I hear how politicians put their own interests and the interests of their party ahead of those of the voters, I think of Democratic support for free trade as the prime counter argument. Whether or not free trade is good, is politically irrelevant for Democrats. Our political interests, by and large, dictate that we oppose it or at least highly skeptical of it. Free trade is a Republican issue, and they should be the ones who advocate it and they should be the ones who reap it’s risks and rewards. As it stands, Republicans get the political benefits consisting of an improving overall economy for a policy they should advocate, and we get stuck with political costs.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 11/16/2016 - 02:59 pm.

      In all honesty,

      various statutory barriers are dysfunctional with respect to home country interests, that is, the interests of private citizens. Of course, one then is forced into circular arguments over what is/is not truly in “the interests of private citizens.”

  7. Submitted by Gary Farland on 11/16/2016 - 02:39 pm.

    The Election

    Along with the soul searching, the Democratic Party has to address the election process itself. The Republicans have concentrated on state races knowing that if they win they can practice all kinds of voter suppression and perhaps crooked counting of votes. And the DNC should be raising hell about what Comey did. Having said that, the Democratic Party needs to be realistic about what voters want and that is a heroic figure who is personally appealing and who addresses the wants and fears of all Americans. Hillary Clinton, while an admirable person, did not fill that bill (especially as a speaker) and dragged down all Democrats. Depending on the female vote and a somewhat rehashed Sanders rhetoric as well as demonizing Trump is not a winning ticket. And by the way, a lot of Americans would find it odd to have Bill back in the White House. I support Senator Chris von Hollen of Maryland as the next candidate, if he would want to do it.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 11/16/2016 - 08:47 pm.

      Not in all Honesty

      “…if they win they can practice all kinds of voter suppression and perhaps crooked counting of votes.”
      OK, that’s the expression of futility here regarding all mentioned. It’s not quite accurate, but perhaps somewhat.

      I perk up when I hear von Hollen speak, simply because he seems a fairly straight shooter with the tone for achievement of objectives. If the DNC has any reserve of wisdom, it will leave the FBI alone. Please remember Comey will have a new Attorney General at Justice. Nobody knows now if Comey will want to stay for his remaining three years. Something about leaving sleeping dogs….

  8. Submitted by Pat Terry on 11/16/2016 - 03:08 pm.

    Endorsement Process

    If the DFL wants to win the governor’s race in 2018, it needs to dump its endorsement process and let the primary decide the nominee. We only have our first DFL governor in decades because Dayton ignored the endorsement. We can’t let out-of-touch party insiders pick another loser.

  9. Submitted by Bryan Strawser on 11/16/2016 - 03:56 pm.

    It would be wise for the DFL to turn away from their anti-gun platform and embrace the Second Amendment. This played a big part in several races this year – and not in the DFL’s favor.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 11/16/2016 - 09:10 pm.

      Interesting thinking…

      It was HRC who pretty much created this issue 25 years ago. Most people likely do not recall, or have ever heard, her rhetoric from 1991-92. It was very very harsh then, more so than this year, as I recall. It was real.

      The irony in that is told by my brief conversation then with someone who worked at a popular Metro gun shop. He said pistol sales had actually been fairly constant and flat, until she got on the stump. Some prices had even receded a bit. Her campaign rhetoric was the best boost for gun sales in many years, apparently.
      His range even sold targets that simply were her photo. How reactive (and crazy) was that?

      I’m pretty sure very many people clearly knew her intent then, and clearly remembered it all the way to 2016.

    • Submitted by John N. Finn on 11/17/2016 - 10:02 am.


      Don’t Democrat candidates usually claim to support hunting firearms, home self defense pistols and only common sense controls?

      I’ve been wondering how the Dems, locally or nationally, could convince those single issue voters that their second amendment rights, however they are conceived to be, wouldn’t be in jeopardy. How to prove that it’s really a sincere about face so that the NRA’s candidate report cards would show A-plus for most Democrats?

      And are there enough gun “enthusiasts” to make that effort worthwhile?

      • Submitted by Jim Million on 11/17/2016 - 11:02 am.

        Need more details here for me.

        Do Democrat candidates usually make these claims? I guess the required modifier is “most” vs. “some.”

