Here’s why: All the available data strongly indicates that Otto will beat all the other contenders across state in the upcoming Governor’s race.
Democrats have two major problems to face in 2018 and beyond. First, how do we win elections? Second, how do we remain true to our progressive and liberal roots?
For Democrats, 2018 is a must-win election, and Minnesotans have a lot at stake. Will the state remain the shining star of the North, or will it go the way of Wisconsin, and sink into a Republican dark age of union busting, environment polluting, professor bashing, service slashing, and economic activity destruction?
Of all the candidates running or suspected of running for Governor in 2018, Rebecca Otto is the only one who can most clearly win and at the same time preserve and advance core, human based, Democratic ideals, in my opinion.
The smart move for the DFL in 2018 is to turn to a candidate that has won several times statewide and has strong name recognition, positive feeling among the voters engendered by her commitment to widely held values, and a strong base of support. State Auditor Rebecca Otto is the only candidate with that resumé. Otto has racked up several historic victories, including the largest upset of an incumbent in 112 years, and is positioned to do it again in 2018. Her statewide electoral prowess far outstrips her nearest competitor, Tim Walz, who is largely unknown outside of his first district, and is untested statewide. Beyond that, Otto stands for strong for Democratic values, while Walz has shown himself to be a DINO-style Democrat. Walz enjoys a very high rating from the NRA, for example, and in February of 2013 was one of only six Democrats in Congress to vote to expand gun sales to the severely mentally ill, over the objections of senior generals including David Petraeus, Michael Hayden and Stanley McChrystal.
On the environment and climate change, Walz again voted with Republicans on anti-environmental bills progressives strongly opposed. He voted with Republicans in favor of building the Keystone XL pipeline. He introduced a bill, siding with Eric Paulsen, to expand offshore oil drilling. Walz refused to provide voters with positions on several other key issues covered by the 2016 Vote Smart Political Courage Test, despite repeated requests. Historically, candidates have failed to complete the test in part due to “fear of negative attack ads,” according to that group. In contrast, Rebecca Otto opposes unrestricted gun sales and supports common-sense, reasonable measures to prevent mass shootings by mentally ill individuals. Otto is also the acknowledged statewide leader on environmental issues, and cast multiple courageous votes against multinational corporate interests, in an effort to protect the environment even while being harshly attacked by industry advocates. Indeed, she and her husband live in a solar home they built with their own hands.
So why are some party elites pushing Walz over the far more progressive, experienced, and courageous, and environmental Rebecca Otto? Because they think we need a DINO to win, and appear to have lost touch with the party rank and file, just as they did in 2016. Walz is a talented but glad-handing politician, and older DFLers, the kind that promoted Hillary Clinton despite the rank and file’s strong preference for Bernie Sanders, find an old white traditional male politician to be a safer, steadier choice when the stakes of losing run high. But that is EXACTLY the kind of thinking that loses elections, because it disenfranchises party activists, it is reactionary instead of visionary, and it selects candidates from on high who are less able to capture the imagination of voters as something new and different. Considering that Democrats have never won the Governor’s seat two administrations in a row, that lack of contrast and imagination is a major concern in contemplating a Walz candidacy.
In their fear, the party elders who have endorsed Walz are willing to overlook Walz’s anti-progressive, anti-environmental voting history, thinking a DINO is what voters want. But they’re wrong. Hillary Clinton was anointed by the same party elites, and she underperformed Barack Obama in Minnesota by 180,000 votes. Hillary Clinton had many good qualities, but last cycle, Minnesotans showed they were ready to embrace bold, progressive leadership, the kind of leadership that they believe, based on track record, won’t sell them out on key issues when the going gets tough. They want a candidate who runs outside strict party affiliation, who thinks independently, and who takes stands for ordinary people instead of the wealthy elite or big corporations even if it means the corporations will mount attacks. They want the kind of principled, fearless leadership shown by Bernie Sanders and Rebecca Otto, not the calculating, fearful, history of Tim Walz.
