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Why primaries are good, running mates shouldn’t matter, and suburban women will decide Minnesota’s 2018 election

MinnPost file photo by James Nord

Two Minnesota political consultants — one DFL, one Republican — have the same view when it comes to one of the main talking points of the still-young primary election season. That is, whether contested primaries are a good thing or not.

“DFLers have not been quite as concise as Republicans have been in choosing candidates,” Katharine Tinucci, a former staffer for Gov. Mark Dayton, said of her party’s roster. “There’s been a bit more of a scramble on my side.”

That scramble was set in motion by Attorney General Lori Swanson’s decision to enter the governor’s race on June 4, which set off a cascade of other candidate filings. By the end of the day on June 5, Democrats had a three-way primary for governor, a five-way primary for attorney general, and at least a three-way primary for the 5th Congressional District.

But Tinucci told the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s Women in Business gathering in Golden Valley Wednesday that she doesn’t think it will hurt the party’s chances in November. “I don’t think it is the disaster that many Republicans are wishing it was,” she said.

Dayton, her former boss, survived a three-way contested primary for governor in 2010 and won the general election. In fact, Dayton hired the campaign leads of his two DFL rivals after the primary and kept them on once he took office. “It works out,” Tinucci said.

That conclusion, of course, could amount to spin. DFLers can’t change the facts of the primary fight, after all. But Tinucci’s fellow panelist Maureen Shaver, a consultant and former adviser to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, agreed with her.

Primaries can make candidates better, Shaver said: “You test messages. You get better on the stump and you practice. It’s very good for candidates.”

Her reaction to GOP glee at the apparent chaos on the other side? “I was like, meh,” she said. “These folks know how to get it together.”

Shaver said she wouldn’t predict election outcomes, but said she would identify the key demographic: college-educated suburban women. After asking attendees which of them were in that category and seeing the vast majority raise their hands, Shaver said such voters are generally not as enamored of President Trump as voters are elsewhere in the state.

“I predict any legislator, any statewide candidate that does not make suburban women the focus of their campaign is in trouble,” Shaver said. “And that’s where we get into trouble because these women are not fans of the president.

Katharine Tinucci
Katharine Tinucci

“Since the president isn’t on the ballot this time, I’m very worried as a Republican that they’re just going to go vote against every Republican.” she said. “Suburban woman can’t vote against Donald Trump. But they can vote against Jason Lewis and they can vote against Erik Paulsen.”

There are 11 legislative districts where Republicans won the state House race but where Hillary Clinton won the presidential vote. Most are in the Twin Cities suburbs.

Republicans have their own primary for governor, and while Shaver said she wouldn’t predict the outcome, she said Pawlenty, her former boss, has to be careful how he approaches the Aug. 14 election. “He will have to walk enough to the right to win the Republican primary and keep the Republicans who support the president happy, but not too far to alienate suburban women,” she said.

She lowered expectations for her party, but also laid out a path to beating those expectations. “Historically, the party in power doesn’t do as well” in the midterm election, Shaver said. “I don’t see us outperforming the norm here. I think Republicans have a little more of an uphill climb.”

But Shaver said Republicans can do best if they focus on economic issues and take credit for the strong economy and low unemployment. She also said while the 2018 legislative session was an example of how government doesn’t work, the party should point to 2017, when it passed reinsurance legislation to shore up the health insurance market, boosted education funding and adopted some tax cuts. “If Republicans can get that message happening, I think that’s how they will counter the Democrats,” she said.

She also pointed to the success the party had in legislative elections, winning control of the state House in 2014 and the state Senate in 2016. The Senate was won when the GOP took two close elections by 200 votes each.

“Democrats win (statewide) because they turn out in the metro,” she said. “But the GOP has done a better job of  localizing elections. They do a better job, I think, of picking candidates who fit their district, they fund them well and those candidates work hard.”