  10. Submitted by joe smith on 11/16/2016 - 04:34 pm.

    Regular folk don’t want a bathroom law,

    they want a job. Regular folks don’t want a poll tested talking point, they want a job. Regular folks don’t want elites telling them they have it good, so don’t complain, they want a job. They don’t want to hear why criminal illegal immigrants should not be deported, they want a job. Regular folks don’t want comforting words, they want a job. It is not that complicated…

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/16/2016 - 09:30 pm.

      Where Your Analysis

      Falls down is that the politicians who won last week were a part of the same crowd that was pushing bathroom bills. In fact, GOP politicians are the kings of using social issues to get people to vote agianst their economic interests.

      So why did so many GOP politicians push bathroom bills, if people are more interested in a job?

  11. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/17/2016 - 09:08 am.

    Tip O’Neill

    …said it best, years ago: “All politics is local.”

    One of the few surviving DFL’ers is as good an example as any. I don’t know Rick Nolan, and don’t live in the 8th District. I’m not a fan of mining or logging as long-term supports for an economy – in the 8th or any other district – in part because I have serious concerns about the environmental costs. I’m pretty sure I’d disagree with Nolan about several issues. That said, it seems pretty clear, after an election cycle in which the DFL had its head handed to it on a platter, that Rick Nolan pays attention to Tip O’Neill’s maxim.

    The Mills campaign was obviously well-funded, and his TV advertising seemed (to this outsider) tailored especially to male voters. The ads I saw in Minneapolis featuring Mrs. Mills talking about her husband’s love of the outdoors were a case in point. In an election showcasing the misogyny of the GOP’s national candidate, however, sexism, even blatant sexism, turned out to be irrelevant as far as vote counts were concerned.

    In contrast, Nolan’s TV ads (surely paid for by out-of-state interests) showed a focus (whether real of not) on the local economy, and he was careful to drive a pickup truck and dress in jeans and an open-collar shirt. That is, Nolan was careful to project an “ordinary guy” image as opposed to the business suit “Washington elite” image – in an area that is predominantly rural and not especially wealthy – when image is crucially important to many voters. Nolan’s ads stayed away from hot-button social issues – in that context, I’m inclined to agree to some extent with Joe Smith’s fixation on jobs – and focused on Chinese steel-dumping and other issues that would resonate with local voters.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/17/2016 - 09:17 am.

    Where to do go from here?

    They need to go liberal, pure and simple. Liberal means policies that deliver to farmers and labor, and delivering no matter what.

    Three things have been killing democrats at the polls for decades. First, when they are in power they dial back on necessary initiatives and leave important work left undone sitting on the table. Guys like Bakk warn them they’ll over-reach and lose elections, then they lose anyways and we’re stuck with republicans who won’t do anything and the same problems we’ve been facing for decades. SWLRT funding, gas tax hikes and transit funding etc. If they don’t leave on the table they scale it back. We need more a trillion dollars worth of infrastructure spending to bring roads and bridges up to grade but democrats left on the table and scaled it back when they ran course, and then “agreed” with republicans that half that ($600 million) was what we needed, and the budget blew up anyways and we didn’t even get that.

    Where to go? When your in power get stuff done. No party wins elections forever, you will lose some day. So when your in power get stuff done, don’t leave it on the table. You get stuff done, you solve problems, you have success to run on. If democrats had pumped the money they needed to into roads and bridges for instance when they had the chance, they would have been immune to republican charges that they were leaving farmers behind, we would have had a far more extensive, broad, and deep economic stimulus, and we would have better roads and bridges. If they raised taxes to pay for it they could have done it all without triggering a budget crises. Instead we got another stadium, and we all know how much “stimulus” THAT created and where. It’s not about whether democrats win or lose, its about whether or not constituents win or lose. You can’t leave constituents behind and keep winning elections. If you’re running the table, and you’ve got the votes, get it done, period. Democrats always think they can dial back and then run on NOT getting things done because they chose to be moderate instead… then they lose.

    The second thing that kills democrats is mediocre if not outright dull and crappy candidates. Once again they need to go liberal and populist. Liberal because liberals have the best solutions and populist because people vote for popular people. Sometimes its like democrats don’t understand why people vote for candidates. Again, when democrats have a chance to nominate a popular and passionate liberal candidates they dial it back thinking moderation will prevail… then they lose. Had it been up to the MDFL party elite and many rank and file neither Dayton or Franken would ever have got on the ballot.

