Target flap could turn Minn. gov’s race into national battleground


This morning, Minnesota Republican candidate for governor Tom Emmer was the subject of a posting by New York-based Gawker titled, “Meet Tom Emmer, Target’s Favorite Right-Wing Nutjob.” 

Outrage over Target’s $150,000 donation to pro-business MN Forward because of the group’s support of Emmer (who’s been linked to anti-gay groups) has cascaded from local media to international news. The attention drawn to the race, and to Emmer himself, could transform a state race into a national battleground as partisan dollars fly to the region to back up each candidate’s values.

With a federal court decision on the constitutionality of California’s gay marriage ban expected this afternoon, gay rights is lined up to become a premier issue in the 2010 election. Already, is pushing a national Target boycott. In this climate, Hamline University political science professor David Schultz told the Minnesota Independent that there’s a possibility these campaigns will spark outrage from progressives and supporters of gay rights that translates directly into financial support for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, which will be decided in the primary election this coming week.

“This could completely change the equation in the race. Emmer has already said he’ll accept public financing, so he’s limited in how much he can spend. Third party groups are clearly going to control the balance of power,” Schultz said. “Let’s say Dayton wins the [primary] election: a millionaire candidate with deep pockets supported by progressives around the country who are upset with corporate spending – Emmer could just get dwarfed in how much money he could raise and spend in his campaign.”

But despite weeks of bad press, including a sustained campaign from Abe Sauer of The Awl blog, the Emmer campaign hasn’t done much to address recent controversies. Schultz said the Emmer campaign has so far violated a really simple rule of politics which is ‘”define or be defined.”

“Whether he is a crackpot or not, I leave that to other people to make a judgment call on, but clearly groups are defining him as a crackpot and defining where he stands on the issues,” Schultz said. “The more he’s got to spend time undoing that damage, the less time he can spend going on the offensive or getting his message out.”

But attention to the race, specifically from progressive donors, could transform the governor’s race into the same sort of national battleground as the congressional race between Rep. Michele Bachmann and Tarryl Clark, which would benefit Emmer.

In the same way that Emmer might get a fringe reputation from progressives, he might actually become the hero of some very conservative people, Schultz said. “His persona, as it’s being defined right now, is going to attract a lot of people and repel a lot of people at the same time.”

Because of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, third parties can spend unlimited amounts of money in support of a candidate, bringing the possibility that national issues from both left and right could swamp state concerns.

Third party independent expenditures are not controlled by the candidates,” Schultz said. “What it will mean is the candidates will lose control over the race, and their spending and their messaging almost becomes secondary to a larger national agenda.”