Deluged by potential candidates, DFL looks toward 2018 as a big opportunity

MinnPost file photo by Bill Kelley
DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin is one of the people trying to keep momentum building among activists — especially after the last election.

Growing up as the son of a single mother and unable to afford college, Brandon Taitt spent the last decade using the only currency he had to help elect Democrats in Minnesota — his time.

He volunteered on local and presidential campaigns, but when other activists urged him to run for office, Taitt always had a reason not to do it: He had a new job, or he was a new husband, and then he became a father. “I’d come up with a million reasons about why I couldn’t or wouldn’t or anything else I could think of,” he said. “And then November 8 happened.”

Taitt was devastated by the election of Donald Trump and other GOP candidates down the ballot, results that not only put a Republican in the White House, but shifted control of the Minnesota Legislature. 

In the months that followed, he watched the election turn into the inauguration of President Trump and the controversies that have dogged the administration. He thought about running for office again, and this time, he didn’t have any excuses. “It was time to put my time and money where my mouth was,” he said. 

So Taitt, now a 30-year-old IT employee, recently filed to run for a Minnesota House seat in Blaine. As a Democratic candidate, he has plenty of company these days; he’s one of dozens of DFLers leaping into politics after the 2016 election, including five who’ve announced they’re running for governor (with plenty more considering); two DFL candidates for attorney general (even though incumbent Democrat Lori Swanson hasn’t announced her plans yet); and multiple Democrats interested in most of the state’s competitive congressional and legislative seats. 

“What I’m seeing now is off the charts,” said DFL Rep. Melissa Hortman, the House minority leader who is leading the effort to pick up the 11 Minnesota House seats needed to reclaim the majority from Republicans in that body. “I think we’re going to have a large number of well-qualified candidates in a number of competitive seats, meaning we might have some serious endorsement challenges.”

But if there’s a lot of excitement, there’s also a lot at stake for Democrats in Minnesota. The Senate is now in Republican control for the next four years and House Republicans have a 20-seat advantage, their largest majority in more than a decade. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is leaving office in 2018, and if Democrats don’t hold the governor’s office and make gains in the state House, they risk complete Republican control of government for the first time in decades.

All of which raises some big questions for DFLers: Can they sustain the current level of excitement for next 16 months and, even more important, can they translate it into results on election day? 

Inevitability and complacency

DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin is one of the people trying to keep momentum building among activists — especially after the last election.

Last fall, Democrats across the nation were expecting voters to elect the nation’s first woman president, Hillary Clinton, who would bring along Democrats all the way down the ballot. But the wave never came. Instead, Trump won the presidency and Republicans took complete control of the state Legislature. 

Martin’s biggest concern is that the excitement among Democrats these days could lead to overconfidence in 2018. “That sense of inevitability led to complacency, which led to our defeat in 2016,” Martin said. “We need to not get too in front of this election and do the hard work that we need to do. We can never assume that we are ahead.”

Brandon Taitt
Taitt for Minnesota
Brandon Taitt recently filed to run for a Minnesota House seat in Blaine.

So the DFL Party is already staffing up. Martin recently hired two new communications staffers and a political and organizing director, Alyse Maye Quade (the wife of Rep. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley), to help bring groups like the Minnesota chapters of Indivisible — a Trump resistance group — as well as Our Revolution and Swing Left, together with older factions of the party, like labor and environmental activists.

“We want to make sure we are tapping into that energy and partner with those groups and helping to amplify their voices,” Martin said. “How do we marry up this new energy with this old energy and channel it to win elections?”

More women wanting to run

One group of people getting more involved than ever: women. 

Since the Women’s March in January, Lauren Beecham, executive director of progressive political organization Women Winning, said they’ve added 2,000 members. More than 1,000 women have approached the organization about wanting to run for office. 

“The energy to run for office and get involved in the political process from women is stronger than we’ve ever seen,” Beecham said. “We can barely keep up with the candidates.” 

Alicia Donahue
Alicia Donahue

A founder of the Women’s March in Minnesota, Alicia Donahue, is running in the 3rd Congressional District against Erik Paulsen, and two women, Leah Phifer and Cook County Commissioner Susan Hakes, are running or exploring a run in the 8th Congressional District, were incumbent DFL Rep. Rick Nolan is running again. Three women have announced runs for Minnesota governor, including DFL Reps. Erin Murphy and Tina Liebling, and State Auditor Rebecca Otto. A woman has never served in the state’s highest office in Minnesota.