    Where to go? It’s kind of ridiculous that someone needs to point this out, but democrats need to nominate popular candidates with agendas and initiative that people are enthusiastic about. Believe it or not people vote for candidates like that.

    The third thing (things?) that democrats need to understand they are not the reservoir political wisdom they imagine themselves to be, and you can’t win with bad candidates, and neither party can win without crossovers, and independent votes.

    During the Sanders/Clinton nomination battle I ran into the same party faithful I’ve been running into my whole adult life. There’s a mentality there of elite arrogance that is immune to all reason. HRC was literally the most unpopular and distrusted democratic candidate in US history with decades of baggage, controversy, dodgy failures, and mediocre accomplishments. Perhaps worse, her credentials as a liberal are incredibly weak. Every time she’s been in a position to propose a major policy she’s reached into a moderate republican bag of tricks. Her health care reform was Nixon’s, as was her war on crime (i.e. a “Law and Order” initiative for the 90s) and her go to foreign policy guy is Kissinger. Yet most party faithful actually believed she was their strongest liberal candidate. This simply defied common sense and there was just no talking to them. Clinton really did get the nomination because party elite and rank and file democrats decided it was her turn, not because she was the strongest candidate. And I hate to say it but that decision really did put Trump in the White House.

    The party arrogance extended beyond the candidate selection. When confronted with Clinton’s weak nature as a candidate democrats responded with the claim that they’d win with their organization and activism, as if you can get people to vote for unpopular candidates by knocking on their doors and telling them to do so. Many partiests seemed to think that their hard work, not the candidate drives people to the poles, that’s not how it works.

    Again, it seems silly to have to point this out but strong and popular candidate generate excitement and enthusiasm. People vote for popular candidates because they want to, not because someone knocked on their door, saw a lawn sign, or found a flyer on their door. Down ballot candidates get votes when enthusiastic voters go the poles. You can’t put your weakest candidates on the ballot and then make up for it with lawn signs and phone calls.

    During the nomination democrats had two choices. Millions of people were telling them they could not or would not EVER vote for Clinton. Meanwhile rank and file democrats were saying they would vote the nominee be it Clinton or Sanders, and millions of other Americans were saying they would vote for Sanders. With Clinton they’d get the rank and file, with Sanders, they’d got the rank and file, and all those other votes as well. Sanders had the highest levels of trust and favorability, and he always polled further ahead of Trump than Clinton. Clinton has a record of blowing huge advantages. Sanders has a record of coming out of nowhere and beating huge disadvantages. When democrats put Clinton instead of Sanders on the ballot they guaranteed lower turnout. It was predictable and it was predicted.

    Where to go from here? Democrats need to realize that the best way they can win elections is by putting their strongest candidates on the ballot, not by choosing weak candidates and trying to turn out the vote with “hard work”. They need to realize that they have no special wisdom or skill in selection “electable” candidates. Time and time again over the decades I’ve heard democrats say that they prefer this or that candidate but they don’t think they’re “electable”, they need to abandon that delusion and start supporting popular candidates, we’ll find out how electable they are on election day. Democrats also need to understand they can no longer win elections with rank and file votes alone. The largest block of voters in the US is now independents who are immune to appeals for party unity or partisan loyalty. They vote for who they want to vote for, so you better give them candidates they want to vote for.

    And finally democrats need to own their failures and faults. Every time they lose big they blame someone else, Nader, Bernie bros, people who didn’t vote, October surprises, whatever. Clinton was your candidate, you put her on the ballot, you own the results. Elections are ALWAYS about getting votes so you can’t blame voters who didn’t vote for your candidate. Why even bother to campaign if you’re just going to blame people who didn’t vote for you? This isn’t about beating democrats down, its about them taking responsibility for bad choices and thereby learning how to make better choices in the future. This business of making choices, blaming someone else for defeat, and continuing on as before is political suicide.

    Where to go? The party needs a little mini revolution. This was stupendous monumental and completely predictable and unnecessary fail. It was critical that we keep the White House AND the Senate “blue” yet democrats made Hillary’s ascension a priority over beating the republicans, they thought Clinton would be “good enough” despite glaring liabilities and weaknesses. This isn’t “hindsight”, we warned you for months before the nomination and election day.