But what about Trump? Didn’t Greater Minnesota go heavily for Trump? Didn’t the Minnesota Senate go Republican and the House go even more Republican? Considering all this, don’t we need a more conservative and calculating Democrat from Greater Minnesota to bridge the so-called “urban-rural divide”? That’s what some party elites argued when pushing Tim Walz. But Rebecca Otto is the only candidate who resides at the intersections of urban, suburban, exurban, and rural, on a small farm outside the Twin Cities. This means everyone can claim her as theirs.
But more importantly, the “urban-rural divide” appears to be a Republican myth that Democrats should not buy into. The evidence shows that Donald Trump received almost the identical number of votes in Minnesota as Mitt Romney did in 2012, so the notion that Donald Trump surged in Minnesota is false. Rather, Hillary Clinton underperformed Barack Obama’s 2012 Minnesota numbers by nearly 180,000 votes. The congressional districts that went the most heavily for Donald Trump in the general election (7, 6, 8, and 1) also largely went the most heavily for Bernie Sanders in the primary.
Clinton’s underperformance meant that 180,000 Democrats stayed home not just from her race, but from all races. That meant there were fewer Democrats out voting while Republicans were out in their usual numbers, so despite the DFL spending record dollars, Democrats lost every close race. Some portion of this has to be laid at the feet of party elites who, for all her advantages, interfered in the process by backing Clinton too early and loudly, lining the machine up behind her as “the front runner” and disenfranchising Sanders voters who, the above numbers show, stayed home. Some of these same elites are making the same costly mistake in 2018 by backing Walz.
The results of the 2016 election can more accurately be interpreted as an anti-establishment vote and not reflective of an urban-rural divide — and that is a reading which favors Rebecca Otto as the DFL candidate for governor.
Unlike Walz, Otto has always run largely without the support of the party kingmakers and big money players, focusing her energies on rank-and-file grassroots activists, in the style of Bernie Sanders and Paul Welstone. In so doing, she has always outperformed the DFL candidate for Governor, racking up historic victories in election after election. This approach also led her to an historic victory in the 2014 primary, when a self-financed candidate outspent her 4 to 1, and she beat him 81%–19%.
Rebecca Otto does very well on the Iron Range, and understanding why that is so leads to a full appreciation of her standing with Minnesota voters. Otto voted to protect the BWCA and Lake Superior watersheds from copper-nickel mining until we get better financial assurances from multinational mining companies. Many assumed this would hurt her on the Range and cost her the election as governor, but the facts show just the opposite. Indeed, the “done on the range” argument is from the Republican, not Democratic, playbook.
Otto vastly outperformed both Governor Mark Dayton and Congressman Rick Nolan in every county on the Iron Range and across the entire 8th Congressional District in 2014, improving her margins after her vote. To see if Otto’s brave and thoughtful stand on nonferrous mining cost her any votes, we can compare her margin of victory in the 2010 and 2014 races in the Iron Range counties. (Note: The margin of victory is recognized as the best way to compare across counties, etc., because of differences in ballots across different precincts or elections. These data are from the Secretary of State’s office.)
Otto grew her margin in every Iron Range county in 2014 by an impressive average gain of 9.51 points, for a 72% bigger margin across the Iron Range as a whole. Remember, this happened after the controversy on the range, in which Rebecca Otto took what many thought would be the less popular stand, knowing it was the right thing to do. This happened after Otto explained her position and helped people see, through an examination of long term goals and shared values, that her position was the right one for the people of the state in general and the Iron Range in particular. This is a reality that her Republican (and other) detractors on the range do not like to hear about and tend to react rather poorly to, in my experience.
The most important thing DFLers need to realize is that Rebecca Otto was the only Democrat to actually vote for Democratic values on this issue, while others were afraid to. Otto can rightly borrow Paul Wellstone’s phrase, “I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party,” when others cannot. If Democrats don’t stop compromising on their key values they will continue to lose like they did in 2016 because there will be no reason for DFLers to vote for them. I believe voters are well aware of this, this and appreciate Rebecca Otto for it.
Was it a fluke? Maybe Otto just had an easier race in 2014. Let’s look at Governor Dayton’s Iron Range performance and see if there is any difference.
Here again, Otto’s 2014 margin of victory on the Iron Range was 1.54 points higher than Gov. Mark Dayton’s and 4.41% higher than Dayton’s across the 8th CD as a whole. While Otto performed better in every county in 2014 than in 2010, Dayton lost points in 5 of 7 Iron Range counties and across the 8th CD as a whole.