But Beecham also wants activists to not forget what happened in 2016. “If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that we can’t take our work for granted,” she said. “Not electing women and those who support their interests has significant consequences. It’s going to take more this time, we are going to need to step out of our comfort zones.” 

Uncontrollable factors 

But Democrats’ challenges in the 2018 election go beyond maintaining enthusiasm. Over the last several election cycles, the party has been slowly pushed onto an island in and around Minneapolis and St. Paul, with Republicans knocking out rural Democrats in seats across the state. What’s more, 19 Minnesota counties that one went for former President Barack Obama flipped to support Trump last fall, giving hope to Republicans that they can carry a statewide race with the right message. It’s a political and demographic problem that’s led to plenty of soul searching among Democrats.

There are also those factors that Democrats can’t control leading into the 2018 election, the biggest one being the Trump administration. The string of bad headlines and scandals out of Washington have motivated people to get involved, but the election is a long way off. 

“If national conditions hold, I think our chances [of taking back the House] are better than 50-50,” said Hortman, a seven-term Democrat from Brooklyn Park serving her first year as minority leader. “That is, if Trump continues to be Trump, and the Republican Congress continues to do nothing about it.”

House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman
House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman

Hortman knows things could shift suddenly and dramatically, but as of now, 2018 feels a lot like 2006, she said, when Democrats picked up 19 House seats and took full control of the Legislature. “What I always tell our candidates is that elections can bring a wave, but they might not,” she said. “If there is going to be in a wave, you have to be in a position to take advantage of it.”

For his part, Taitt doesn’t think the district’s current Republican Rep. Nolan West would’ve won last fall had Trump not been on the ballot. West won the seat by 168 votes, despite a string of controversies over past social media posts that criticized Abraham Lincoln and celebrated the Confederacy.

But he’s also not counting on a wave on his side, knowing that Republicans will be actively protecting their majority in the House and pushing people to get out and vote in the governor’s race, which they are also targeting. 

Democrats need to keep the energy going, he said: “The only way we win is by harnessing these groups and harnessing this grassroots energy in the party right now.”

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Comments (28)

  1. Submitted by Barbara Boldenow on 06/14/2017 - 11:00 am.

    It wasn’t complacency

    There is much more than complacency in the failure of the Democrats to win in the 2016 elections. Nominating and pushing a problematic, unpopular candidate at the top of the ticket contributed greatly. Our super delegates committed to that candidate way before the primaries/caucuses began. The fact that Bernie Sanders won in the state was ignored and that was a huge mistake that still hasn’t been dealt with. The establishment politics in Minnesota has a serious problem that is still being ignored.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/14/2017 - 01:34 pm.


      Clinton won the nomination by millions of votes, and it would have been more if Sanders hadn’t done so well in voter suppressing caucuses. The results in Minnesota were so bogus, the legislature promptly discarded presidential caucuses.

      The Superdelagtes would have switched if Bernie had won primaries, just like they did with Obama, even though the Obama-Clinton race was much closer. If the people who work with Sanders every day prefer someone else, they should be free to endorse.

      If Sanders was such a great candidate, peopl would have voted for him. They didn’t. Get over it already.

    • Submitted by Vonnie Phillips on 06/18/2017 - 10:12 am.


      Totally agree with you-Totally!

  2. Submitted by Howard Miller on 06/14/2017 - 11:52 am.

    2nd Barbara B’s interpretation

    Looking for signs that we, who supported Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination will not be ignored and marginalized by state Democrats who preferred Mrs. Clinton to lead the presidential ticket. Not sure those signs are obvious or public enough.

    How about running some tv ads, Democrats? More than before!

  3. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 06/14/2017 - 12:52 pm.


    Had a lot of candidates early on also. Does not mean the best prices.

