What’s a delegate to do?
When you’re elected as a state convention delegate, you’re also elected to your congressional district convention, where endorsements for those seats are decided. Since I live in the Third congressional district, that means I’ll be on hand to decide between Jim Meffert and Maureen Hackett, who are vying to take on first-termer Erik Paulsen in November.
It’s a tough row to hoe. CD3 has “blued” considerably in recent years — President Obama carried the district by a slim margin, and we now have several entrenched local leaders like Melissa Hortman, Maria Ruud, Terri Bonoff, John Benson, and others representing parts of the district in the legislature.
On the other hand, Sen. Franken got beaten up pretty badly in the west metro by Norm Coleman and Dean Barkley, and Paulsen himself won with 48% to Ash Madia’s 41% (again with the third-party candidate taking a significant percentage of the vote).
And Paulsen now has the advantage of a full term in office, having spent over $400,000 in taxpayer-subsidized mass communications in our district, making himself the third-highest-spending Congressman in that measure.
Against that backdrop, what am I looking for in the DFL endorsement to take him on?
- Money. It’s brutal, but necessary — any candidate that can’t pull in at least a million bucks for a race like this simply will not be able to compete on the air with Paulsen’s warchest. Pennies need pinching, but if given a choice, I’d prefer to simply have a lot more pennies. So I’m waiting with bated breath to see how the two DFLers’ first-quarter fundraising reports shake out. Neither one brought in a big chunk of change in 2009, so this quarter’s receipts will tell us a lot about their work on the phones
- Base-building. In a mid-term election, base turnout is absolutely essential. At a statewide level this is especially key, and the gubernatorial candidates need to be mindful of squeezing every last vote out of the Twin Cities. But in CD3, ticket-splitting is endemic — witness the number of Obama-Barkley-Paulsen-DFLer voters in the ’08 election. The DFL needs a candidate who’s fiery enough to rally the base for the statewide races, but clear and personable enough to pull in voters who were straight-ticket Republicans not too long ago, and aren’t yet comfortable with voting straight-ticket DFL.
- Smart communications strategy. I was a big Madia guy in ’08, and in retrospect there were some mistakes that probably could have been avoided in Team Madia’s comms strategy during the general election. This year we have the advantage of an easy foil — the Tea Party — to hang around Erik Paulsen’s neck, but getting that message out is going to require some innovation (see “money” above).
Beyond those priorities, the DFL endorsement race gets a bit muddy for me. I have friends and colleagues on both campaigns, and each candidate brings an interesting and contrasting persona to the effort against Paulsen. Both have sent out glossy literature packets to delegates showing off how they plan to win in November. Both are holding meet-and-greets with delegates in the next week (which I hope to attend) and both have been putting the screws to delegates trying to get us to commit one way or the other.