Lessons from primary day (Five by 8: 8/11/10)

I’ll suspend the usual collection of news items today for five thoughts about Primary Day over black coffee


People who vote on Primary Day in August are more likely to be the most engaged, often activist party members. That’s what makes Sen. Mark Dayton’s win over DFL-endorsed Margaret Anderson Kelliher more shocking. There are plenty of campaigns and political careers in tatters today, but the value of a DFL endorsement is — at least for now — on the trash heap of history. And someone’s going to pay. Political parties hate people who undermine the power of political parties. And both Dayton and Matt Entenza flipped off the party machine by undermining the endorsee. If you’re a fan of Ultimate Fighting, you want a seat at the next DFL Central Committee meeting.

Entenza and his key party allies will likely be persona non grata in the party, at least for awhile. Entenza has two failed statewide races in a row on his resume, so it may not matter politically.

Mark Dayton gets to fight another day but grudges die hard in these circles and if he loses to Tom Emmer in November, a few party activists will have a difficult time deciding whether they should be happy or sad about that.

The story line will be that Kelliher couldn’t defeat the money and name recognition of Dayton, but that doesn’t explain how Entenza was able to draw almost half the votes that both Dayton and Kelliher were able to. Entenza had cash, but was never a serious threat to either Dayton or Kelliher. Still, Kelliher could’ve used those votes.

From a campaign point of view, Kelliher waited too late in the game — Sunday night — to get feisty. But even then, she tried to rewrite legislative history. What we learned yesterday was people who vote in a DFL primary know a legislative process that doesn’t work when they see it.

Kelliher tried to turn one override victory — the gas tax — into an example of how she can build coalitions. But it was a weak argument and Minnesota knew it. Gov. Tim Pawlenty, armed with a Republican caucus that stayed together, schooled DFLers on how to make a party in power irrelevant and grind things to a halt. The DFL was mostly unwilling — or unable — to “go nuclear” in any showdown with Pawlenty’s forces. That’s not something you run on.

Instead she used “code” to call attention to a significant weakness in Dayton: He’s kind of goofy. When she noted that “she doesn’t quit” on Sunday night, what she meant was “Dayton does.” She should have come right out and said it. Dayton’s closing of his U.S. Senate office in October 2004 because of “terrorism concerns” was weird. At the same time, a national magazine named him the worst U.S. senator. How do you run a campaign against him and not use that?

Kelliher took one for the team in refusing to come right out and say what the Republicans will most assuredly say about Dayton between now and November. She had to protect a possible DFL challenge to the Republicans by not giving the Republicans ammunition to use. But the GOP already had it and Kelliher needlessly, if admirably, pulled her punches. In 2010, you don’t win elections by pulling punches.

Dayton acknowledged his personal problems and the GOP and its allies will build an entire campaign around them, especially now that anti-Emmer forces have rolled out this bruiser:

There was to be a unity news conference this morning at which time all the DFL candidates would join hands. It looks like that’s off. What happens through the day today will determine whether the DFL does what the DFL occasionally does best: self-destruct.


Let’s face it: We can’t help ourselves. Polls are fun for wonks. It’s true, they’re an indicator, not a predictor, so no one can come out and say the polls were wrong. But we can say that in our glee to talk about them, we failed to ignore the obvious: They were highly flawed.

The turnout yesterday was pathetic by any definition. But it’s highly, highly unlikely that 9 out of 10 DFLers contacted by polling firms and organizations refused to take part in the survey because they didn’t intend to vote.

The most-likely to vote are also the most informed and engaged. The least-likely to vote are not. We might complain about telemarketing calls, but when the pollster calls, we’re not likely to say our response doesn’t matter. So given a choice of names, and a less-than-scholarly knowledge of a campaign few are paying attention to, we’re more likely to name the person we’ve heard of before. In this case: Mark Dayton.


The most important person on a politician’s staff (after the person who answers the phone and the chief of staff) may be the person whose job it is to write apologies. Sen. Satveer Chaudhary could’ve used one. Chaudhary got smoked in his re-election bid after the DFL pulled its endorsement. His latest ethical indiscretion was pushing a law specific to a lake on which he had a summer place.

