It suddenly occurred to me that one of the more interesting political shows happening in the country right now is largely unreported nationally, and that many of my friends and readers who are not living in the North Star State are missing it. I’m talking about the Minnesota Primary.
Interesting, I say, but not necessarily consequential. Yes, how red or blue the state ends up being is partly determined by the upcoming Primary (next Tuesday), but in the end, Republicans will put up Republicans, Democrats will put up Democrats, and then those two groups will fight it out. But, despite that inevitability, there are a number of races that will be on the tips of the pundit’s tongues next week, and on election day in November. Also, there are some interesting recent developents, one of which has not hit the national press yet, but will any second now.
The big race is for governor. As you know, I supported Rebecca Otto, but she did not win the endorsement at the state convention, and having promised to abide by the endorsement, she left the race. Erin Murphy was endorsed. Also seeking the endorsement was Congressman Tim Walz, who never promised to abide by the endorsement, and who remains in the race.
In order to understand how this gets interesting, we need to have a flashback and go way back in time, to just over a year ago today. That is when Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson unofficially said she might run for governor.
For reasons that I never understood, and now see as being very iffy, most Democrats in Minnesota, at that time, thought very highly of Swanson, and saw her as very very electable, to any office. She seemed to have a very effective campaign strategy, though even until recently I’d never identified a person who could explain her strategy to me. Anyway, since Swanson was suggesting she might run for governor, several individuals declared their tentative candidacy for Attorney General. They all said, if Swanson runs for Governor, they’ll stay in that race, but if Swanson doesn’t run for Governor, they’d give sway and drop out. I remember talking as some length with one of those candidates last August, urging her to stay in the race no matter what. She would not hear of it. Nobody would ever consider running against Swanson.
I never liked that Lori Swanson did that. It made the whole gubernatorial thing harder. Also, she was, in effect cheating. When my candidate, Otto, did some brilliant thing or another as part of her job, it could not be publicized because that would be unethical use of the office for campaigning. But even a lackadaisical attack on Trump by Attorney General Swanson became a “look at me, I’m great” campaign issue, since she was not officially running.
Eventually, very very late in the process. Swanson indicated that she was not running for governor. At about the same time, a young lawyer named Matt Pelikan decided he wasn’t going to screw around like all the others. He simply ran against Swanson.
At the time, I was working endorsing conventions, so I was at the state senate level conventions for the DFL on several different occasions. This meant that I got to see every candidate running for state level office give their stump speech several times. I remember when I saw Pelikan the first time. He said all these things that were impossible, indicating that our Democratic Attorney General was a friend of the NRA (not just a little, but a lot), had a weak position on Trump’s travel ban, and all sorts of other things. I figured this guy Pelikan was nuts, because none of those things could be true.
I’m the kind of person that others sometimes come to for advice on voting. They are not following the issues or candidates too closely, and they know that I am, and I can give them some helpful advice. Well, there are other people who are the kind that I go to for advice on candidates and issues. The deep gurus. At the time that I was seeing Pelikan’s stump speech every few days, I contacted some of these trusted confidants. They all assured me that Swanson was fine, go ahead and support her, bla bla bla.
Well, I still love and respect those individuals, but in doing my own research, I found out they were all wrong. The great ability of Lori Swanson seems to have been to convince people she was a strong progressive Democrat doing an excellent job, when really, she was a centrist at best, and it was not at all clear that she was doing a great job.
So, when I went, as a delegate elected by my Senate District, to the State Convention in Rochester, I had decided I’d vote for Pelikan. I really liked him.
Here is what was supposed to happen:
1) Pelikan gets up and makes an impassioned speak about his values and his value as a candidate. As part of his time, his husband makes a short but rousing endorsement. There is a short film favorable to him.
2) Swanson has a series of surrogates speak for her first, including some well known major democrats, cute young kids, and a variety of people with various traits that show how great Swanson is. All inclusive and stuff. This is followed by Swanson giving her great speech.
3) We vote, and the vote is something like 90% Swanson 10% Pelikan, if Pelikan is lucky. (A candidate needs 60% to be endorsed, and there can be several votes in a row to get there.
What really happened:
Item 1 from above. Not everyone agrees with me, oddly, but I felt that Pelikan’s speech was one of the best at the convention. Others do share that view. Former Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak, Senator Amy Klobuchar, a couple of others, and Pelikan were all in the same echelon.
2) Swanson’s “normal people” surrogates, unpracticed and inexperienced most of them, each took too long to get through their spiel. The very famous former AG and Gubernatorial candidate Mike Hatch, one of the surrogates, wandered and babbled. Time was called. There was no nice movie, no speech from Swanson. Everyone is sitting there, like, what?
3) We vote, and it is something like 52% Swanson, 48% Pelikan. The crowd goes wild. It is pretty clear that Pelikan has momentum. The chances are very high that he’ll pass Swanson on the next vote.
Just as we are starting to vote in the next round, Swanson drops out.
And that is when everything went crazy.
It took minutes for about a dozen people in very high places to put two and two together and realize that the AG slot was open. Swanson was not, people guessed, and later, got confirmed, going to stay in that race and run in the primary. She was going to swoop in out of nowhere and run in the primary for governor!
Some of the people who had previously fake-ran for AG when Swanson was toying with a gubernatorial run realized this was their chance, and some who had not as well. What unfolded unfolded fast over a few days.