  4. Submitted by Gene Nelson on 06/14/2017 - 01:30 pm.

    What do repubs do for the middle class? Zilch

    Always amazed that people today vote repub considering that there is zilch that they do for the poor or the middle class. Everything they do is for their wealthy financial benefactors, such as their tax cuts this year.
    Look around at the deficits and slow growth around the country with repubs govs. Kansas is the absolute worst and Walker in WI gives a good example of why we should NOT vote repub. He and Dayton did the opposites, with us obtaining…finally…a real surplus…good job growth…and top 5 economic growth, while WI went the opposite way. Currently WI is 33 out of 50 for job growth in the country.
    Then…let’s take a look at the repubs in congress with this cruel bill they’re considering for healthcare that will kick over 20 million off the rolls, make it unaffordable for anyone with preexisting conditions, which many have as well as make it totally unaffordable for those approaching middle age. Amazing to me that affordable healthcare, prescriptions, college and vocational school are not bipartisan programs as well as investing in our K-12 educational system…but repubs vote against all of these.

    • Submitted by Bob Petersen on 06/14/2017 - 03:55 pm.

      War on the Taxpayer

      Have you ever considered the appetite the government has for money? Surpluses mean the government claims too much. And there are republicans that are at some fault with that, but it’s mainly democrats. The spending that democrats want has been ridiculous. It’s dragging our economy down and resulted in stagnated pay for lower and middle class the last 8 years. The Federal government has doubled the debt in the last 8 years. People who pay the taxes get tax cuts. People who cannot get ahead because the government seems to think it knows what to do about our money better than we do. Just look at our state. It was democrats in full power to pull off $2 billion more in tax money per year because we were told the state must have it. Truth is the state doesn’t need it. At some point, the money train ends.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 06/15/2017 - 07:15 am.

        So If

        Surpluses mean the government “claims” too much, then deficits mean the government is “claiming” too little. But even when there are deficits, conservatives tell us the answer is again tax cuts.

        When the only tool you have is a hammer…

      • Submitted by David Therkelsen on 06/15/2017 - 10:25 am.

        Surpluses beat deficits

        Since no one can produce a budget that will be accurate to the last dollar, there will always be either a surplus or a deficit.
        Surpluses are better, far better. They enable creation of reasonable reserves that will serve us well in bad times.
        For a couple of decades, at least, it’s DFL leadership that has produced surpluses, and Republican leadership that has produced deficits. (Also the case on federal level.)
        It’s pretty clear to me which is the party of fiscal responsibility.

        • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 06/17/2017 - 08:06 pm.

          Last time I checked

          President Obama (Democrat leadership, federal level, over 18 trillion in national debt) might be an exception to the label of fiscal responsibility, especially during eight years of exploding economic growth (according to the Democrats).

          • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 06/18/2017 - 07:10 am.

            How Convenient

            Deficits always go up during recessions. And the Bush recession was the worst in 70 years. I suppose if your house burned to the ground you’d blame the fire department.

            If you want to put the Obama economy into perspective, check jobs growth over the last 17 years. But maybe just make it job growth over the last 8 1/2 years, because there was no job growth during the 8 year Bush Admin.

            And while the economic expansion of the Obama years went primarily to the point 1 percent, that has been an unfortunate fact of life over the last few decades, under both GOP and corporate Democratic presidents, none of whom I have voted for.

            • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 06/21/2017 - 09:53 pm.

              I thought that the recession had ended years ago. Mea culpa.

              I haven’t checked the numbers but I don’t recall that deficits went up by quite this much in only eight years, in spite of increasing employment and wonderful economic growth. And don’t forget, during the past eight years (of recession) Minnesota increased state spending by over 4% per year and didn’t incur a deficit.

  5. Submitted by Aviv Fagan on 06/14/2017 - 02:34 pm.

    Taitt already filed?!

    Its great to see someone like Brandon is running for office. My only question is… I thought the filing period for state races didn’t open until next year in May? Or did the author of this article mean to just say that Taitt announced his intent?

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/15/2017 - 06:26 am.


    I have to say, among the Democrats I talk to, I don’t have a sense of much confidence at all. Trump ran very well in Minnesota, and none of the reasons for that have materially changed.

    • Submitted by Randle McMurphy on 06/15/2017 - 08:34 am.


      Trump earned 44.93% of the vote in MN, a lower percentage than Romney. The closeness of the race was purely a product of Clinton’s unpopularity.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 06/16/2017 - 09:59 am.

      Buying at the Peak?