Chaudhary never seemed to understand the perception problem he had, and it’s difficult to figure whether people held the “crime” against him or his reaction to the crime, both of which suggested pretty poor political judgment.

In an interview with MPR’s Tom Scheck, Chaudhary apologized for his actions but couldn’t bring himself to stop there. “There is a small, and I emphasize small, handful of people who resent that I hunt and fish as much as I do,” Chaudhary said. “And when you boil it all down, that’s what you come up with.”

Uh huh.

The only person who looks worse in the affair was Sen. Larry Pogemiller, who campaigned for Chaudhary a week or so ago (update: see comments) . Pogemiller, who has the luxury of a safe seat, also was in the “what’s the big deal?” camp. As the Senate Majority Leader, Pogemiller never seemed all that interested in finding out .


Independence Party candidate Tom Horner is in a fairly strong position. He has almost sole claim to “the middle” in a general election of two candidates on the far end of their party’s philosophy. He may be the first candidate, likely trailing in a three-way race, to act like a long-time incumbent.

The day after election night, Horner rejected every media invitations for free air time. WCCO’s TV coverage this morning pointed out that it invited Horner to appear for a live interview and he rejected the invitation. “His loss,” reporter Pat Kessler intoned. He’s right. Normally, when you get free media time, you take it.

Horner scheduled a news conference this morning, and scheduled it well before the polls closed last evening. It’s at 11:30 this morning. In Mankato.

Horner’s message is clear: “I’ll talk about the election on my terms.” Fine. But MPR is not likely to provide live coverage of a news conference and neither are local TV stations. So why give up free airtime to get your name and face “out there”? I don’t have an answer other than pure speculation that Horner intends to be the frontrunner merely by acting like one. He is, afterall, a public relations expert.

If we can make all the oil in the Gulf disappear, merely by saying “it’s gone,” who’s to say the strategy won’t work?


Politicians had a choice to make when they moved the primary from September to August, guaranteeing that fewer people would vote. They knew that fewer people would vote. So why didn’t they move it until June, when more people would likely vote? Because they were more than willing to take their chances in an election few people would participate in.

The state had to move the primary because federal law requires overseas military personnel to get at least 45 days to vote by absentee ballot. But when the issue went to the Capitol this year, a proposal was made to move the primary to June.

Rep. Steve Simon, a supporter of the idea, told MPR’s Tom Scheck why he ran up against a brick wall:

“Particularly some Greater Minnesota legislators who argued essentially this: ‘Look, I’m here in St. Paul until the third week in May. If we have a primary in June, some young whippersnapper is going to come along and primary me while I’m stuck here and they’re barnstorming the district,'” Simon said. “Even though when you look around the country, that hasn’t been the case in states with early primaries necessarily more than other states, there’s still that fear out there.”

Some day, using primary as a verb will cost someone an election.



The future is Twitter. The future is now. (h/t: Nikki Tundel)


(Updated) Half of Minnesota’s schools failed to make adequate yearly progress this year under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Are standardized tests the best way to measure the success of a school?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: A discussion of the outcome of the intense Minnesota gubernatorial primary election.

Second hour: A rebroadcast of a conversation on patient-centered care with Dr. Donald Berwick, the new head of Medicare and Medicaid, and Dr. Pauline Chen. Berwick and Chen talked about how to convince doctors to really listen to their patients and get them more involved in their care.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Election results and analysis from Mike Mulcahy, DFLer Todd Rapp, Republican Maureen Shaver, and Tim Penny of the Independence Party.

Second hour: From the Aspen Ideas Festival: What Makes a Great Teacher? Panelists include Howard Gardner, Kati Haycock and Linda Darling-Hammond.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: NPR’s senior Washington editor, Ron Elving, parses political drama and intrigue.

Second hour: Would the relationship between the West and the Middle East be different if Islam had never existed?

  • Zebulun

    I hope we have learned that speaking in nonstop platitudes does not win elections, even if you are the endorsed party candidate. MAK seems like a smart and capable individual, but she also speaks a lot without saying anything of substance.

    Call Dayton “weird” if you want, but he says what other people are afraid to say, both in terms of admitting personal failings and also pointing out that some sacred cows are false idols.