Congressman Keith Ellison, up for re-election in Minnesota’s fifth district and DFL endorsed, quit his race for that seat in Congress and declared he would run for AG. That left open the fifth district. A whole bunch of people jumped into that race. Swanson added soon to be ex Congressman Nolan of Minnesota’s eight district to her ticket. Some of the people now running for AG left open seats they had been holding.
Meanwhile, Senator Al Franken had resigned from the Senate and was replaced with the appointed Tina Smith. Senator Smith is running for election to her seat in a special election this year (on normal election day). She is being challenged by former Republican Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota (and by the way a former teacher of Matt Pelikan), and a former ethics lawyer in the Bush White House. At the convention, Painter did very well despite having only barely campaigned and only entering the race a few weeks earlier. Smith and Painter will, like the rest of them, face off in next Tuesday’s primary.
So now we have a very confusing primary.
Erin Murphy (DFL Endorsed)
The current and important news about this race:
1) Polls show the endorsed Murphy ticket to be significantly behind. I do not expect her to win the primary. Swanson and Walz were both doing about as well as each other until about 48 hours ago.
2) Breaking news from yesterday or the day before. The accusation is being credibly made that Swanson, while in the AG office, never actually hired staff for any of her campaigns (and this is said to continue for the current race for governor) and instead, used her government staff to do that. If that turns out to be real and is disseminated widely enough before Tuesday, it could kill her chances. I don’t know how bad this can get. I think most Democrats voting in the DFL primary who know about this, who were inclined to vote for Swanson, might beg off now. People might think, if the accusations are true, isn’t that illegal? Won’t that make the chance of her actually being governor be roughly zero?
I’m not tracking the Republican contests here, but I’ll note that for governor, Tim “We’ve Had Pawlenty of Tim” Pawlenty is trying to make a comeback. The big fight between Pawlenty and his main opponent Jeff Johnson is how much like Trump they each are. But I’m not sure if they are trying to be more like Trump or less like Trump. I imagine neither of them is sure of that either.
DFL Endorsed Matt Pelikan
I think Ellison and his supporters believe that between name recognition and reputation, he might easily win this primary. The problem is, Minnesota is highly bifurcated. Most Minnesotans are either pretty liberal or full on yahoo right wing. The liberals would enjoy Ellison for several reasons, including the fact that he is a person of color and a Muslim. We would like to be the first state with a black Muslim AG. But, the yahoos won’t have anything to do with him and have always hated him.
In the primary, this means, how many Democrats will think, “I like him and all, but he can’t win in rural areas where the yahoos live, so no…”
Meanwhile Pelikan has been campaigning steadily and effectively. If the endorsing convention is anything to go by, he may do very well.
Hilstrom is locally liked a great deal, but I would guess she is mostly locally known. Nobody knows who the other two are.
I really have no idea what will happen, but I think there is a non zero chance of Pelikan pulling this off. I will be voting for him, of course.
There are actually a whole bunch of people running in the special election for Senate.
Tina Smith is the DFL endorsed incumbent. She is liked by many according to many, and I know many who support her. But she damaged herself enormously when she came out with some highly questionable environmental legislation, which turned many against her. Richard Painter is the opposite. People are suspicious of him because he is a former Republican. But, his position on those environmental issues is strongly favored by those who are unhappy with Smith’s decisions. Remember, this is a primary, so it is a good guess that faithful DFLers will vote in numbers for the endorsed candidate. I predict Painter will do much better than most expect. I have no idea who will win.
Down in Congressional District 5, now an open seat with Ellison leaving to run for AG, there are five candidates running in the primary. Ilhan Omar is the DFL endorsed candidate (endorsed in a hastily convened endorsing convention). If she is ultimately seated, she will be a black (native African) Muslim female replacing a mere male black (native born) Muslim. So that’s a sort of upgrade. Also, she is very well liked, so I strongly suspect she’ll win the primary. Whichever Democrat wins the primary will win the seat in November.
The other candidates, though, include some very popular individuals. Margaret Anderson Kelliher is a mainstream liberal DFLer, endorsed last time there was an open seat for Governor (but she lost the primary to now-Governor Dayton). Also running is Patricia Torres Ray who is locally popular. And two other guys, including a Francis Drake, but not the guy with the boat.
So, Omar will very likely win that, but it will be interesting to see how others fair.
Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District is the big cry baby of districts. This is the mining region, as well as a major tourism region. It is where the wolves live. One percent of the state’s economy is in mining, but most of the politicians pretend that the mining interests, both the businesses and the mining jobs, should drive politics state wide. Unions agree. If you are a Democrat and you point out that anything from Indian Gaming to tourism to building clean energy facilities is way bigger than mining and always will be, you will be vilified. I assume that this love of a small and mostly dead industry comes from well heeled supporters who are not only from outside Minnesota, but outside the US entirely. The mining business is large, and it is dangerous. I fully expect to be pressured to delete the very paragraph you are reading.
Anyway, because of things like mining, pipelines, hippie punching, and some very duplicitous actors in the DFL, the eight district could not endorse a candidate this year. So they’ve got five people running. If you want to know, I support Michelle Lee, but I think Kirsten Kennedy has some real future potential and she truly appreciates clean energy. Jason Metsa is the mining guy. A couple of others are running too, don’t know anything about them.
For more detail, more uniform coverage, info on the Republicans and on race I’m ignoring, check out this overview at MinnPost.