Why Norm Coleman is running for governor

Norm Coleman is going to run for governor. The signs are almost as obvious as the ones that say Tim Pawlenty is running for president.

There’s no greater indication of what a political insider is planning to do, than other political insiders getting out of his/her way, and today gubernatorial candidate Pat Anderson became, instead, a candidate for state auditor, 24 hours after she talked to Coleman.

But Coleman had already given indications he’ll get into the race. A few days ago, he went on the defensive when a man told him to stay out of the governor’s race:

“The beauty of democracy is that one person doesn’t decide. The public decides,” said Coleman. “Right now I’m not a candidate. I’m thinking about it. A lot of people, unlike you, but a lot of people have come to me and knocked on my door.”

Look at his statement today:

In the near future, my decision about which path I intend to pursue to help Minnesota and its citizens address our state’s challenges and opportunities will become clear.

Refreshing as it might be, a politician doesn’t announce his intention “to help Minnesota and its citizens…” by not running for office.

Coleman automatically becomes the favorite to win the Republican nomination and enters the general election with 1,211,590 votes, the number he picked up in his race for U.S. Senate against Al Franken. The bitterness escalated during the protracted recount with Franken, but it’s unlikely Coleman supporters defected to the DFL side because of it.

Keep that vote number in mind because it’s almost 200,000 more than Tim Pawlenty got in 2008, and 300,000 more than Pawlenty got in 2002. In both cases, the Independence Party (previously the Reform Party) fielded a strong candidate. That isn’t the case this year. It’s also true, of course, that those Independent votes don’t automatically go to a Republican.

On the other hand, look at Barack Obama’s win in Minnesota last year. A lot of Republican districts voted Democrat at the top of the ticket, and Republican in the Senate race.

Coleman has the ability to raise cash (Anderson had previously indicated the big money is sitting on the sidelines until Coleman indicates whether he’s in the race), name recognition, and one poll already showed he’s the Republican front-runner if he gets in the race.

But whether he’d win a head-to-head race with a DFLer is another matter entirely. A poll last summer showed he wouldn’t, but that was also at the height of the Senate recount.

Coleman’s biggest challenge is his own party. Former party chair Ron Eibensteiner, in a commentary for the Star Tribune, said winning the endorsement “is a virtual impossibility.” He’s not far enough to the right.

We’ve been here before, Minnesota. In the ’90s, Republican power brokers regularly turned their backs on then Gov. Arne Carlson — a Republican — in favor of farther-right candidates like Alan Quist. All Carlson did was win general elections. Easily.

So that’s what the situation comes down to. Is Norm Coleman willing to buck the Republican core and run in a primary? That’d be a great way to woo independent voters.

But Coleman is in a position to satisfy disgruntled party insiders. He could add Rep. Laura Brod, a rising star in Republican circles who has been mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate, to the ticket.

Much can — and perhaps, should — be made about the fact Coleman has lost two statewide races in his career. That might be a factor. But Democrats running for governor haven’t been appealing to the voters since the last time one was elected… in 1986.

  • Tyler

    Norm Coleman:

    Lost the gubernatorial bid to a professional wrestler.

    Won against a dead guy for Senate.

    Then lost against a comedian for that same seat.

  • Come on, let’s forget that the last election for Coleman was two years ago (it only seems like last year), against a very different opponent, for a job he already held, in a presidential election year — and after plenty of the wrong kind of exposure during the subsequent recount.

    Nobody goes into a general election that’s more than 10 months away with 1,211,590 votes.

  • Oh, and one more thing. I know a number of lefties who voted for Carlson (including me). Norm? Eh.

  • BJ

    If Norm Coleman gets in the race I’ll be out my second honey bee in 10 days. You never can tell with these guys I guess.

  • L Knudsen

    The story comments on the quality of past Independents Party candidates and states the IP isn’t providing the same quality of candidate this year. It is 10 months before the election. Only political journalists and politician are focused in on the governors race right now. This is because the media and national political parties benefit from long, expensive campaigns. The Independence Party will field a high quality candidate when the time is right. Stop the insanity. Christmas starts the day after halloween and now political campaigns start a year before the election. Enough already!

  • Bob Collins

    Th is is the election year for governor. Caucuses aren’t far off. It’s not too early. It may have been, but it’s not now.

  • Bob

    It is true that Coleman has lost a race for statewide office twice. But both times he was in a real three-way race and both times he was bested by someone who was “not a politician” and could appeal to disenchanted voters.

    This time it looks like it will be Coleman versus a career politician from the DFL, and the Independent Party will likely not be a factor. If Coleman can win over his own party I like his odds in a general election.

  • Peter THaraldson

    Bob- Tim Penny jumped in in July, Ventura in March. Hutchinson still had announced for a few more weeks. In terms of candidates, we really don’t have any right now. Strong ones coming soon, however.

    Good post otherwise though…thanks.

  • Bob Collins

    When Penny entered the race, however, he was already polling even with the two main party candidates.

  • Peter

    True- and there are many models for an IP candidate. The best one is probably Angus King of Maine, who came to speak on his strategy to party leaders after the last election.

    My only point is, I don’t see anything analytical or a baseline at this point to make an observation. There is an absence of information at this point, as there was previously (penny certainly was not polling evening in January 2002).

    Probably the better observation is “we don’t know”.

    Thanks for response though. Always open to dialogue.


  • BJ

    Yeah Norms out, and I just have the July filing to worry about with him.

    Bet is safe, for now.


    PS – Peter – IP doesn’t have anything in it’s stable to say it might have a contender. Penny was 8 years ago with a sitting Governor.

    Hutchinson started in October~November of 2005.