      Trump may have run well in MN. But this populist surge that started with Brexit and continued with Trump may have peaked already. Nationalists in France, Austria and the Netherlands have lost. The Labor party and it’s supposedly un-electable Jeremy Corbin shocked the UK by gaining seats in parliament. He said austerity must end in the UK. And the Gallup tracking poll has Trump at a new high, of unpopularity.

      Many a general has been defeated by preparing for the last war. It’s easy to over correct, isn’t it?

  7. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/15/2017 - 08:45 am.


    The closeness of the race was purely a product of Clinton’s unpopularity.

    Can you name a Democrat right now who is more popular than Hillary?


  8. Submitted by Sheila Kihne on 06/15/2017 - 09:37 am.

    Mn will have a Republican Governor in 2018 despite the fact we have no great candidates running. My dog could win with the right message.
    Democrats will continue to race to the left— although it’s very interesting that Thiessen sounds like a moderate Republican. It won’t change the fact he’s a Mpls liberal.
    Walz would’ve been tough but he lost when he stood for drivers licenses for illegals.

    Pass the popcorn.

  9. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/15/2017 - 09:57 am.

    Mn will have a Republican Governor in 2018 despite the fact we have no great candidates running. My dog could win with the right message.

    I do tends to agree. What Democrats haven’t quite figured out yet is that while Trump’s numbers are incredibly low, the fact that they are far higher than they reasonably should be is of incredible significance. Insanity is the new norm, something that is evidenced by the fact that Bret Stephens is a regular columnist for the New York Times and that Megyn Kelly has a gig on NBC.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/15/2017 - 10:29 am.

    It’s still disappointing and not encouraging…

    I’m still worried that too many Democrats don’t get it. Yes, liberal complacency has been a huge problem for decades. But the biggest and most obvious lesson from 2016 is that you don’t win elections with lousy candidates, no matter how “hard” you work. The nomination of Clinton WAS the most complacent feature of the Democratic Party in 2016, rank and file and elite Democrats thought Clinton was the safe bet.

    Trump didn’t win because Democrats didn’t work hard enough, he won because Democrats had an awful candidate at the top of their ticket and that created a down ticket drag instead of a boost. Yes, democrats were convinced (despite obvious signs of impending disaster) that Clinton would win, they were wrong, and that’s why they need to stop pretending that they are our reservoir of political knowledge and wisdom. The nomination of Clinton was the most catastrophic act of political self indulgence in the history of American politics… don’t do THAT again. That’s the lesson of 2016.

    Stepping back from 2016 and looking at the larger picture, if democrats want to maintain energy and enthusiasm they have to address a long standing problem that they appear to be unable to cope with thus far: they have to become a truly liberal Party. Liberal agendas and programs are the most powerful motivations Democrats could possibly tap into. You don’t maintain “energy” and enthusiasm by talking about hard work, you give people something to believe in that they want to work towards, and that can’t just be Party victories at the polls, you have to think beyond that.

    For decades Democrats have been doing the etch-a-sketch thing, bouncing from one election cycle to the next without any over-all continuity beyond suppressing liberal agendas for the sake of “centrism”. Neither Party has the numbers to win elections at this point, they need to attract independents. That means Democrats need to have an agenda beyond simply winning THIS election. Seeing Democrats win may be enough to satisfy Democrats, but independents don’t care which “Party” wins, they want voters to win, so merely keeping something “blue” isn’t going to win elections. Obviously.

    It’s great to see all these newer young people getting in, but the Party will waste that energy if it fails to convert into a liberal party that will translate that energy into electoral success. If the message and lesson ends up being: “Great, we want to win… but that’s all we want” we’re wasting enthusiasm on a zombie Party. If the Party suppresses or rejects most of the newcomers based on their typical delusions of “electability” they’ll squander an historic opportunity.

    It’s also great to see so many women stepping up. Let’s hope they bring a strong feminist agenda back into the Democratic Party. This is desperately needed as the Party elite is currently considering softening in positions on women’s rights and abortion rights.

  11. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/15/2017 - 03:15 pm.


    You can win elections with lousy candidates. Republicans have that guy who thinks the South should have won the Civil War. Montana just elected a thug to Congress. Donald Trump is a miserable excuse for a human being, a fact that isn’t widely disputed, and last I checked he is the president of the United States.

