Since May 28 of this year, there’ve been 12 polls taken on the Minnesota gubernatorial race. Twelve different times, different pollsters have taken the temperature of the state, seeing who Minnesotans want to succeed Gov. Timmy.
The results have been remarkably consistent. Ten times, polls have shown former Sen. Mark Dayton, DFL-Minn., leading the race. Once, the race was tied. Only once has State Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano, led the race, and then, only by one percentage point – and that was only after the use of a polling methodology that has since been rejected by the very company that produced the poll in the first place.
That same poll is the only one since May 2 of this year to show Emmer with more than 40 percent support. Over and over, Minnesotans have been asked who they support for governor, and over and over again, they’ve responded, “Not Tom Emmer, thanks.”
It didn’t have to be this way for the GOP. If they’d nominated State Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, they would have chosen a candidate who is only slightly more moderate than Emmer, and significantly less bombastic and intemperate. Seifert well could be in contention right now. But as in Nevada, in New York, in Delaware, in Alaska, the GOP in this state chose the ideologically pure candidate over the candidate who could win. And that has as much to do with the state of these power rankings as anything.
1. Former Sen. Mark Dayton, DFL-Minn. (LR: 1)
Dayton has maintained his lead in the polls by, first and foremost, avoiding the big gaffe. He has run a buttoned-down, solid, sensible campaign, one that’s long on policy and short on drama. While the GOP has tried repeatedly to portray Dayton as out of control or mentally ill, Dayton has defied the description by simply plodding along, speaking passionately but reasonably on the issues of the day, avoiding interpersonal spats, and simply keeping his powder dry.
Ultimately, this is the strategy that won for Arne Carlson and Tim Pawlenty – appear more reasonable than your opponent, and show that you’re going to be a steady hand at the wheel. One can argue whether Pawlenty was really as stable as he intimated, but he certainly didn’t refer to reporters as whores.
This is Dayton’s path to victory: don’t screw up. Given the stability of the polls and the intemperance of his opponent, it’s a strategy that should work.
2. State Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano (LR: 4)
Emmer is only moving up the charts because Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Matt Entenza aren’t on it; if anything, his chances of victory are worse today then they were on primary day.
Emmer needed, and still needs, to change the dynamics of the race somehow. A big part of that – bigger than I think he realizes – is that he needs to change how people view him. He’s seen by Minnesotans as too unstable and too ideologically rigid to serve as governor. Unfortunately, that’s not something that can be fixed by running attack ads saying Dayton will raise taxes. Indeed, given that Emmer actually is too unstable and ideologically rigid to serve as governor, I don’t know how Emmer changes that perception. Few politicians have Tim Pawlenty’s gift of appearing moderate while behaving radically.
Emmer’s strategy has basically been to attack, attack, attack, and the problem he’s got is that Minnesotans know Mark Dayton. He’s been in state politics for decades. He’s been our senator. He’s been our auditor. He’s won statewide elections. He’s not an unknown. He’s a known.
Is Dayton a liberal? That’s not news. Is he a bit flighty? He has been, though most Minnesotans view his admission of his alcoholism as a positive (we’re the state of Hazelden; 12-step programs are as much a part of our state culture as lutefisk). And most Minnesotans are willing to give the guy a second chance.
So Emmer can only get so much traction out of hammering Dayton. He has to actually make the case for himself. And Emmer’s case – vote for me and I’ll cut the wages of Minnesotans – has limited appeal. Enough to get him the GOP endorsement? Yes. Enough to get him elected governor? Barring disaster, no.
3. Tom Horner, Independence Party (LR: 5)
Fifteen years ago, Tom Horner would have been at home in one of the state’s major parties. Horner is a Republican of the 1990s – one who’s willing to actually look at reality once in a while. Oh, his policy proposals are still lousy. (I mean, raising sales taxes on clothing while cutting business taxes? Really?) But at least Horner is willing to talk about taxes as if they’re what they are – the price of government – instead of what they aren’t – horrible job-killing socialism of doom.
Horner is polling well, and should poll well, because he’s pulling a lot of Republicans who simply aren’t comfortable with the combustible candidate their party nominated. How many Republicans are supporting Horner? Enough that GOP chair Tony Sutton describes them bitterly as “quislings.”
Will it be enough for Horner to win? No. Horner is right about his path to victory – if he could somehow get ahead of Emmer, and get the race to a Horner-Dayton race, he’d have a very good chance. But there are too many Tea Party Republicans who aren’t going to abandon Emmer no matter what, and Horner won’t get any more support out of DFLers. That leaves him mired in third, set to repeat the IP’s usual performance – solid, but nowhere near good enough to win.
4. Ken Pentel, Ecology Democracy Party (LR: 7)
I’m still thinking Pentel is fourth on your list of candidates, though that’s with a serious caveat; I don’t know whether environmentalist fringers will break for Pentel or for the Green Party. If, as I suspect, they break for Pentel, he gets into fourth. If they break for Fareen Hakeem, Pentel could finish dead last.
I still am not quite sure why Pentel bolted from the Greens to form his own, even more lefty party. It’s not like the Greens were getting too mainstream. But whatever.
5. Fareen Hakeem, Green Party (LR: 15)
Hakeem moves up a bit, because of the very hedge I noted above. She’s done well in Hennepin County, and she’s got enough of a base that, if things break right, she could pass Pentel for fourth. Is Minnesota ready for a very liberal Muslim governor? No. Is one percent of Minnesota ready for a very liberal Muslim governor? You betcha.
6. Chris Wright, Grassroots Party Founder (LR: NR)
Chris Wright is like, running for governor, and he like, uh…oh yeah, he wants to, like, legalize pot, man. I mean, like, you’d be able to smoke pot, and it would be, legal and stuff.
Pot. That’s kind of a weird name for it, isn’t it? I mean, it doesn’t come in a pot. It doesn’t look like a pot. It doesn’t taste like a pot. Weird.
7. Linda Eno, The Resource Party (LR: 17)
Linda Eno is running for governor, I guess. I still don’t have any clue what The Resource Party stands for. I’ve tried to read their site three or four times, and I still don’t get it. And I’m really good at reading comprehension, so I don’t think the problem’s me. At any rate, if you want to educate me, please, feel free.
Falling Out: Margaret Anderson Kelliher (2), Matt Entenza (3), Ole Savior (6), Rob Hahn (8), Peter Idusogie (10), Bob Carney, Jr. (11), Leslie Davis (12), Phil Ratté (13), Rahn Workcuff (14)