Maureen Shaver
Maureen Shaver

Tinucci said she too was reluctant to make predictions after the 2016 election, when so many were wrong. But she said she did think the contested primaries in the Fifth and Eighth Congressional Districts would boost excitement on the DFL side. On the governor’s race, Tinucci said she thought both Tim Walz and Erin Murphy had recent missteps: Walz for not securing the DFL endorsement and not blocking Murphy from winning it herself, and Murphy for the unwanted attention paid to running mate Erin Maye Quade’s answer to a media question about E85 fuel.

Tinucci said she also thinks DFL candidates are elevating their lieutenant governor choices more than is necessary. “They rarely help you win,” she said. “They can help you lose. People don’t vote for lieutenant governor. They vote for governor.”

And while she wishes it wasn’t so, fundraising is a significant factor in who wins. “I don’t love that money matters. But money matters,” she said.

Pawlenty retains a big fundraising lead, and while both Murphy and Walz spent a lot trying to win the DFL endorsement, Walz has more in reserve than Murphy.

“Erin Murphy had no money left after the convention, and I think she’s going to have a challenge raising money this summer,” Tinucci said, with Shaver adding that there will be competition from the attorney general and CD5 candidates who didn’t even know they had campaigns to run until June 4.

That, Tinucci said, is the biggest detriment of these contested primaries. “No one wants to spend money on primaries. We all want to have the reserves. We’re all looking at Tim Pawlenty’s numbers like, ‘We can’t spend all of our money before the primary. We need to have money to win this general election.’ So the money race will matter.”

Tinucci agreed with Shaver that the economy will play a large role in how people vote and that could be about trade, tariffs and agriculture in Greater Minnesota. But she was less certain that voters would reward Republicans for strong economic numbers.

“Voters are very angry today about the president’s border policies. They’re very angry about inaction on every level of government on guns and school safety,” Tinucci said. “I’m not saying it’s a guarantee but it’s an opportunity to harness some of that anger and turn that into action at the polls.”

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Kathie Noga on 06/21/2018 - 02:19 pm.


    Erin Murphy does have the advantage of DFL, Women Winning and Emily List money. She fund raises all the time on the local level, too. I don’t think anything her running mate said has any influence whatsoever. Quite frankly no one was going nuts over it. I know them personally and they have better social skills for the job more than Walz does. They are very personable and always have long lines wherever they appear at Governor Forums. Do not see that with Walz. In politics personality matters. That is why I think IIhan Omar has a great advantage. She is very personable and also is a great orator. None of her opponents have that advantage. Both has a whole lot of volunteers working for them to do the door knocking, phone calling, data entry,etc. The one on one approach is vastly superior. Minneapolis itself has a large population, so you really have to do good in both areas to win. Pawlenty has a disadvantage in that he stole money from the Tobacco Settlement and schools to balance the budget. That is not balancing the budget. He put on big user fees on people with state IDs. I had to pay $32 for a state ID at the time. I had to use my birthday money from my mother to pay for it. Then my Republican boss had some empathy with me and gave me some money, also. I do think a lot of women can’t stand Trump because he lacks empathy and does not believe in basic human rights. He does not use social skills to get his way. He just bullies every one. Not a good way to be in politics. He does not uphold constitutional rights which he has sworn to uphold. He is a President, not a dictator. He needs to learn this. I would not be surprised to see a whole lot of Republicans being defeated this time around. Already we see this trend all over the United States.

  2. Submitted by Dean Carlson on 06/21/2018 - 04:27 pm.

    Walz lacks personality?

    Have you even met or seen Tim Walz in person? The guy oozes personality. His biggest attribute is that he connects with people plus he can give a helluva speech. There’s a reason he’s won races since 2006 in southern Minnesota. People generally like him and see themselves in him.

    • Submitted by Aaron Albertson on 06/21/2018 - 05:00 pm.

      Good luck getting a response from Walz opponents

      But hey, actually having a track record of getting votes in rural areas doesn’t matter

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