    The leadership that promoted Clinton needs to resign. Super delegates need to removed from the process. All primaries need to be open primaries so the people who actually decide elections get to select democratic nominees. Democrats need to transform into a truly liberal party that creates, promotes, and enacts liberal initiatives whenever it gets the opportunity. Neo-liberal Clinton democrats clearly saw/see themselves as firewalls against liberal initiatives like Medicare for All, living wages, and ambitious infrastructure spending financed by tax revenue. Those guys just put Trump in the White House and that result was a long time in the making. Here in MN they put Pawlenty in the mansion and kept him there. This needs to stop, and stop now.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 11/17/2016 - 11:37 am.

      Excellent Closing Paragraph, Paul

      Your summary seems quite accurate. HRC likely would have beaten any of the original Republican Primary candidates–other than Trump. The simple fact he wiped them cleanly off the slate should have greatly altered Democrat strategy and tactics.

      Talk about machine politics here! The DNC was acting like GM of the 1950s: presumption of market control focused on its usual competition from Ford and Chrysler. That worked well until little Mazda and Datsun and larger Toyota began to change some buyer standards, very slowly but surely through the 1960s. Well, we know all about that resolution now.
      Yes: 2008-09 government rescue, where the intitial focus was on Chrysler…until GM quietly approached the transition planners in December ’08 with a “me too” revelation.

      I see great parallel in DNC presumption and failings here. Will the Democratic Party now be broken up, or “saved” by extreme measures? Where will the truly “Progressive” wing go from here? Will any moderation prevail, or will internal revolution kill that? I personally believe we will watch the answer develop as the new Congress adjusts to everything. I’m seeing a definite Blue/Red coalition forming around the middle, in my mind at least. Look for these and other press pages to be filled with that “transition” of 2017, me thinks.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 11/17/2016 - 12:04 pm.


      Bernie Sanders and his message were unsuccessful in the primary, and the initiatives and non-incumbent candidates he supported got crushed. Sanders was a cult of personality. It was about him, not his message. The fact that Sanders told the same lies Trump did about trade and rust belt jobs is irrelevant.

      • Submitted by Solly Johnson on 11/18/2016 - 05:19 am.

        message, not personality

        Most of the Sanders’ supporters with whom I talked supported him because of his progressive policy positions, not him personally. They (I, too) felt that he had been consistent in his views throughout his political life, unlike many politicians.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 11/21/2016 - 10:47 am.

          There’s it is

          Your comment demonstrates the problem with the whole Sanders movement – you have your anecdotes, while the actual evidence says otherwise. When Sanders’s positions are explained to the public using real math, they aren’t supported. And that was borne out in the election results.

          Of course his supporters are going to say it was issues, but it’s just cult of personality.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/18/2016 - 08:57 am.

        Personality cults?

        This was by far the weirdest election cycle in modern history for so many reasons.

        One thing that made it so bizarre was Clintonite reaction to Sanders’s supporters. I’ve never seen so much psychological baggage on display in an election cycle or a nomination battle. Clinton’s nomination was literally a matter of ignoring several huge and potentially fatal flaws and liabilities not the least of which was a nearly non-existent campaign agenda other than getting Hillary elected. Yet Clinton supporters rolled out this personality cult thing that simply defies analysis.

        I think part of the problem was that Sanders was drawing huge AND enthusiastic crowds and support that Clinton simply could not match at the time. This provoked various levels of anxiety, alarm, and envy among Clinton supporters. When you talked to Sanders supporters it was all about policies, agendas, enthusiasm for real change and progress. When you talked to Clinton supporters all you got was a standard line:”She’s the most qualified and experienced candidate. Period.” It was like a scene out of the Manchurian Candidate. When you tried to probe and get examples of qualification and experience the most frequent response was some reference to her Benghazi testimony and the admiration of some kind related to it. Basically they just wanted to see Hillary be Hillary in the White House. Talk about a personality cult. In psychological terms this was straight up “projection” (i.e. projecting one’s own undesirable feelings or emotions onto someone else) en masse. I personally have never seen anything like it and frankly I hope I never see it again.

        • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 11/18/2016 - 11:52 am.

