After 24 year drought, can DFL win governor's race?by Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — It's been 24 years since Minnesotans elected a Democrat to the governor's office -- one of the longest droughts in the nation -- but some political analysts say this election could be different.
People around the country typically think of Minnesota as a blue state. Minnesotans have been reliable for Democrats when it comes to voting for president; the last time Minnesota went for a Republican presidential candidate was 1972.
But when it comes to gubernatorial politics, Democrats have seen a drought that goes back to 1986, when DFLer Rudy Perpich was re-elected. That means most college sophomores haven't seen a Minnesota DFL governor in their lifetimes. Only three other states have gone as long or longer without electing a Democrat governor -- Connecticut, South Dakota and Utah.
There are variety of reasons for the DFL drought including campaign mishaps, Republican tidal waves and weak candidates, but Democratic consultant Tina Smith said it also boils down to candidates who are willing to take a strong stand on issues.
"Being too cautious is not a good strategy for winning," Smith said. "When people are electing a governor, they want to know that that person is going to be clear and tough and stand up for them. I think we may have been too cautious in the past."
Smith said she thinks whoever wins the DFL nomination stands a solid chance of winning the general election because they've been clear on taxes and spending. Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Mark Dayton and Matt Entenza all say they want to raise income taxes on Minnesota's top earners to help balance the state's budget. But Republicans also see an opening on taxes.
Gregg Peppin, a Republican campaign consultant, believes Minnesota voters want a governor who will stop excessive spending plans from the Legislature.
"Is the product that [the DFL is] putting up what Minnesota voters want? The answer for the last 25 years has clearly been no," Peppin said.
Peppin said he expects Republican Tom Emmer to deliver the same theme in the campaign.
Michal Krueger, Gov. Tim Pawlenty's campaign manager in 2006, said Pawlenty was clear with voters that he opposed tax increases. He said Democrats failed to counter that message.
"Collectively over time, they have not offered a clear answer about the role of taxes and spending," Krueger said.
But Democrats argue this year may be different because the state is facing deep budget problems.
Ken Martin, who managed Democrat Mike Hatch's failed gubernatorial bid in 2006, said voters aren't opposed to tax increases as long as they know the money is being spent wisely. He points to the constitutional amendment that raised the sales tax for the outdoors, the arts and cultural programs as an example.
Martin is heading up an independent organization aimed at electing a Democrat governor and said he thinks the Republicans have been more effective in unifying around their endorsed candidate while Democrats continue to battle it out in a primary.
"What the Republicans have been so masterful at is unifying at their convention and getting behind one candidate so they don't have a bruising primary," Martin said.
Not everyone agrees. Jeff Blodgett, who ran former U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone's campaign and President Obama's campaign in Minnesota, said primaries aren't necessarily a bad thing. He said the DFL should focus on mobilizing key DFL voters who don't typically turn out in non-presidential years.
"One of the mistakes past DFL candidates have made is to not really pay attention to the base DFL voter in the way they should," Blodgett said. "It's especially important also in a three-way election."
But Republicans are also expecting a strong turnout because of dissatisfaction with President Obama, the Democratic-controlled Congress and the DFL-controlled State Legislature.
The key question is whether that affects the race for governor: Pawlenty was re-elected in 2006 -- when Democrats made solid gains across the country.
- All Things Considered, 08/03/2010, 5:24 p.m.