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Minneapolis mayoral campaigns talk strategy for Saturday’s crucial DFL endorsement fight

The candidates and their campaign managers have been working 15-hour days and seven-day weeks since midwinter to prepare for the DFL city convention.

Minneapolis mayoral candidates and their campaign managers have been working 15-hour days and seven-day weeks since midwinter to prepare for Saturday’s DFL city convention.

That’s where six of the seven campaigns will go head to head battling for party endorsement —a tough task of reaching the 60 percent level of delegate support.

“This is not like pulling an all-nighter in college and acing the test the next day,” said Mark Warren, campaign manager for City Council Member Gary Schiff’s mayoral campaign.

He had precinct captains in place before the caucuses in April and lives by the rule of starting early. His philosophy: “Plan your work. Work your plan.”

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“You need to be really prepared way before convention day,” said Warren, who, like the other campaigns, is dealing with a lot of people who are new to politics. The challenge is to recruit them, train them and make sure they know what to expect as they work the phones or work the convention floor.

“Know where your fires are,” said Warren, who has been running training sessions aimed at getting everyone ready for Saturday.

Political fires and smoke

Knowing where your fires are is important, but you also have to know what to do when you smell smoke.

“It’s a lot of making sure the people we have stay with us and the people who are undecided get spoken to,” said Patrick Layden, who runs City Council Member Don Samuels’ mayoral campaign.

Like the other campaigns, the Samuels organizers will be sending their candidate into the hot spots on the convention floor. But the battle began long before the convention convenes.

“Each of the campaigns are going to go in with a certain number of people who they know are with them, so it’s important to make sure those people show up,”  Layden said.

Showing up — and staying for 10 or 12 hours — is the basic requirement for a delegate. Leaving early is just as bad as staying home.

The Convention Rules Committee is proposing that any candidate who receives less than 10 percent of the total vote be dropped, beginning with the first ballot. On the second ballot, any candidate without 20 percent of the total vote would be gone.

The committee is also suggesting that only the top two candidates continue after the third ballot — and that there must be five ballots before a vote on “no endorsement” can be considered.

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The “no endorsement” motion needs only a simple majority to pass.

Don Samuels, Gary Schiiff, Jim Thomas
MinnPost photos by Karen BorosDFL mayoral candidates Don Samuels, Gary Schiff and Jim Thomas

To win endorsement, a candidate must receive 60 percent of votes cast. For a time, the committee considered balloting by ranked choice but decided instead on a traditional one-choice ballot.

“It’s something they should have decided a year ago,” said Lynne Bolton, campaign manager for former City Council Member Jackie Cherryhomes.

Bolton did not like the idea of a major change in balloting being decided within a few weeks of the convention.

“It hasn’t been used consistently in the ward conventions, and that’s a little bit of a concern,” said Bolton. The only ward to vote with a ranked-choice ballot was the 5th Ward, which adjourned without making an endorsement.

Some who opposed the ranked-choice ballot say using a new tool at a major convention diminishes the ability of even seasoned political activists to predict how delegates would react to balloting results.

“We know with a traditional ballot which way the momentum is going to typically move, but with this ranked-choice voting, we only have one example here in Minneapolis,” said Joe Ellickson, campaign manager for former Hennepin County Board Member Mark Andrew.

“The math is still the same,” said Ellickson. “You’re still trying to talk to each and every delegate and you’re trying to connect with them. That’s not going to change.”

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Balloting rules at issue

Ranked-choice balloting did not get the nod from the Rules Committee, but that doesn’t mean delegates are stuck with the traditional ballot. Before the balloting begins, delegates will be asked to adopt the convention rules. They also could move to amend the rules and take a vote on the ballot options.

“If you wait until convention day, you’re behind,” said Andy O’Leary, campaign manager for Betsy Hodges, the third council member vying for mayor.

Like the other campaigns, the Hodges effort has attracted a pack of young people to knock on doors, talk for hours on the telephone and work on social media.

But the Hodges crew has a different focus.

“We went out and found some of the best community organizers in the city, the young. For some reason, the word ‘hip’ sticks in my mind — organizers who look like the city, who come from all different parts of the city,” he said.

Finding people to support a candidate is Step One. Getting them into the campaign organization is Step Two, and that’s where the skills of the organizers are paying off, according to O’Leary.

“Our conversations are not about ‘Who are you going to vote for?’ Our conversations are about Betsy,” he said. It’s a strategy he thinks will pay off come Saturday and beyond. “I can’t wait to see what these folks do in the fall.”

The Andrew campaign also has attracted a young group of workers, but their specialty is social media.

They are doing email blasts, integrating communications systems and having some fun with something they call Throwback Thursday, which puts the focus on old pictures and previous accomplishments of the candidate.

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“I say this affectionately, ‘We have the geeks of the geeks.’ They are incredible, and their energy is endless and their ideas are fresh,” Ellickson said. “I thought I was pretty savvy on social media, but they are just blowing me away.”

An education campaign

If you want a campaign that is different, look to Jim Thomas, a teacher in the Minneapolis Public Schools. He’s running to make sure there is substantial conversation about public education in the months ahead. He is new to politics, but he’s not new to the classroom.

“We are a campaign of educators,” said Alex Hoselton, another Minneapolis public-school teacher and Thomas’ campaign manager.

“What makes Jim different from the other candidates is he talks very frankly and openly,” he said. “He’s not a career politician, and that’s really refreshing.”

The Thomas convention strategy is to ask delegates to vote for him on the first ballot as a way of saying that public education is important to them and to Minneapolis.

“The people we’ve made contact with are passionate people, and a lot of them are pro-education, and a lot of them are teachers,” said Hoselton.

