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Do political endorsements translate into votes at the polls?

Her first few years in the Minnesota House, DFL Rep. Kim Norton had no idea that the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association endorsed candidates.

"I didn't know about it until a local police officer suggested I apply," she said.

Turns out she had to reach out to the association to get the endorsement, something most first-time candidates would not know about. Norton ultimately got that endorsement, but she knows there are plenty of other endorsements she's not getting.

"Who knows what's out there that I have never even heard of?" she said.

Take the case of her Republican opponent, Mike Rolih, who discovered that plenty of organizations endorse only incumbents. Some organizations do not even bother to contact challengers.


"My thought on endorsements is that they are nice to get. I guess they don't really tell you that much about the candidate," he said.

But do voters care?

"I can tell you, I've knocked on over 16,000 doors, and not a single person has asked who I've been endorsed by," he said.

But it can be important to some voters who are involved in certain organizations. Rolih recently attended a local NRA banquet. He has an A rating from the organization and said an official endorsement might give him a boost with local NRA members.

Rolih said he has decided to seek endorsements from just a handful of organizations he believes match up with his values. Among them are Minnesota Concerned Citizens for Life and Minnesota Farm Bureau.

For Norton, the key is to have endorsements from a broad range of organizations.

To pledge or not to pledge

Plenty of organizations look for candidates to sign pledges. Some center on tax increases. Others have to do with labor issues. Sometimes, pledges are required for an endorsement.


Rolih decided to sign pledges offered by the Minnesota Taxpayers Union and Americans for Tax Reform, vowing to not support tax increases.

"I tell people at the door that the taxpayers didn't create this huge budget deficit. People in St. Paul, irresponsible legislators, people up there making poor decisions, made these deficits. But the taxpayers are the ones footing for the bill for it," he said.

Norton said she doesn't sign pledges, even if she agrees in principle with what it says.

"I am not going to set myself up for an entire term of office having to support something just to get an endorsement," she said.

Two key endorsements

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and Education Minnesota have political action committees that endorse local candidates.

The chamber has been seen as favoring Republican candidates, although they also endorse some Democrats. Mike Franklin, director of the chamber's leadership PAC, said the organization has a rigorous endorsement process. It reviews voting records, looks for leadership on business issues, talks with local business leaders, considers electability and asks candidates to fill out a questionnaire. Generally, the chamber's PAC endorses in less than half of the legislative races in the state.

"Their mission is to elect pro-business candidates knowing that what that means is you have to find the pro-business candidates and you have to help them get over the finish line," Franklin said.


Norton got the chamber's endorsement two years ago, but the chamber has not made an endorsement yet in this year's race. Franklin said the chamber might choose to endorse in the coming weeks.

Then there's Education Minnesota, the state's teachers union. The union tends to favor DFL candidates but is endorsing seven Republicans statewide this year.

To be eligible for an endorsement, candidates must meet with members of the local teachers union and fill out a questionnaire. The local union makes a recommendation to a state-level committee with 24 members. The screening committees consider voting history, positions on education and labor issues, statewide implications and whether a campaign is well organized.

Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher said he believes that the endorsement translates into votes. He said the organization has done polling after elections to see if its members supported the endorsed candidates, and generally those candidates have strong support.

Two years ago, Norton was passed over for the Education Minnesota endorsement. This time, she won the union's backing.

"There is a trust factor that people have with educators, and our local members take time to really delve into and study the candidates' positions in depth, and so I think that provides a greater level of credibility," Dooher said.

--> Candidate Mike Rolih said in general, endorsements do not come up much when he is talking to average voters. Read about it in Thursday's print edition.

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