  • Paul

    MAK only won the DFL nomination after the party shut Mark Dayton out of the endorsement process. There were a lot of “engaged activist party members” who would have voted to endorse Mark if they had the chance. This is what happens when you shut good candidates out of the endorsement process.

  • John O.

    A couple of points:

    – The value of a state central committee is also questionable. If memory serves, Dayton was persona non grata at the endorsing convention in Duluth.

    Those of us who fail both party purity tests are left to fend for ourselves. And that, I suspect, is a significant number of voters.

    – “Old school” campaign tactics aren’t as effective any longer. Phone banks? We don’t even have a land line at our house any longer. Direct mail? Expensive and goes directly to the recycling container. Leaflet drops? See previous answer. Lawn signs? Never had one, never will. I don’t need the sign (or the house) vandalized.

    – “Modern” campaign tactics (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) are fine except that there still is a generation of older voters who aren’t as tech savvy as their children or grandchildren. Teaching my 75-year-old mother how to read a text message on a cell phone was a challenge all by itself.

  • Second hour: Would the relationship between the West and the Middle East be different if Islam had never existed?

    I am reminded of a series of SF short stories written by Alternate History master Harry Turtledove that explored that question (but the stories aren’t set in the “modern” day, but rather in what we call the middle ages.

    Short answer–the Middle East becomes a contested ground between the Byzantines (which never fell because of no Islam) and a Persian Empire who, again, never fell to Islam…

  • Paul J

    I admit that I am an only moderately informed voter, but I had the same impression as Zebulun. I was somewhat put off by MAK’s “fight” talk. It contradicts the “coalition builder” message, hence it is meaningless platitudes. Dayton struck me as more pragmatic.

  • Excellent recap of and insights on the primary election, Bob. And we didn’t even have to buy you a cup of coffee to get it.

  • SG

    Excellent analysis of the primary.

  • bsimon

    The DFL party machine may be bitter towards Dayton, but their energy would be better spent turned inward. They need a Pogo moment (“we have met the enemy, and they are us”); their record in selecting gubernatorial candidates is atrocious.

  • Garrett Peterson


    Just to clarify, Dayton wasn’t shut out of the endorsement process. He made a decision not to seek the endorsement. There was no conspiracy to block his participation; he decided to skip the process.

  • Bob Collins

    RE: Pogemiller observation

    Sen. Pogemiller’s office left voicemail — I’m not in the office — saying Pogemiller campaigned for Chaudhary four weeks ago. “It’s considerably more nuanced,” communications director Gary Hill said. He said it was “sloppy” to rely on someone else’s reporting to relay my opinion.

    Point taken.

    I didn’t rely on the Stribarticle linked to form that opinion, however. I already had it. I relied on Sen. Pogemiller’s reaction at the height of the Chaudhary controversy in which he said he only knew what the media was reporting. That indicated that even though the story had been news for weeks, he hadn’t talked to Chaudhary about it, and I have no choice but to take Sen. Pogemiller at his word that he didn’t know anything more about the ethical allegations than what he read in the newspaper or heard on the radio.

    It’s open for debate among those on both sides of the issue whether that constitutes an interest in getting to the heart of an ethical allegation against a committee chair in the senator’s caucus.

    I obviously don’t think it suggests such a thing.

  • kwatt

    I think your take on the Speaker’s failures is spot-on.

    Can someone please explain to me why those two girls are wearing eye-black?

    John O, your comment contradicts itself. Old school and modern campaign tactics are both highly relevant.

  • John O.

    @kwatt: Point well-taken. They complement each other nowadays. Perhaps the challenge is blending the two.

  • imperator3733

    In response to the question “Would the relationship between the West and the Middle East be different if Islam had never existed?”, I would have to say no.

    If Islam had never existed, the Middle East would still have large oil reserves. As a result, once the West began to use oil heavily, the West would make efforts to control the Middle East’s oil supply. This would lead to the West treating the Middle East poorly, which would lead to strained relations between the West and the Middle East (sound familiar?). It doesn’t matter what one’s religion is, people do not like it when they are being exploited.