          Have to say I agree

          I was astonished to observe how absolutely Clinton supporters refused to engage as to Clinton’s establishment orientation on economics, foreign policy and national security, both on its merits and as it concerned electability where it was clear that the election temper was about the rabble rising up against the elite, where Clinton was the perfect target for Trump’s faux populism, and where Sanders seemingly could neutralize Trump’s faux populism with his own real populism. Over the many months I probably skimmed my way thru hundreds of blogs and thousands of comments, and didn’t see hardly a single Clinton supporter willing to respectfully engage. The response was all ad hominem or accusations of misogyny. I would’ve loved to have seen a woman president and all the Clinton non-scandals were just that, but she was the wrong candidate for the time and temper.

          If the nation and the world survive this period of absolute Republican control under an incompetent, malign and mentally unstable president, AND if this spells the end of Democratic DLC insiderism and a turn toward a party structure that exists to support the progressive populism for which there is a huge readiness among the U.S. demographic, then there will have been a silver lining to the election. Of course, that’s a rather enormous if.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 11/21/2016 - 10:52 am.

          Personality cult

          I have to laugh that the defense of my accusation of Sanders being a Cult of Personality is to cite his big rallies.

          Clinton was not a great candidate by any means. We deserved a real alternative. Instead we got Bernie Sanders.

  13. Submitted by joe smith on 11/17/2016 - 09:30 am.

    After Obama used Executive action to twist

    Title IX language into allowing kids to use whatever bathroom they would like in public schools (good to see that with failing public schools this was a priority) and some states said NO…. That was really some show of social issue politics by those mean ole GOP’ers who felt if you were born with boy parts you go to the boy bathroom….

    Frank, do you have any more stunning examples of GOP “using social issues to get people to vote against their economic interests”???

    • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 11/17/2016 - 11:15 am.

      Glenn Gruenhagen’s bathroom bill was given a hearing in the MN House a month before Obama took his Title IX action.

  14. Submitted by Dan Berg on 11/17/2016 - 12:54 pm.

    Politics and identity

    Politics is driven by social identity rather than a practical analysis of civics or core personal philosophy. Political parties that are successful, both major parties in the US included, are built around this fact and any relationship to meaningful discourse is purely coincidental.

    Any attempt to be analytical, consistent or rational would greatly reduce a party’s ability to gather the disparate groups of supporters needed to be successful. Instead they use the age old method employed by religion, build complex and mostly fictional narrative around cartoonish villains and heroes. Use them to paint a false and simplistic view of the world and events. Speak of goals in hard to define ways that are difficult if not impossible to track or measure. Use the complexity of the systems you are promising to control to take credit for all good results while shifting anything negative to the most convenient “other”.

    The only thing Trump shows is that being a fraud works in politics, that in fact it is essential. Some of the fraud may be based on some individuals sincere belief and some may not but sincerity has zero relevance in the results. The same type of system has penetrated countless religions for centuries and yet not a single believer has ever found the promised afterlife. The more decisions and power we entrust to politics the more we entrust it to a system dependent on fraud. Democrats (or Republicans) will never see this because their entire system and identity is based on continuing the deception.

    • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 11/18/2016 - 09:49 am.

      If I correctly recall

      a post you wrote several days or a week ago, and combine it with this one, I think you are saying this: That fictions presented by a charismatic figure are almost always more persuasive to people than facts, reasoning and moral deliberation; that people therefore inherently are susceptible to manipulation, particularly as to how to understand institutions and phenomena at a more conceptual scale and more removed from concrete life; and therefore that we should limit the scope of government, so as to limit the harm that we can do to ourselves by our tendency to give our collective proxy and power to those distinguished principally by their talent at spinning yarns for us. Is that what you are saying?

      Compared to the usual ideological claptrap, this is a somewhat elegant argument for limited government (and the election just concluded is the mother of all data points). Of course, ultimate judgments about the scope and scale of government involve many pragmatic considerations. But this certainly seems like one of them.

      • Submitted by Dan Berg on 11/18/2016 - 02:46 pm.

        Basically, yes

        The degree to which it is elegant is due to it being a practical understanding and not an ideological one. I don’t even think the presence of charismatic leader is at all necessary. The parties themselves have “evolved” to take advantage of the environment in which they exist. In a democracy that means using the fewest resources possible to gain the best advantage on election day. They have found the easiest path to simply fabricate a narrative and adjust it as necessary.

