2010 Gubernatorial power rankings


by Jeff Fecke • You wanted them? You got ‘em! With just nineteen months or so until the 2010 gubernatorial election, there are about 730 Democrats running and no Republicans — yet. Will that stop us from ranking ‘em? Of course not! And here…we…go:

Jeff Fecke is a freelance writer who lives in Eagan, Minnesota.In addition to his own blog, Blog of the Moderate Left, he also contributes to Alas, a Blog, Minnesota Campaign Report, and AlterNet. Fecke has appeared as a guest on the “Today” show, the Alan Colmes radio show, and the Mark Heaney Show. Fecke is divorced, and the father of one really terrific daughter. His debut novel, The Valkyrie’s Tale, is now available.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party

1. Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner

Gaertner starts out with a very simple argument: Hey, last time the DFL decided to nominate a female county attorney from the Twin Cities to statewide office, it worked out pretty frakkin’ well. So vote for me! And by golly, it’s pretty persuasive.

Gaertner starts with that in her back pocket, as well as the fact that as the only woman in a crowded field, she’ll draw a reasonably decent percentage of people who want to see a woman heading the DFL ticket. Heck, I’m sympathetic to the idea; the past four men the DFL have thrown out for the Governor’s race haven’t worked out so well. Why not a woman? Especially one who’s been Ramsey County Attorney for a long time, who’s done some positive things with child support enforcement and DNA evidence?

Well, maybe because other than those things, nobody really knows what Gaertner stands for. Her web site is bereft of actual policy positions, and while I have no reason to think she isn’t generally liberal, I also have no reason to believe that she’s given deep thought to transportation, infrastructure, health care, or education.

For Gaertner to remain on top of the power rankings, she’s going to have to prove herself to have a firm enough grasp of the larger policy issues facing our state to effectively govern. Gaertner will be a formidable candidate, and she’s married to a good media guy in John Wodele, who served as press secretary for Gov. Jesse Ventura, a position that should have come with hazard pay. But there are a ton of candidates in this race, and at three of them have run statewide races before — well, maybe two-and-a-half. Gaertner is going to have to bring her A Game.

2. Former State Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins

Fourth time’s the charm? I don’t know. Kelley managed to lose two statewide races in 2006, falling short of winning the gubernatorial nomination to Mike Hatch, then losing in the Attorney General’s primary to Lori Swanson. Quite frankly, if Kelley gets in the race, this would be his last chance to win one. At some point, you stop being viable, and start being Dick Franson.

Now, the good news for Kelley is that having run several times, he at least has a statewide network to tap. He knows what not to do. And he did get the DFL endorsement for Attorney General in 2006, and is generally liked by rank-and-filers. Can I see him getting through a crowded field to win the DFL endorsement, and then riding that into the general? Yep. Can I see him flaming out spectacularly and ultimately failing to win again? Sure.

For now, in this field, I think he’s the best of the candidates who’ve run before, and the biggest challenge to Gaertner. But I also know that Kelley has had strong advantages like this before — and missed, badly.

3. State Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook

Tom Bakk has some serious advantages, starting and ending with geography. With the Iron Range all to himself, Bakk has a huge and powerful geographic base on which to build his candidacy. He’s also a labor organizer by trade, and a carpenter, to boot — he should start with a deep and committed field organization, even though he hasn’t run a statewide race thus far.

Bakk’s only real drawback is that he looks a bit like me, especially since he decided to grow a goatee. Now, I’m a very handsome man, but still, he’s balding; that’s considered the kiss of death for reasons I’m not sure of.

Nevertheless, Bakk’s base of support is potentially huge, and if he’s able to consolodate it, he could very easily win the nomination.

4. State Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Richfield

I’ll be honest, I don’t quite know where to put Thissen. He’s got a decent record, I suppose — but he’s hardly a household name, and he’s yet another guy from the Cities seeking the office. He’s going to have to work hard to get his name out, to make waves, to be, in short, a candidate people know about.

That said, Thissen is bright, and his background as a Holy Angels grad will plug him nicely into a network. I certainly think he’s got more upside than some of the retreads running. But he’ll have to work to distinguish himself this session.