    The problem can be expressed in a number of different ways but basically, it’s do you protect your base or do you reach out to new voters. There is no right or wrong answer, and no assurance that the answer you gave last time will pay out the same next time.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/16/2017 - 01:24 pm.

      Uh huh…

      Trump is the new model for future Democrats, after all… he won didn’t he? Let’s just keep running lousy candidates and see what happens… oh wait…

      Actually the problem of protecting a base vs. reaching out beyond the base does have a correct or incorrect answer, it all depends on how many votes your “base” can deliver, and where they can deliver them. Neither the Democrats or the Republicans have a clear majority, the both need to reach beyond their base to win elections, and I’m not talking the “middle”. Clinton lost the the votes beyond the Democratic base, and hence the election, in a race to the bottom… she won.

      Obviously Democrats either need to attract more people to the party, and/or convince those who don’t affiliate with their party to at least vote for their candidates. When fewer and fewer people belong to either Party, simply turning out the Party vote is a dead end strategy.

      The other problem with the conundrum of which voters to pursue is that it’s a conceptual dead end. I repeat, this idea that every election is an isolated contest outside history or ideology is a very bizarre theory to run a political Party with. We’re no more live in a post-ideological country that we do a post-racial country. The idea that you choose to target voters differently from election to election is exactly how Democrats have been losing for decades. This is an incoherent model that alienates voters by appealing to the Party elite rather than producing popular agendas.

  12. Submitted by John Appelen on 06/17/2017 - 11:36 pm.

    More Candidates

    I am not sure more candidates is going to help the Democratic party if they can’t figure out a message / plan that appeals to the working people from the burbs and rural areas. Their obsession with the LGBT community, environment, raising taxes, growing government programs for poor people, letting more low end workers into the country to compete with themselves, etc seem to be a non-starter for people who want jobs that pay okay.

    I am very interested to see where this goes.

  13. Submitted by Vonnie Phillips on 06/18/2017 - 10:34 am.

    Until the DFL rid itself of the elitists in their party leadership, I do not have much confidence at all the party will make much gains in the Minnesota Legislature or the Congress. Are there focus groups in the field, especially in the states the DNC should have won in November, to include the State of Minnesota where Clinton’s margin of victory was not as big as expected, to figure out why people did not show up to support the DNC and DFL candidates? No, simply because the elitists do not want to hear it.

    We all know who and what is running the DFL Party now, and until this self entitled influence is properly addressed, for me, its not about a collective support for the DFL, but instead based on the individual candidate only.

    However, I will give the DNC credit for one good move, not naming Keith Ellison Chairperson of the Party. Those that were responsible for even naming this elitist in a leadership position told me one thing, THEY LIKE TO LOSE ELECTIONS.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/19/2017 - 08:20 am.

    Turning out the vote

    It makes me nervous when Democrats talk about turning out he vote because it’s not clear who’s vote they’re talking about and they don’t seem to comprehend the fact that you can’t make people vote for candidates by virtue of Party nomination or endorsement.

    I think American Democrats may be a unique political entity in the world in that they are a political Party, that doesn’t doesn’t think they need to have a clear political agenda that transcends it’s candidates, or provides continuity from election to election. This is the delusion of centrism, the belief that you can govern by standing outside of political or ideological agendas.

    The experience of the last election was that when Democrats talked about turning out the vote, they seemed to think that the candidate was irrelevant because whoever got the nomination, they’d pull together and turn out the Party vote, as if people will vote for candidates they don’t want to vote for simply because THAT’S the Party’s decision. This is the delusion that you can put a lousy candidate on the ballot and then win despite your candidate than because of your candidate as long you “work” hard enough. I remember dealing with dumbstruck Democrats who were shocked by liberals who said they wouldn’t vote for Clinton if she was on the ballot. Democrats seemed to think they could make people vote for Clinton simply by putting her on the ballot and giving them “no choice”. Basically that mentality assumes you can dictate to people who they will vote for and that’s obviously a bogus assumption.

    That kind of mentality basically converts the whole nomination process into an exercise in absurdity. THAT mentality has made the Republicans the strongest political party in America. If THAT’S what Democrats still mean when they talk about turning out the “base”, or the vote, then we’re in trouble.

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