        The reason this is the best way of gaining influence is based on two primary factors. One, the system the federal government is supposed to control (everything) is such a massive, opaque and complex it is impossible for anyone living person to have a functional understanding of how things work. That makes it easy to for fictional narratives to take hold, much like how religious narratives were used to explain complex natural systems.

        Two, the larger a population of people gets the weaker their ties are to one another as a collective. An individual’s community identity is limited and is less powerful the more distant it becomes, family & friends, work & school, race or religion or LGBTQ, home town, even the hobbies you are in to all constitute different levels of social connection. Large populations will have few overlapping interests and that allows for political maneuvering to use the “us verses them” to great effect.

        For me the idea of limited government isn’t based on ideology or morality but simple mechanics. Large systems are not able to be rationally controlled through the democratic process. There is nothing morally superior about democracy, the majority can be every bit as destructive and stupid as any individual. Trump isn’t unique he is just the most recent and, to the people who identify as Liberal, the most visible.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 11/18/2016 - 11:09 am.

      Irony Examined

      Here’s very ironic comment on cosmetics of “social identity.” It’s a fair view I have also held.

      As I scan the Brit offerings each morning, this one seemed to perfectly match my personal/theatrical view of the HRC contest. Identity is not so hard to display/reveal. I wondered throughout the Fall just what voter group was the effective target market segment of her visual image projection. Every time I saw her sartorial and cosmetic images, I really wondered if her campaign managers understood many Bernie Backers and others would reject these images. Regardless of her rhetoric, everything visual told me she was presenting herself for the white executive and suburban segments. I don’t think she was made up simply for female voters, and clearly not for urban minority residents. It is not possible to present a “Board Room” image without alienating a significant number of production floor workers. Never made sense to me…just increased the long-standing doubt of who she really is/was.

      Do you believe, as do I, that she would have received better response had she simply looked more to be what she apparently truly looks to be?

      • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 11/18/2016 - 12:01 pm.

        Double standards

        Hillary Clinton has had everything about the way she projects herself questioned, mocked, and ridiculed from how she dresses to the volume of her speech to how she laughs. And as your very post shows, everything she did was questioned and dissected and examined to see if was “honest” or not — a level of scrutiny that no male candidate seems to get. (Can a guy like Donald Trump really understand the common folk while living in custom made Brioni suits that run more than $10K each?)

        I can only imagine how cable news would have played it up if she had shown up at a campaign event without makeup (is she sick? what kind of message is she sending? why doesn’t she care enough to put on makeup?). Or if she had ditched the pantsuits for blue jeans, the howls of phony outrage would have been immense.

        • Submitted by Jim Million on 11/19/2016 - 12:10 pm.

          Of course,

          but you swing to the extreme here, as did she in projecting these inconsistent “one per-center” images.
          Because my spouse was in the fashion business, and perhaps because I am steeped in theatricals, I quickly notice the projection of characterization in makeup and dress. I also closely listen to voices and look into eyes.
          Always concentrate on the delivery as much as on the words. Words will change, personality and character likely not. It’s critical to see and hear through the cosmetics of all candidates.

          Of course, we’d all expect any POTUS to appear properly groomed and dressed, regardless of gender.
          Appearing before other national leaders and their citizens requires this visual image.
          Appealing to many election constituencies also requires “dressing down.”
          That’s true for Republicans as well as Democrats.

      • Submitted by Dan Berg on 11/19/2016 - 12:26 pm.

        The question

        I think the question about personal appearance and the different standards for men and women simply illustrate the types of inconsequential characteristics which influence popularity and thus democracy. It is easier, and therefore more likely, that people will make decisions based on simplistic, shallow, stylistic cues. Because the political industry, including the media, is dependent on their message being consumed it is vital that the message be palatable. Stories on things like Hillary or trumps hair are eaten up by one side or the other.

        Discussions at this point about the how and why one candidate lost and how to keep it from happening next time are at the end of the day meaningless at best and likely just make things worse. They concentrate on the strategy of the fight rather than the core issues causing the conflict. Our democracy is way over its skis. Trump is just the first time many people, especially progressives, are seeing it and it scares them. Rightfully so.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/22/2016 - 08:22 am.