    Also, Indonesia is one clue that the relationship between the West and the Middle East has very little to do with Islam. Indonesia has the largest population of Muslims in the world, and yet has a very good relationship with the West.

    So, even if Islam had never existed, the West and the Middle East would still have a strained relationship due to the history of the West exploiting the Middle East for its oil supply.

  • Jeanne

    Very insightful analysis, Bob. I have to say I had a difficult time getting engaged with Kelliher’s campaign. It felt like many of her messages were centered around all “her” accomplishments, that she championed ALONE. (Let’s face it folks, nobody in politics accomplishes things by themselves.) I kept waiting for her to say SHE found a cure for cancer. It came off as phony, which makes me think she let “handlers” have the final say in her message. Sad, if that’s true.

    With Dayton, I liked that he’s willing to raise taxes on those making more than $150,000/yr. I sincerely can’t see where that is a huge hardship for those individuals. Having been unemployed for over a year, I think I could manage very nicely on $150,000, even with higher taxes.

  • polkadon

    Rather than waiting for it all to blow up in their face… as it inevitably was going to… Why didn’t MN DFL make clear, specific threats to Dayton & Entenza: -If you don’t play by the rules then you will receive no support AFTER a primary? And we are revoking your DFL membership?

    Why ever talk about UNITY?

    The DFL endorsement is on the trash heap, indeed.

    Perhaps the DFL’s cowardice and unwillingness to defend its own value proves that Dayton & Entenza are right not to seek the endorsement of a party that has not put a candidate into the governor’s office since 1986.

  • polkadon

    With Dayton winnning, I guess now the DFL doesn’t has to worry about how MAK’s depleted coffers were going to compete against Emmers.

  • Garrett Peterson


    How would the DFL threaten “no support after the primary” and revoke their DFL membership? The party didn’t endorse Dayton or Entenza, and delivered its resources and man-power to MAK. Other than that, the DFL doesn’t have much power to punish those who don’t follow the endorsement.

    The party can’t even control who runs as a DFLer on the primary ballot. This year, for example, Ole Savior, who sought the DFL endorsement, was on the primary ballot running against Tom Emmer as a Republican. Primary candidates self-declare their party.

    At the end of the day, the DFL endorsement helps, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee success.

  • polkadon

    But what about the UNITY jamboree?

    Why come together?

    Dayton & Entenza did not respect the party, why support them now?

    Why not say: hey you beat our candidate, good luck in the general election?

    Dayton may not expect any support (of any kind from the DFL), but my question is why should the DFL be willing to give it?

  • Garrett Peterson

    The DFL as an organization could send a strong message by not helping, Dayton, you’re right. And maybe that would be better for the party’s strength in the long-run.

    However, the organization is made up of individuals who are less concerned about the perceived strength of the DFL and more concerned about Governor Emmer.

    They prefer Dayton to Emmer and will volunteer and donate to help his cause. The DLF is an organization that’s run by its members, and those members aren’t willing to sit on the sidelines just to send a message of strength and solidarity.

  • Bob Collins

    //why should the DFL be willing to give it?

    Because nobody marries in politics for love; they marry for convenience. If you win the gov’s race, retain the senate, hold sort of close in the House, that’s a Yahtzee, even if you have to rub your eyes wide open when you wake up every morning and see who you slept with.

  • kwatt

    And, in Bob’s scenario, have a relationship with them after Election Day. That might be the toughest part.

  • matt

    My circle of people that I speak with about politics is mainly Republican/Independent/Libertarian and the majority of us had Dayton pegged as a the DFL winner in the primary. We still have him slated as the next Governor as well. Not sure if we are bright, pessimistic, or lucky but I think Dayton wll prevail again in November.

  • Richard

    Good analysis. I have been a long time DFL activist in outstate MN. The problem is that the party leaders don’t pay any attention to us. They think the Twin Cities is all there is and they don’t give us any help (only unwanted and usually bad advice). The idea that the party should threaten people who run in the primary is wrongheaded. The party should reach out to those outside the metro area and not treat us like we don’t know what we are doing. Paul Wellstone always campaigned in my area (even though there was not way he was going to win it). He once told me that he campaigned here because he didn’t want to lose it too badly. Plainly, he knew that he could not really increase his votes in the metro, but he could move up a few percentage points out here. Dayton seems to know this, but the party officials do not. (By the way, I have served as a party official)

  • Bob Collins

    Interesting observation, Richard.