5. Former Sen. Mark Dayton, DFL-Minn.

Mark Dayton wants to be governor, I guess. If he wins, he’ll undoubtedly decide halfway through that he doesn’t really like the job, and he’ll quit by 2014.

I wish I was kidding, but let’s face it: that’s his modus operandi. He did it after winning State Auditor, and he did it after being elected to the U.S. Senate. And he’ll do it after being elected Governor. Well, in theory; I doubt he’ll put that into practice.

Let’s be honest: Mark Dayton’s a bit odd. He’s odd in a nice way — he’s not a bad guy. He means well, and he likes the idea of public service, and that’s good. But he doesn’t really like the jobs once he gets them. And that’s bad, because the Governor needs to be at least somewhat engaged.

More than that, Minnesotans are well aware of Dayton’s eccentricity. He was going to be in a tough re-election fight in 2006, and while he probably would have won re-election had he run (it was a heavy DFL year), he certainly wouldn’t have had the cakewalk that Amy Klobuchar did. I don’t believe that Dayton is more popular today, or that the state is clamoring for Mark Dayton to return from his self-imposed exile. I just don’t really get this run, but he’s got some money and some name recogniztion, which is the only reason he stays above the Scorpio line.

Speaking of which….

6. Oloveuse Scorpio Savior

Ole Savior is running again, fresh off his bid for the presidency. It wasn’t an entirely unsuccessful bid, mind you — he did finish within 400 votes of Mike Gravel. So…yeah.

Why does Ole Savior run for office? Because we all love his name. Ole Savior, Ole Savior, Ole Savior…come on, you know it’s fun!

Ole Savior represents the Scorpio Line in this race; anyone falling below him has no chance of actually winning. Ole, of course, stands no chance of winning either, but he’ll at least get some free publicity for his art, which is what he’s going for. At least he’s aware of the futility of it all, unlike the two guys below him.

7. Former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul

Matt Entenza has done some good work as the head of Minnesota 2020. He has. But I’m sorry — the catastrophic damage done to him by his abortive run for Attorney General is pretty much politically fatal. If he runs, did he suddenly not hire a private investigator to investigate Mike Hatch? If he runs, is his wife suddenly no longer a senior executive for United Health Care? If he runs, will all the issues that swirled around him disappear? Of course not. They’ll just be unfrozen, and used by his Democratic opponents to beat him up with. And if by some miracle he gets through the primary, the Republicans will hit him with them, too.

Entenza made his bed; he’s going to have to lie in it. He might be able to make a comeback in 2014. But 2010 is still too soon. It isn’t going to happen.

8. State Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville

Look, John, you’re a nice guy, and you’ve got a nice grasp of the issues. You seem to care about Minnesota, and you’ve got a strong progressive voting record. You’ve established yourself in the State Senate, and you’re going to be able to represent Roseville until the day you die.

You are not going to be governor.

You had your chance, in 1994. And you got absolutely, categorically destroyed. Yes, 1994 was a Republican year, but still, you took less than 35 percent. That’s not so bad in a three-way race, but this was before the dawn of the Independence Party; Arne Carlson beat you by 29 percent. Yes, Arne’s an independent now, yadda yadda — face it, you had your chance at the brass ring, and you not only missed it, you hurtled off into the abyss.

That’s not saying that you deserve to be shunned or anything; heck, you’re doing a good job representing your district. Keep doing it, by all means — State Senator is an important job.

But you will not be governor. Please, don’t waste your time or our time by running.

Republican Party

1. Gov. Tim Pawlenty

This race could be very dull, or very interesting. The dull side, of course, is if Gov. Timmy decides to run again. Because if he decides to run again, he’ll obviously be the nominee — no Republican is suicidal enough to challenge Pawlenty for the nomination.

But I don’t think Pawlenty is going to run again.

Tim Pawlenty is one of the great Minnesota political minds of the last quarter-century, up there with Rudy Perpich, Paul Wellstone, and Norm Coleman. And Pawlenty wants to be president. (Don’t even bother denying it, Republicans; he wants it bad.) He may decide not to run in 2012, but it’s probably his best shot.