When comparing Otto’s margin to Nolan’s margin, Otto’s outperformance becomes even more striking. Here, Otto completely trounced Nolan’s performance in his own congressional district, to a truly stunning degree.
Otto outperformed Nolan by 12.15 points on the very Iron Range that was supposed to cost her re-election. And Otto’s margins were even better on the Iron Range than they were in the 8th CD as a whole, where she outperformed the Congressman’s margin by a stunning 10 points. Otto’s strong popularity is why Nolan asked her to headline or speak at events. Often, she was the only statewide elected official or party officer there for him at these events.
The evidence is absolutely clear and abundant that Rebecca Otto’s courageous stand on nonferrous mining earned her votes on the Iron Range. Suggestions to the contrary are not backed up by the facts.
What about Otto’s appeal in urban and suburban areas? The candidate with the best chance of winning the Governor’s race can appeal to voters in both Greater Minnesota, and in urban and suburban areas. So, let’s look at Otto’s performance in the state’s most liberal, urban, and populous area, Congressional District 5, home of Minneapolis. We’ll use its high-profile Congressman Keith Ellison as our benchmark.
Rebecca Otto and Keith Ellison both began their terms in 2003 as State Representatives. In 2006 when Otto was elected State Auditor, Ellison won the DFL endorsement for a rare open seat in Congress, making him the shoe-in in the general election because of the CD5 DFL index.
The following compares Rebecca Otto’s CD5 performance to the Ellison benchmark in each house district in the congressional district:
It turns out that Rebecca Otto is also an exceptionally strong performer in urban/suburban areas, outperforming Congressman Ellison’s margins in 14 of 20 house districts, and across the 5th CD as a whole. Note that Ellison’s performance in his own district is stellar, so Otto’s comparable but better performance is stellar-plus.
Rebecca’s urban and suburban support is not limited to CD5. In CD4, Rebecca outperformed the benchmark Congresswoman McCollum’s margin in 13 of 21 House districts in, and across the congressional district as a whole.
Because of her strong performance and experience in urban, suburban, exurban and rural areas, Rebecca Otto outperformed the margins of every gubernatorial candidate she has been on the ballot with — Tim Pawlenty, Mike Hatch, and Mark Dayton — in 2006, 2010, and 2014.
Rebecca Otto also unseated an incumbent, and she did it by the largest margin in 112 years, in a race for a seat that had been occupied by Republicans for 134 of its 149 years. This was an enormous and historic upset — on a level that Walz can only dream of.
Otto then made history a second time when she won a tough re-election against the same opponent while being heavily targeted by the Republican Party, and without help from the DFL Party, becoming the only Democrat to be re-elected to the Auditor’s post in Minnesota history. Otto is now in her third term, and made it a third time with her absolutely crushing defeat of Matt Entenza in the 2014 DFL primary.
There is only one candidate with both the electoral experience and the track record of standing up for what’s right without fear or favor, and it is Rebecca Otto. Rebecca is authentic, warm, humble, yet tough, willing to fight for what is right, and these aspects of her character are already widely known. She is widely recognized by State Auditors around the country, winning every major award and serving as president of the national organization of State Auditors. She has Republican support as well as Democratic. In fact, it was former Governor and State Auditor Arne Carlson who first asked her to run for State Auditor. She has strong executive experience at the state level, and she knows how to manage the legislature. On all these measures, Governor Otto would be one of the most qualified new governors on her first day in the State House.
This is a year in which voters are looking for a truly progressive candidate, and it is right that they do so. Voters want a candidate who actually contrasts with Republicans instead of voting like one of them, a candidate who has powerful statewide executive and electoral experience and yet has demonstrated that she won’t sell out progressive values. Rebecca Otto is exactly that candidate.
In a year when so much is at stake, it is time to give voters a strong contrasting choice instead of a Democrat In Name Only practicing familiar old-style politics. It is a year when Minnesota is finally ready to elect a populist female governor, and we have such a candidate with the state executive and electoral experience to make that a reality. With only stunning and historic victories behind her, Gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Otto is in ready to make history yet again.