    A few years ago — 2006, I think — I posited to political experts in the newsroom that District 56 was going to be a bellweather in the election, based on the observation that three DFLers were putting up significant opposition to three entrenched Republicans. I was suggesting to the bosses that it might be a good story to profile the district in that vein.

    The political reporter on the story at the time went back to the DFL, which had given her a list of the significant races (we do the same with the GOP), to doublecheck.

    The reporter was assured by the DFL officials at the time that the challengers — all women — were not likely to knock off the incumbents, partly because one of the incumbents — Karen Klinzing — was a woman.

    “Maybe if Klinzing were a man,” this official was quoted as saying to our reporter.

    All three DFL candidates knocked off the GOP incumbents and, in fact, the district turned out to be have been a great lab rat for the election as a whole.

    I’m no expert. But I knew more about the political dynamic of District 56 than the people who are (were) supposed to be the experts.

  • Jeanne

    The lesson may also be “Never underestimate the power of The Range”, or at least St. Louis County. You have to factor in Dayton’s choice of Yvonne Prettner Solon as his running mate. That would be Yvonne Prettner Solon, widow of Sen. Sam Solon, who served the district in Duluth for over 30 years. Shrewd choice on Dayton’s part. Anyone who chooses to ignore the power of that region will surely be handed their hat and shown the door after the primary. Do the names Warren Spannaus and Rudy Perpich ring a bell?

    The Range is like the France of Minnesota; vocal, bucking the system, and doing what they want to do, no matter the protocol. Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.

  • Grudges had darn well better die hard – and fast.

    If Democrats want one of their own in the governor’s seat, they had better start working – together – now.

    Democrats can’t afford to teach lessons “in the long run” by allowing an extreme extremist to run the state for even one year. Look at the domino effect of the Bush years — do we really want to do that to our state?

    Get over it already. I thought the goal was to elect Democrats – period.

  • Elizabeth T

    Kelliher’s supporter stopped by my house. I asked one question, which I *always* ask: “Why should I vote for you?” This year I added a question: “Is she going to raise any taxes?”

    The young woman at my door looked really uncomfortable and said “uummmm”. I said “I won’t vote for anyone who won’t raise taxes.”

    My economic opinion is far more complicated (and this isn’t the place to discuss the merits of it), but I get so sick of politicians refusing to ‘fess up and admit that they’re going to try to get blood from a stone.

  • Margaret concedes:


    As the article says, there weren’t any bad candidates on the DFL ticket and Margaret’s call for unity is more proof of that.

  • Bob Collins

    //I said “I won’t vote for anyone who won’t raise taxes.”//

    I actually wonder whether MAK lost votes with her criticism of Dayton’s tax plan. In criticizing it — and I’m not saying Dayton’s plan is good or bad; that’s for voters to decide — it started to sound like she was ready to sign a Taxpayers League pledge.

  • Johnny

    Last night we saw what happens when superior funding, name recognition, and familiarity to seniors meets the DFL nod. People can crow all they want about “grassroots” and “people power”, but good intentions don’t run adds or buy office supplies.

    MAK ran a great campaign and all her staff should be proud. Jamie Tincher is a giant and got a mediocre candidate within 5000 votes of a person who outspent her 5-1. That’s top notch work.

  • Jeff

    Can someone please explain to me why ranked-choice voting keeps getting pooh-poohed as too complicated for voters? I don’t understand (maybe it’s me being “stoopid”) why it’s seen as difficult to put a 1 next to your first choice, a 2 next to your second, a 3 your third and so on. It would have been nice to be able to do that in the DFL primary, or to be able to vote for Horner with Dayton as the next best thing.

  • kwatt

    Running a strong campaign isn’t enough to get one’s race high on The List. A lot of people run strong campaigns, and a lot of them lose. There are many more important factors that determine one’s place on The List, such as match-up, money and polling. 56B didn’t distinguish itself with any of those at the time to warrant being on either side’s List. 56A did, and it was certainly on our List and we put a lot of resources into it in 2006. Look where that got us.

