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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

From Mark Dayton: On Endorsements and Primaries

Category: Mark Dayton
Posted: 07/18/09 11:26

by Dave Mindeman

A few days ago I talked about some of the developments in the 2010 Governor's race.

Note: There is also some comments from Mark in a Politics in Minnesota interview that you should read as well:

I made some remarks about the DFL field destined for a primary and Mark Dayton filed a comment which is listed here in its entirety.

Mark Dayton:

I agree with your assessment that in a primary next year, "The Democrats could either control the news cycle or, conversely, bloody themselves senseless." However, I believe recent history offers better promise than your conclusion: "The DFL track record points to the latter."

The last three serious DFL primaries for major statewide offices occurred in 1998 for Governor, 2000 for US Senate, and 2006 for Attorney General. I participated in the first two of them. In September 1998, Skip Humphrey defeated the endorsed candidate and four other challengers. Although Skip subsequently lost to Jesse Ventura in the general election, I'm not aware of any credible analysis which blamed Skip's defeat on the primary. (In fact, the first post-primary polls showed him comfortably ahead.)

In September 2000, I defeated the endorsed candidate and four other opponents. To their enormous credit, they immediately endorsed me and supported my continuing effort. My own polling showed that the primary actually improved my public standing, going into the general election.

The crucial determinants in whether a primary will be constructive or destructive are the conduct of the candidates and the content of their campaigns. That will be even more critical next year, as the primary will be late (September 14th), leaving only 7 weeks to the general election.

Obviously, the candidates and their campaigns will highlight the reasons they believe they would be Minnesota's best Governor, and they will contrast their positions on issues with their DFL competitors. The critical determinants will be in how they do so. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had their own sharp clashes (even a couple which crossed my line); but overall, they focused on what they would offer the country and why they were far superior to John McCain.

Our Democratic Party united strongly and enthusiastically behind the winner of its caucuses and primaries; we worked hard together during those final two months; and we elected the Democratic President our country so desperately needed. I am confident that our DFL Party, by following these same principles, will win another critically important election next year.


I appreciate Mark's comments very much. It is good to examine the past history and Mark gives an accurate picture of the 3 major primary challenges in the last decade. But I think we need to add a few more bits of information to fully analyze the situation.

Skip Humphrey's 1998 campaign did end in defeat. Whether or not his lack of endorsement contributed to that is an open question. Mark is right.....there is no analysis which shows any detriment; however, it is pretty obvious that a number of Democrats voted for Ventura. Did Skip's decision to forego the convention endorsement have anything to do with that -- who knows? But it probably gave many disgruntled Democrats a justification in their own mind for switching in the end.

2000...Mark's Senate win...is the purest example of a candidate going to the primary and securing a complete victory. There is no denying that. But Mark made the decision early on to forego the endorsement....and to his credit, he was open and honest with the delegates from the beginning. However, that year's convention wanted to put their own stamp on the selection process and unfortunately, that led to an endorsement of a very weak candidate in Jerry Janeszek. In retrospect, that was fortunate for the party because it gave Mark the opportunity to run very strong in the primary and essentially solidfy himself for the general. As Mark commented, he was stronger after the primary than before.

And then we have the Attorney General primary of 2006. I'm afraid that this was a completely unique circumstance and indicative of the shenanigans that can beset light turnout primary campaigns. This was necessitated by the fact that Matt Entenza, the endorsed candidate, had to pull out of the race for reasons of his own making. That led to some quick filings and a lot of behind the scenes maneuvering. Maneuvering that has led to some bitter feelings that still fester to this day --- and could become a factor in the 2010 race. The Mike Hatch vs. Matt Entenza feud was in evidence and led to a Lori Swanson victory in the primary...and thanks to a strong Democratic year and a weak opponent, Swanson is now our Attorney General.

I added those details for a couple of reasons. First of all, there is no doubt in my mind that Mark Dayton is an honorable man and will run an honorable campaign. No question in my mind about that. However, I have reservations about the other potential primary challengers. I'll leave the specifics to your imagination. I don't think you have to think very hard. But even with Mark's efforts to keep a race, issue oriented, you have to answer the attacks (and they will certainly come). And sometimes you have to respond harshly. Mark's example of Obama and Hillary is valid -- they, too, ended up with some potentially damaging rhetoric. And we all know that some of those very words were used by the Republicans in the general election.

