DFL candidates eye primary election
On a recent weekday afternoon, a dozen people gathered in a room at Rochester Community Technical College for a chance to learn more about DFL gubernatorial candidate Matt Entenza.
As voters munched on brownies and sipped milk, Entenza outlined his platform emphasizing the need to fund education and invest in renewable energy. The event highlighted the candidate's new strategy — focusing on the August primary instead of winning the DFL endorsement.
"We have to raise the profile of the campaign and engage voters because the reality is that there are 1,400 delegates at the DFL convention but there are up to half a million people that vote in the primary," Entenza said in an interview after the event.
While Republicans expect to be able to unite behind one candidate after next month's endorsing convention, Democrats will have to wait. The two GOP front-runners, Rep. Tom Emmer of Delano and Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall, both have said they will abide by the party's endorsement process. But it is clear that whichever candidate wins the DFL endorsement will have plenty of political competition come August.
Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, who boasts deep pockets, has already said he plans to run in the primary. Joining him will be Entenza, another well-funded candidate. Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner has said she will be on the August ballot. So how will this primary contest impact the Democrats' chances for taking back the governor's mansion?
It depends, according to Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier. He said it does give Republicans an advantage when it comes to fundraising over the summer because all the campaign dollars can flow to the endorsed candidate. But perhaps the biggest potential impact on a DFL candidate's chances in November has to do with just how nasty the primary race gets.
"What really matters in an August primary is how acrimonious the campaign is and how bitterly divided the party is at the end of a primary," Schier said. "That can be a serious problem going into the fall and that is the thing that Democrats have to guard against."
So far, endorsements among union groups have been scattered among several DFL hopefuls. At this point, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak have emerged as the front-runners in the crowded endorsement race. But other Democrats are still busy courting delegates, including Sen. John Marty, Rep. Tom Rukavina and Rep. Paul Thissen.
Campaigning and endorsements continue
As next month's endorsing convention nears, DFL candidates are hard at work trying to win over southeastern Minnesota voters. Dayton and Thissen were both in Rochester on Friday to join in a labor rally. Meanwhile, the Rybak campaign got a boost this weekend with Rochester DFL Rep. Tina Liebling announcing she is endorsing the mayor for governor. She said she decided to go with Rybak in part due to his understanding of Rochester's issues along with his executive experience.
"He is a person that has the vision, energy, optimism and ability to bring people together that I think is sorely needed right now," Liebling said.
Three area Democrats had previously announced they were endorsing Sen. Tom Bakk, who recently dropped out of the governor's race. It's left to be seen whether Sen. Ann Lynch of Rochester, Sen. Steve Murphy of Red Wing and Sen. Dan Sparks of Austin will back another candidate. Meanwhile, Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, and Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, are supporting Entenza. Sen. Sharon Erickson Ropes of Winona is endorsing Marty.
Some DFL lawmakers have decided to stay clear of endorsing a candidate. Rep. Kim Norton of Rochester and Rep. Andy Welti, DFL-Plainview, both say they will not endorse anyone before the convention.
As a Democrat, Norton said it is frustrating that some candidates are choosing to run in the primary.
"It would be nice to know who our one candidate is. But it is a democracy and if they want run in the primary it is their right," she said.
Prospects for the general election
Olmsted County DFL Chair Lynn Wilson has a different perspective. She said the arduous process helps create stronger candidates.
"The election process and the primary process is a way to make all the candidates better. It is a chance for the people of Minnesota to say, 'This is what I want,'" she said.
As a result, she said she is confident that the DFL candidate that emerges after the August primary can win in the general election.
But Republican Party of Olmsted County co-chair Bruce Kaskubar said the contested DFL primary is good news for the endorsed Republican candidate.
He added that the GOP candidate "can concentrate on their opponents, which are in the other party, instead of having to concentrate on their own party. So yes, I think there is a little advantage there."