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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

The Specs on a Minnesota Special Election

Category: Minnesota Politics
Posted: 01/08/08 22:38

by Dave Mindeman

I'd like to discuss the recent special election in Senate District 25. There are some things to learn and a lot of things to take with a grain of salt.

First of all, the Democratic win was completely unexpected. The previous Senator, now judge, Tom Neuville had been an incumbent Senator since 1990. His margins of victory were not overwhelming but they were comfortable. In both 2002 and 2006, he won with 52% of the vote over different challengers.

For the special election, the Republicans had Ray Cox, the type of candidate you would want with little time to campaign. He was a former legislator for half the district and a proven commodity. He had some detractors in his own party but not anything remotely like some kind of party division.

The Democrats endorsed Kevin Dahle. He was a teacher and activist in the party but with little name recognition in the district.

It was a marginally Republican district with a known candidate running --- and a short time to campaign. In addition, Governor Pawlenty set the date for January 3rd....shortly after the holidays, but, as it turned out, more importantly, it was the same day as the Iowa caucuses.

There was a quote in the Star Tribune from Mike Kennedy, the Senate DFL caucus campaign director. He said:

"While the students gave Dahle a lot of momentum going into Election Day, the victroy did not hinge on the student vote."

I think the victory DID hinge on the student vote....and here's why.
I am going to focus on 8 precincts in Northfield. These precincts normally are strong Democratic precincts but during the special election, they were phenomenal.

Here are some numbers (these numbers pertain only to the 8 Northfield city precincts):


Neuville......3335 votes.....44.22%
Mladek.......4207 votes.....55.78%


Neuville......2743 votes.....35.43%
Peterson.....4998 votes.....64.56%


Cox............1160 votes.....27.48%
Dahle.........3061 votes......72.52%

Notice a trend?

But here is the kicker to me:

% of total vote vs. vote in Northfield 8:

2002: 34,441 Total -- 7542 Northfield or 21.89%
2006: 34,881 Total -- 7741 Northfield or 22.19%
2007: 12,027 total --- 4221 Northfield or 35.10%

Dahle's margin in Northfield was a +1901, while his total district victory margin was +1577. In the entire rest of the district, Dahle lost by 324 votes.

One more stat:

Let's look at the 4 counties involved in this district. Here, I am going to compare the vote in the 2006 general election with the vote in the 2007 special election.

LeSeur County: 2006: 11,308 2007: 2979....26.30%
Scott County:....2006: 6,314 2007: 1828....28.95%
Rice County:.....2006: 13,973 2007: 6764....48.41%
Sibley County:...2006: 3,260 2007: 752....23.07%

Guess which county Northfield is in?

But why was the student turnout so high? Did the DFL actually get this one right? Did the Republicans blow it?

The Pawlenty plan had been to schedule the election at a time when students might just be getting back from holiday and wouldn't be engaged. But the Iowa caucuses have been in the news for weeks... the Obama phenomenon has engaged and inspired young people all over. Al Franken made stops at the colleges. The Republicans were complacent and ambushed. It was the perfect storm for a DFL win.

So, what do we take away from this.

For Republicans, there was very little they could have done. They can argue about how much work everybody did or didn't do, but with this election, as in every special election, it was all about turnout. Could they have taken too much for granted? Sure, but no amount of extra work was going to change the outcome here. This was determined by the students, not by the politicos.

For Democrats, the focus should be on the "sleeping giant"... the youth vote. That has been looking for some inspiration and a reason to engage.... they have it, at least for now. The best thing the Democrats did in the special election was stay out of the way. They did there usual GOTV, but this election was about engagement and wanting to participate. That might not have happened without the barrage of news from our southern neighbor.

Is this some kind of omen for the future? Not likely. But both parties had better prepare for a wild ride this year. The "times, they are a'changin'".
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Franken Still Producing on the Minnesota Senate Money Front

Category: Al Franken
Posted: 01/07/08 20:16

by Dave Mindeman

Al Franken had another outstanding campaign finance quarter, taking in nearly $1.9 million. It is obvious that Franken can compete with Norm on the money front.

Lots of other questions are still out there, but you can't fault Franken for his work ethic. He has been relentless and the evidence is strong that he helped make the difference in that Senate District 25 upset victory for the Democrats.

Caucuses are on February 5th.... we will see how well Franken has been doing on the organization front then.
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A Minnesotan at the Iowa Caucuses: The Nuts and Bolts

Category: Presidential Politics
Posted: 01/05/08 21:17

by Dave Mindeman

Let's talk about the mechanics of the Iowa caucuses a little bit. I attended one of the actual precinct caucuses in Des Moines and it was an education.

I knew immediately that turnout was going to be high, because the line for registration, at the elementary school I went to, was lined up out the door and onto the street. Iowa cuts off registration at 7pm, but the precinct chair decided to herd everyone into the building and lock it -- declaring that everyone inside could still register. As you will see, the precinct chair has quite a bit of discretion.