Now, only one Minnesota governor has served more than eight years in office, and no Minnesota governor has won a third term since we went to four-year terms. Rudy Perpich, the lone exception, was 2-for-4 in gubernatorial elections, losing his bid to win the office on his own in the Minnesota Massacre of 1978 (he had taken over as Governor when Wendy Anderson was appointed to the Senate), and losing a bid for a third consecutive term in 1990 when he was just too goofy to win again.

Pawlenty is not as eccentric as Perpich, but still — he’s a Republican governor in a state trending DFL. He hasn’t won an outright majority in either of his races. He probably would have lost in 2006 if Mike Hatch hadn’t lipped off at the end of the race. 2010 is a coin flip for him, at best. And if he loses, he’s done for higher office. He can make a comeback for Senate or Governor at some later date, but he won’t be president.

So I fully expect Pawlenty to decline to run for re-election. If he decides not to run for President in 2012, he can always challenge Amy Klobuchar for Senate, or if he wants an easier race, Al Franken in 2014.

2. Former Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.

So let’s say, just for argument’s sake, that Norm Coleman loses in his bid to get Al Franken’s election overturned. He’s going to be out of a job. And given how many times he’s refinanced his house, that’s not good. He’s going to need money. Oh, sure, he could go get his law license reactivated, go back to work, but he told Skip Humphrey back in ‘97 that his days of fighting crime were over. Maybe run for mayor? Nah, too humiliating, even though it would create the Coleman-Coleman race of our dreams.

No, if Norm wants back in the game, his best bet will be to jump in to the governor’s race, hard.

Never mind that Norm will have lost to a wrestler, beat a dead guy, and lost to a comedian in statewide races; Norm’s like a bad penny. He keeps coming back. And given that the recount should continue until Pawlenty decides that he’s done enough to serve the state, the timing will be perfect.

Of course, Norm still has legal issues outstanding, and those aren’t going away anytime soon. But we don’t know that those will ultimately engulf him, and if he’s ultimately exonerated, he’ll have a good claim — not perfect, but good — that he’s the best Republican to hold the seat.

If Norm somehow finds himself back in the Senate? Well, he probably thanks his lucky stars and stays on there. But if not, don’t be shocked to see him jump in.

3. Former State Auditor Pat Anderson

Anderson may have lost in 2006, but other than Tim Pawlenty, no Republican did. But she’s got all the things Minnesota Republicans love: hard-right social views, vague-but-plausibly-deniable racism, and a fiscal viewpoint that makes Ronald Reagan look like Eugene V. Debs.

The other factor for Anderson is that she could plug into Pawlenty’s Eagan network. Anderson was mayor of Eagan when Pawlenty was representing it. And both were very much part of the power structure there. Okay, sure, Pawlenty’s seat is now held by a Democrat. But the fact is that Anderson has some support. And I would be surprised if she doesn’t throw her hat into the ring.

4. House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall

Seifert has established himself as a hard-right, take-no-prisoners defender of Tim Pawlenty’s agenda. Willing to punish members of his caucus who stray with reckless, lethal force, Seifert clearly has his eyes fixed higher than an aisle seat on the right side of the House chambers — a seat that was previously occupied by the man who is mulling running for a third term.

Seifert’s problem will be that he hails from Marshall, which is not the center of the Minnesota political universe, even among Republicans. He doesn’t have the suburban/exurban base of operations that most of his opponents will enjoy, and as such, he’ll have more difficulty raising money. But I wouldn’t count him out for the Governor’s seat, or at the very least, the nomination.

5. Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau

Molnau’s the Lt. Governor. One expects she’ll probably run. And she will lose.

Unlike Pawlenty, Molnau is not known as a steely political operator. She doesn’t have the charisma of a Norm Coleman, or the executive record of a Pat Anderson. And her highest-profile act as Lt. Governor was her tenure as Transportation Commissioner, a tenure that ended in rancor after a bridge collapsed on her watch.

I expect Molnau to slide down this list, depending on what other Republicans enter the race. Like John Marty, she has no chance of winning — none.
Originally published 1/22/09