          “Discussions at this point about the how and why one candidate lost and how to keep it from happening next time are at the end of the day meaningless at best and likely just make things worse. They concentrate on the strategy of the fight rather than the core issues causing the conflict”

          Well, if you wrongly assume that discussions regarding the success or failure of a candidate must focus on appearance rather than core issues and how the candidates tried to address the core issues, maybe you have a point. I don’t think Hillary’s pants suits cost her the election, and I certainly don’t think think Trump’s appearance won him the election. Most of the post election discussions I’ve seen focus on the issues the fact that moderate liberals simply refused to aggressively attack core problems that millions of Americans are facing economically, socially, culturally. After 30 years of “third way” Clintonism American’s finally demanded responsive candidates. That discussion makes sense, it can produce better candidates, and won’t make things worse.

          As far as progressives are concerned, if YOU think we’re seeing people like Trump now, for the first time… you simply don’t know any progressive or who progressives are. We’ve been sounding the alarms about the emergence of guys like Trump for decades and banging our heads against awall of liberal complacency and denial.

          • Submitted by Dan Berg on 11/22/2016 - 10:13 am.

            Not the first and not the last.

            I have said in other posts that Trump is not the first nor the last of his type. That the fundamental problem with Progressive ideology is that it provides massive power to those able to swing elections and that popularity has no meaningful coordination with good decisions. Progressive ideology makes government control immensely valuable and therefore a battlefield. Like in all battlefields it is a winner take all mentality where neither truth no morality play anything but a accidental role.

            • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 11/22/2016 - 12:05 pm.

              What do you mean by “progressive ideology”?

              If you mean “big government,” speaking for myself at least this is not progressive ideology at all.

              First, I’d offer that progressive “ideology,” if any, is small government. The huge redistributive mechanism of government is necessary principally because our fundamental economic structures, designed by the few for their benefit, result in an initial gross misdistribution of social product. With fair structures, the need for secondary redistribution would shrink greatly.

              Second, to the extent progressives believe a strong government is necessary, that is because of the ideology of capital that is unrelentingly expansive and aggressive. Because a fundamental role of government (in theory, as the democratic power of the collectivity) is to impose a collective constraint on concentrations of wealth and power that doom our economic, political and social life, the scope of government must match the scope of capital’s aspirations, nationally and globally.

              Finally, the rest of what government does in the economic and social spheres, to me as a progressive, is not ideological at all, but deeply pragmatic and based on balancing tendencies toward market and bureaucratic failure to determine the optimal allocation of private/collective prerogatives in any particular economic/social realm.

              And I should add my emphasis to Paul’s response: we progressives have seen Trump coming for a very long time, on the straight and true line of a population disabled by its cultivated existential fear.

              • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/22/2016 - 01:16 pm.

                Yeah, to follow with Mr. Holtman

                It looks like Dan’s concept of “progressive” or even liberal is based on small vs. big government stereotypes rather than the real political landscape. The fact is that the checks and balances that have been limiting the power of our government for over 200 years were a liberal idea. Monarchies were not the liberal bastions of their era. Likewise dictatorships and and totalitarian regimes invariably emerge from Conservative reactions, which is what Trump represents.

                Unfortunately the “limited” or small government “principle” conservatives have pretended to champion for decades is simply incoherent because we live in a liberal democracy, and the only ones on our political landscape who advocate unlimited government are fringe right wing reactionaries… not liberals or progressives.

      • Submitted by Helen Hunter on 11/21/2016 - 09:57 am.

        Board Room?

        Sounds like you haven’t looked around much at what women at ALL levels of work wear. And your comment that Hillary Clinton’s “sartorial and cosmetic images” were “clearly not for urban minority residents” is plainly ignorant if not something worse.
        Hillary is and was herself. She did not dress down in a delusional attempt to pretend to be “just like one of you”, especially since she understands that EVERYONE likes to dress as well as they can. Her way of dress was a sign of her respect for people.
        As a matter of history, she came from a hard-working barely middle class family and she didn’t forget where she came from. She has always worked hard herself for everything she’s got. There’s always luck involved as well when people succeed, and she knows that, too.
        This flood of after-the-fact “wisdom” about what Hillary should and should not have done & what the Democrats should and should not do now, probably satisfies various needs for those who are flooding.
        Me, I keep remembering the fact that HILLARY CLINTON WON THE POPULAR VOTE.
        Let’s dump the piece of antiquated elitist c*** called the “electoral college”.