Their campaign goal is to emerge with no endorsement for anyone. “It matters that we will stick together,” he said.

With the “no endorsement” strategy, the Thomas campaign is hoping to prolong the education discussion through the summer and into the fall and move beyond the short answers required in a formal debate.

Mark Andrew, Jackie Cherryhomes, Betsy Hodges
MinnPost photos by Karen BorosDFL mayoral candidates Mark Andrew, Jackie Cheryhomes and Betsy Hodges

“We need to have a quality debate and discussion,” Hoselton said. “Going for an endorsement this early, with so many candidates, is not a good thing for the electorate. We need more debate, and the electorate deserves that.”

As the convention moves closer, there’s a lot of attention on the undecided delegates. They are getting plenty of opportunities to talk one on one with the candidates. They are also getting emails, Facebook posts and Twitter messages.

“I think the delegates, to some extent, are not as energized as I have seen them in previous years because there are so many people in the race,” said Cherryhomes, who plans to continue running even if DFLers endorse another candidate.

‘People are not as dialed in as I have seen them in the past,” said Cherryhomes, who speculates that some delegates will decide to stay home because most of the current DFL candidates, and perhaps a few more, will be on the ballot come November.

“There’s a lot of uncommitted delegates,” said Bolton, who is hearing people say they are “OK” with the idea of no convention endorsement. Her strategy is to get Cherryhomes in front of as many delegates as possible.

“We have a candidate who lights up a room, who naturally draws people to her,” she said. “We want Jackie to talk to as many people as possible.”

Lots of uncommitted delegates

“There’s going to be a large number of people, going into that day, who have not decided what they want to do,” said Layden, who, like Bolton and Cherryhomes, is finding a lot of uncommitted delegates. He also is finding delegates who are comfortable with no endorsement.

“People genuinely seem to be torn,” said Samuels. “People are sometimes very emotionally torn as to who they support, and so there is a huge amount of undecideds.”

A ranked-choice ballot might help Samuels. As he campaigns, he has been asking November voters who have made their first-choice selection if they will make him their second or third choice.

“Don seems to be getting an inordinate amount of second- and third-choice votes,” said Layden, who has been telling Samuels delegates to set the entire day aside for the convention so they will not be surprised by the time required.

“If people start feeling inconvenienced by the process, they could be inclined to leave,” he said. “We want to make sure they are as comfortable there as they can be.”

At the Schiff campaign, Warren said he is starting to see the undecided and unknown delegates dwindle in numbers. He credits social media with making it easier to contact and persuade a delegate to back a candidate.

Social media’s big impact

“Facebook is really an organizing tool. When we have a meet-and-greet in someone’s neighborhood, we can make an event very quickly,” said Warren.

Ten years ago, turning out a crowd for an event would require several days of phone calling. Not so today.

“Facebook is definitely a tool that helps us spread the word quickly, trumpet our successes quickly, helps us rally our supporters to our side, to action, more than the other social media,” he said.

For the DFL convention, the Schiff campaign has a second weapon. Her name is Mackenzie Taylor, and she will be in charge of the convention floor.

“The floor operation is about having as many conversations with as many people as you can as quickly as you can,” said Schiff, who, as a former long-distance runner and a current long-distance biker, says he will be ready to move to where he is needed on the convention floor.

“Having a smooth operation on the floor is going to be essential to keeping communication going,” he said.

Schiff has declared that he will not run against an endorsed DFL candidate, but if there’s no endorsement, expect his campaign to continue on to November.

The proposed convention rules require five ballots before considering a motion for “no endorsement.”  The last two of those ballots — rounds four and five — would have only two names.

Convention deadlock possible

Even so, a deadlocked convention is a possibility.

“If it’s not moving, it will be up to the delegates to tell us it’s time to go home,” said O’Leary. The floor operation for the Hodges campaign will be managed by members of the Service Employees International Union, which has endorsed her.

“Our job as a campaign is to get her in front of as many people as possible,” O’Leary said. “We are not having to do a lot of arm-twisting. People are really invested in Betsy.”

With more than a dozen debates behind them — and more to come — Hodges says she has learned to make the case for her candidacy and to point out differences between her views and those of her opponents.

“As a competitor, I’ve learned a lot about where my opponents are coming from,” said Hodges. “I’ve learned there are significant differences among us.”

At the Andrew campaign, they are calling these final pre-convention days “the   chaotic time.” And they are liking the chaos.

“We’ve got internal numbers that show an incredible amount of momentum for our campaign,” said Ellickson. “We are finally talking to delegates as they are finally making their decision. We’re in the final last crunch.”

The numbers must be decent. Andrew has said that knowing what his campaign  numbers are, he would “not deserve to run” if another candidate were to win the endorsement.

Do the math. If a candidate needs 60 percent for endorsement, anyone with more than 40 percent of the delegates can block endorsement.

Therefore, Andrew seems to be saying that he is either close to being able to block an endorsement or aiming at the big 60 percent.

“The most important thing to do in a convention is to be yourself,” said Andrew. “I actually don’t look at it as selling yourself. I look at it as being yourself.”

They might be pleased with their numbers, but they are not about to stop working.

“We want to see an endorsement,” said Ellickson, but they also are ready to take the campaign into November. “From Day One, we’ve been running a city-wide campaign.”

After the dust settles this weekend, there will either be a DFL-endorsed mayoral candidate facing two or three DFL challengers — or an open field with all six DFLers running.

If there is an open field, expect even more candidates to emerge.

“We’re all Democrats. We all like each other, and we’ll be working together on future campaigns,” said Schiff manager Warren, who moved here to work on the Rick Nolan’s congressional campaign. “You guys do democracy pretty good here.”