  • Joanna

    I really appreciate the analysis and dialogue. Although Dayton was not my first choice, I will work hard to get him elected. I hope the DFL can save the internal party bickering and score-settlng for after the general election, because I am terrified that someone even more extreme than Pawlenty has the Republican endorsement. Eyes on the prize, people.

  • Steve Timmer

    The idea that the Republicans will go negative on Dayton because of the ABM commercial is, well, silly. It didn’t have the slightest effect on what the Republican are planning to do. It was, however, a pre-emptive strike.

    And in terms of what it says about personal behavior, let’s ask this: how many DUIs does Mark Dayton, the admitted recovering alcoholic, have?

  • Bob Collins

    Well, of course, it takes more than running a strong campaign, kwatt, but you missed the point.

    The point is that a centralized party structure thought itself more aware of what was happening on the ground in an exotic land — in this case, the suburbs — than people on the ground who know what a succeeding campaign looks, smells, and feels like it.

    Some people use the word “arrogant” here.

  • bsimon

    Bob C writes

    “it started to sound like [MAK] was ready to sign a Taxpayers League pledge.”

    I had that reaction more than once too. I think she also said something like “you don’t raise taxes during a recession.”


  • Jennifer


    I thought the same thing when I heard MAK argue against Dayton’s tax plan. I wondered how long it would take for the GOP to pick up the “cop married to a nurse” argument. I got my answer this morning when I heard Marty Seifert bring up that exact argument on Midmorning.

  • kwatt

    Actually, Jennifer, we’ve been using that line against Kelliher’s various tax increases for quite a while. Marty probably started it as minority leader.

    Bob, I got the point, I just didn’t articulate very well. Plus, for every one report like that to turn out correct, there’s another from somewhere else that turns out completely wrong. I can’t fault either party for leaving one race or another off it’s radar screen. It’s very hard late in a campaign to shuffle resources in an effective way. And yes, they do get insulated to a degree because if they aren’t in a district, they really aren’t in the district. Resources are too scarce to be dilly dallying in places just because they might come into play, and of course everyone thinks their own race is very tight, so antecdotal “evidence” is shaky. Bottom line: It’s not easy.

  • Jeanne

    Dayton’s position of taxes was the deal-breaker for me. I could not believe that a DFL, which has traditionally supported the wealthy paying their equitable share, had 2 candidates (MAK & Entenza) supporting higher taxes /only/ on those making more than $250,000/yr. I had to read those numbers a double-take to make sure I was seeing things right. I thought to myself, so when did the DFL decide to leave the non-wealthy populace sitting at the train station. If you want me to get on board with my support and vote, don’t turn your back on me.

    It would be interesting to see if there’s any correlation between unemployment numbers across the state and the vote totals of the DFL candidates.

  • It was Kelliher’s warm and tender feelings towards earners in the $130-150,000 range as expressed in the first MPR debate that did her in. She got into a semantics debate with Dayton over who is “rich,” which alienated many Minnesota primary voters who makes less than this, and knows they always will.

  • kennedy

    The purpose of a primary is to select which candidate the party will list on the general election ballot. It seems out of order for the party to endorse a candidate before the primary. It is especially damaging in this case because the democratic party endorsed a candidate that did not win the primary. Resources better used in a general election were wasted on a candidate that lost the primary. Chastising voters for selecting an unendorsed candidate is icing on this cake of failure.

  • Paul in Eveleth


    It wasn’t just Yvonne that got Mark Dayton support on the Range. Other than the whistle stop parade tour around the 4th I never saw hide nor tail of MAK up here. Mark on the other hand was around at least 4 times that I can think of since the caucuses. Even more than just being here, though, he actually took the time to talk and listen.

    Maybe it’s just me but I like a candidate who actually pays attention to voters.

  • Twatt

    “Abandon all attachment

    to the results

    of action

    and attain peace.”

    That’s your real sacred cow.

  • Did the “World without Islam” piece ever air, Bob?

  • Twatt