As observers, my wife and I could move past the crush and down to the basement where the actual caucus would be held. It was crowded. By contrast, the Republicans in this same precinct were caucusing in the same building, but had the auditorium reserved. They had about 90 people... the Democrats ended up with 185. To put this in perspective... in 2004 (a busy year in its own right), this same precinct had 80 Democratic attendees.

When you entered the meeting room, precinct captains for each candidate had reserved table space for their candidate's supporters. As the people filed in, I took a quick head count and it looked like Obama, Clinton, and Edwards all had about the same number of people....45+. Richardson and Biden had about 12 apiece.... there were about 5 or 6 Kucinich supporters but they quickly realized they would not be "viable" and sauntered over to the Obama section.

Now, let's define some terms. Viable means your candidate must have at least 15% of the total number of registrants, rounded up. In this precinct that number was 28. That number is vital and can change in other precincts depending on attendance. This precinct is allowed 7 delegates... that means that your candidate will get 1 state delegate for each group of 28 you have. One delegate for 28.... Two delegates for 56...etc. But you have to have at least 28 to even be in the game. You have a certain amount of time to become viable if you are not. The chair set a time of 20 minutes as the deadline for viability. That is when the noise begins....each group sends out people to the other candidate groups, trying to persuade people to join them. The larger groups concentrated on the Richardson and Biden groups since they had less than half the required number of 28.

The Richardson and Biden groups were a study in contrast. Richardson people had no real leader and were hesitant about what to do. But the Biden group had Joe Biden's brother there -- he was "officially" an observer like I was, but when they are not doing official head counts, observers can "work the room". He immediately went to the Richardson group and got into some animated conversations, coming back with about half the group. There were also a few undecideds floating around -- I figured there were about less than 10 of them, but Biden soon corraled most of those. With a few minutes to go, the Biden group had swelled to 26. It looked like Obama and Clinton had gained a few and the Edwards group had lost a couple.

But Biden was still two short. If he didn't reach the 28 number in the allotted time, the entire group would be dissolved and they would have to find places in other groups. I watched him survey the room.... he was close to the Edwards location so he started to talk to their precinct captain.

Now let me digress a second and talk about precinct captains. The campaigns are concerned about getting lots of their people to the caucuses, but they are more concerned with getting good, experienced precinct captains. They make or break it for the candidates. As I watched the groups, it became clear that the Hillary group had the best qualified captain. The Obama group had an excellent captain, but was kept busy trying to inform all the new people about the process and didn't get much time to go out and recruit. The Edwards camp seemed to have a slight conflict about who was in charge -- and this eventually cost them. The Biden captain just let Biden's brother take control and was nominally in charge when Biden had to leave the floor.

So back to the Biden/Edwards conversation. It looked like they made a deal that a couple of Edwards people would move over to the Biden group in order to keep his group viable. The Edwards captain was afraid if the Biden group was dissolved that most of them would head to the Obama or Clinton group.

Now it is important to keep accurate head counts of your group. Once you are over the 15% (28) threshold, your "extras" become important for getting the last delegates.

When the viability time limit was up. The Biden group had exactly 28 and qualified for 1 delegate. The Clinton group had over 60 and had a hard count for at least 2 delegates. The Obama group had just over 50 and looked like a shoo in for the biggest remainder for a second delegate. The remainder is the number in excess of your multiple of 28. Fifty would be one group of 28 plus a remainder of 22. Once you have that first 28, the numbers above that still count. The Edwards group had about 45.... they were guaranteed one delegate and looked like they would have the second highest "remainder", so they would have 2 delegates. For the Biden group it was imperative to keep everyone together -- they had the magic 28 but no room for error.

So, at the viability stop, the delegate breakdown looked like this:
Clinton 2, Obama 2, Edwards 2, and Biden 1.

But, it is not over. The caucus is given one last deadline for the final delegate selection. They have about 10 minutes to make their last pitches and try to move more people.

This is where the Edwards group got crunched. Somehow the Clinton group was inching upward and was now getting close to 70 people. Something also happened with the Edwards group as the clash about who was in charge, sent one of their main people over to the Obama group... a few more peeled off and suddenly the Edwards group had a lower remainder than the Clinton group. When the dust settled, the final counts were taken and it ended up with Clinton (3 delegates), Obama (2 Delegates), Edwards (1 delegate), and Biden (1 delegate). Those 2 people that the Edwards gave the Biden group ended up costing them a full delegate because they finished 1 person behind the Clinton remainder.

You can see why the raw numbers are a little difficult to gauge in the Iowa process. The Republicans have none of that -- they get their people in their seats... give them a ballot, vote and tabulate. The GOP precinct was in and out in about 1 hour. This Democratic precinct was late reporting because the chair of the precinct was subbing for the elected one and was a little unsure of the process. He had a lot of people in his face.... I wouldn't have wanted to be in his shoes.

Obviously, Clinton did well in this precinct, but that wasn't true statewide. The Obama groups were surprisingly disciplined... they had good training prior to the event.

Minnesota has a caucus system also. It has important differences but a lot of the same principles. If you want to participate on February 5th but don't know how, mnpACT! offers training sessions. Contact us and we can fill you in....
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