        • Submitted by Dan Berg on 11/21/2016 - 11:58 am.

          Wrong framing

          Talking about the appearance of any candidate and the degree it influences elections should illustrate the inherent danger with allowing policies to be set through popularity contests. The fact that one candidate won the popular vote by a slim margin while the other the electoral college is immaterial. A few minor changes and the results could have been the opposite. The part of the system which is a problem is the part that provides such immense power to the whims of the electorate.

  15. Submitted by Jim Million on 11/20/2016 - 02:30 am.

    Too true…

    We must admit that appearance is carefully calculated by most candidates, female or male. Our world is visual, more so with cable TV, blogs, Twitter, Facebook and iPhones. I’d say far more people “read” their phones on the street than many once read newspapers on the way to work. I believe most of us know about the loss of “listening” in our society.

    The importance of visual characterization lies in the reality it need not be interpreted and regurgitated by others. Each of us has embedded sensors that immediately detect meaning in images, sometimes even in images clearly altered for specific appeal. Such has been the understanding of the outdoor advertising industry for decades, now transferred to many other promotion methods. We all believe, perhaps more than ever, that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Therefore, cell phone cameras, etc.

    I’m not interested in dissecting the whys and wherefores, either, just interested in noting what likely were intended/unintended subliminal images. They really do count, and are carefully considered by effective campaign directors and candidates. Candidates truly with a variety of sides to them, usually display these. See Ronald Reagan campaigns: jeans and plaid shirts, horse back riding, crisp ties with tailored suits, really good and consistent hair. Ted Cruz tried the “cowboy look” along his short trail…it didn’t work. Bernie Sanders wore suit and tie, often rather rumpled and bus worn, as he also wore simple slacks and shirts (often with rolled up sleeves). I believed he was that man, so I believed his words were sincere.

    The message is, of course, the vital focus of transmission and reception. I’m simply here to bury any deflections that only the scripted message matters. Everyday we receive so many other messages in many different ways through various filters, that we should expect campaign masters and candidates to have critical knowledge of effective transmission. Most voters do expect to get what they see. If what they want is not what they see, well….

    This is simply a vital part of marketing anything, the promotion phase. A walk down any grocery aisle reveals this truth. We need only look at labels, their images and colors and type faces, etc. Good advertising firms spend (and receive) many dollars in getting the label right.

  16. Submitted by on 11/20/2016 - 06:10 am.

    “It’s called affordable”

    “You’ve got to vote for it before you can see what’s in it”
    Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

    Any questions?

  17. Submitted by John Ferman on 11/20/2016 - 11:36 am.

    DFL on trade

    Numerous posters have remarked on free trade. I am opposed to free trade and feel it must be replaced by fair trade. The free trade pacts enable foreign interests to repeal any of our protective initiatives. For example, TPP would enable that foreign company PolyMet to mine sufide ores all across our north country. Once the north country is sullied Minnesota can kiss its tourist industry (and all its workers) goodby forever. I always vote DFL for I gag on Republican which is the party of the aristocracy.

  18. Submitted by bruce biggins on 11/22/2016 - 04:11 pm.

    Do we ever learn?

    I am a rural DFLer. Rural Dems were taken for granted by the big city party officials who did not even attempt to communicate with the rural members..other than send them hundreds of fund raising email. In their great wisdom, they force fed us Hillary with a dishonest nomination process and continued to force feed us gun control. Look at the former blue counties in Wi, PA and Mi that were lost because of gun control. Was that issue so important as to allow Trump to be selecting the Supreme Court where much more damage will be done than the damage gun control would have prevented. The Dem tent needs to become bigger and make the Jim Webbs and rural members who hunt welcome. It needs to get rid of the their Super Delegates and give the rural blue collar members at least the same voice as Chuck Schumer, Bloomberg and Nancy Pelosi. We don’t want to be like NY or California or we would move there. Shame on you Debbie Wasserman Schultz and your kind. I held my nose and voted for Hillary but my days of pissing away my donations and vote for a party that just does not get it and shows no signs of change are very limited. The Dem leaders of a few insisted on nominating the one candidate who could have lost to Trump.

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