I appreciate Mark's optimism...I applaud it. But I wish I could be as confident. But, in the end, opinions don't really matter. The facts are pretty evident that we WILL have a primary in 2010. The endorsement will merely be an advisory opinion. I hope that the DFL Convention doesn't make the same mistake with that endorsement that they made in 2000. Endorse the best candidate, not just the best abider.

The DFL needs a unified party in 2010 -- no matter how we get there.

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Mark Dayton -- Progressive Democrat at mnpACT!

Category: Mark Dayton
Posted: 05/23/09 11:21

by Dave Mindeman

Last night, Mark Dayton appeared at mnpACT! in the first installment of our 2009 Governor Candidate Forum. We really appreciated Mark sticking it out with us; he would have been fully justified to cancel since he had taken his father to the emergency room earlier in the day and would be heading back to the hospital immediately after talking to us.

Despite the distraction, Mark stayed on message and patiently answered numerous questions. Let's take a look at the Dayton campaign on policy.

1. Single Payer Health Care -- Mark has embraced the idea of single payer completely. He cites the stats with ease and fully understands that he will be forced to justify his position with the opposition and within his own party. Here, he was in friendly territory on that count, but how he makes his case going forward will make or break his candidacy.

2. IRV (Instant Runoff Voting) -- Mark has also embraced this position unequivocally. He had one caveat....that we move into it incrementally. He said he will be watching Minneapolis very carefully to make sure the "devil in the details" won't cause any serious problems.

3. MN Budget. Mark stated that he doesn't want this to be the first generation to leave Minnesota worse off then we left it. He also noted that he is tired of Pawlenty's portrayal of the "innocent bystander". It is his policies that are hurting the Minnesota economy. Excuses are getting old.

4. Education. His biggest concern is the debt that students are accumulating trying to get their degrees. In this type of economy when we need people to retrain, higher ed should get more support not less. He noted that our tuition rates are the 4th highest in the country. That cannot be sustained.

Mark fielded other questions... a lot of them centered on healthcare. But one person was focused on the RNC8 and the quelling of dissent. Mark's answer troubled me a little bit. He went into a comparison of 9/11 and his experience in Washington when that happened mixed in with some talk of the Minnesota Patriot Act. But here is the problem with that -- the issues are, or at least should be, totally unrelated. The use of the MN Patriot Act with the RNC8 shows how flawed the state statute has become. 9/11 was an attack on the United States, pure and simple. With the RNC8, we have a pre-emptive raid to prevent "possible" destruction of property but in effect, it was a stifling of free speech. I hope that Mark will look at that again.

Another question addressed another concern that will dog Mark's candidacy.... the early closing of his office in response to a possible threat. He acknowledged that he will be questioned on that. His answer focused on his responsibility to his staff. The Senate had adjourned, but the staff normally stay on for awhile to finish constituent work. Dayton justified his actions on a top secret briefing classified report. He noted that Bill Frist interrupted a committee meeting with Don Rumsfeld to have him look at an urgent report. An unprecedented action. Dayton was privy to the information and was concerned for the safety of the staff that would have stayed on.

I understand what Mark is saying here and it makes sense. But the problem I keep coming back to...is why was Senator Dayton the only committee member who took such action?

This is an issue that will follow him throughout his campaign.

Another question speculated that Pawlenty wouldn't run for Governor again, and wanted to know Mark's thoughts on whom the Republicans would run. Sen. Dayton tried to punt a little on that one... not joining in the speculation about Pawlenty and letting the questioner muse about possible contenders. There was a mention of Steve Sviggum to which Dayton responded, "He's made a career about opposing government, and then won't leave it."

Mark is a very likable person, but he will have to brace himself for a not so very nice campaign. Mark must be very encouraged by the KSTP poll that shows him the closest to Pawlenty by the numbers. But right now, he only has the advantage in name recognition. That has to be followed with substance.

Senator Dayton is a progressive, no question about it, but he has to prove one more thing -- is he a progressive who can win?

There is another excellent analysis of last night's forum at...
the Minnesota Democrat blog.

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