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Johnson, Otto, and primary thoughts

by Eric Ferguson on August 15, 2014 · 2 comments

Fresh off his win in the MNGOP gubernatorial primary, Hennepin County commissioner Jeff Johnson has already released his first campaign video:

Oops, that was Eddie Murphy from “The Distinguished Gentleman”. Sorry, didn’t mean to compare Jeff Johnson to Eddie Murphy. That’s unfair. After all, Murphy is funny on purpose.

Here’s Johnson being funny, presumably not on purpose:

Right, that Minnesotans would deliberately inflict upon themselves the same divisiveness and corruption Scott Walker inflicted on Wisconsin is a funny idea. What next Jeff, bragging about how you’re going to screw over your opponents in a phone call with a fake Koch brother?
It sounded in his press conference like there’s a concern Johnson might be too nice. Don’t worry Jeff. While you idolize a crook like Scott Walker, when you say the working poor don’t aspire to anything better than the minimum wage, and you call people dirty when you’ve never even seen them, being thought nice won’t be your biggest problem.
Moving from pointlessly worried about being too nice to actually being nice, but probably not too much, did anyone see Rebecca Otto’s blowout win coming? The person I talked to assembled campaign field work statistics and thereby knew, but wasn’t believed, doesn’t get to answer that. So the prospect of Matt Entenza challenging an endorsee will never concern an endorsee again; amuse maybe, but not concern. The endorsee’s slogan will be, “Come on, that’s just Matt Entenza.” But yet Entenza might have accomplished something inadvertently.
Accomplished what, besides showing how much money and credibility can be blown on a tiny number of votes? Think about the speculation that Entenza ran for auditor only in hopes of using it as a platform to run for governor. Without being able to mind-read, that sounds plausible, not just that he would think that, but that it would have worked if he’d become auditor. Any state constitutional officer is likely to be taken seriously for governor or US senator. They do sometimes run. Two recent governors were auditors (Dayton had a US Senate term in between, but Carlson moved directly). Rebecca Otto, and this is just my impression since I’ve talked to her but I can’t read her mind either, is in the job she wants and wasn’t thinking of running for governor in 2018. However, thanks to Entenza, her profile and popularity have risen sharply with the DFL base. Many DFLers want to see our first female governor. After falling short in 2010, that feeling will be stronger if anything in 2018. Not that Otto has a monopoly on qualified female candidate status, but if she runs, she’ll be in the top tier of gubernatorial candidates, or senate candidates if Amy Klobuchar decides against running again in 2018 (I have no knowledge she’s thinking that way — merely looking at what offices are up in 2018). If Otto runs, she shouldn’t ask Entenza for a donation, because he’s given her a lot already. Accidentally, but still.
I am nonetheless ticked at Otto. I not only wrote a bunch about the race here, I spent a lot of time on the ground game part of the campaign, dragging out every vote I could find, trying to win this tight race, so imagine my disappointment at this 60 point blowout. I earned a Franken-close result, darn it! Or at least 51-49, was that so much to ask? I’m denied that sense that without me, she would have lost. Just hope no one who I urged to vote on the grounds of a close race remembers who I was.
I hope the primary result brings an end to more than the electoral hopes of some candidates I’d rather not see elected to anything (is anyone going to miss Johnson’s defeated opponents?). Here’s hoping for an end to that media meme that party endorsements don’t mean anything anymore, because endorsees lose and parties can’t back them, and blah blah blah. Of course, that meme keeps coming back for repeats, so let’s say hopes and expectations aren’t the same thing. The Republicans were the target of most of that speculation this time, and I suspect part of what encouraged Marty Seifert, Kurt Zellers, and Scott Honour was the media telling them over and over that the endorsement didn’t mean anything any more. Oops. On the MNGOP side, the endorsees won everything except CD1, and I can’t fathom what those particular voters were thinking by choosing the guy who lost the endorsement, agreed to abide, broke his promise, and then raised no money. I guess they made a collective decision to cede the race to Tim Walz. He’s probably not complaining.
On the DFL side, endorsees all got through. The one serious challenge, as previously noted, had a result likely to make future potential challengers rethink the notion they might be the next Mark Dayton, when much more likely, they’re the next Matt Entenza. Dayton had a unusual combination of name recognition, self-funding ability, and campaign discipline, though I don’t expect an end of superficial bloviating based on cherrypicking the one useful example. Disgruntled Republicans point out how they keep losing the general election, though I suspect their method of picking candidates is less the problem than the candidates they pick. Anyway, the primary is the test of the strength of endorsements more than the general. The general is electoral musical chairs. Someone will be left standing. No matter how well you select and train the players, someone won’t get a chair. Actually, there’s only one chair, and the rest will be left standing, no matter how well the players were picked. The key point though is that if endorsees keep winning primaries, the media at least can’t use primary results to judge the endorsements a failure. They can try perhaps to say endorsees won only because the challengers were bad candidates, but the comeback is obvious: maybe that’s why they weren’t endorsed.
Switching to the secretary of state race, anecdotally, a bunch of voters didn’t know who the candidates were. There were fewer votes in that race, and that’s the only reason why that makes sense. I can understand not voting in a race where the candidates are just unknown names, but I’ve heard several people admit they just picked a name at random. What makes anyone think that’s a good idea? Why not forgo elections in favor of blindfolded people throwing darts? I was much more tactful in person. With that gripe out of my system, let’s look at the actual problem. People engaged enough to turn out at a primary, basically the DFL portion of the 10% most engaged voters, didn’t know who Steve Simon is. Simon actually lost in some places. That’s a serious name recognition problem. His Republican opponent will have the same problem, and constitutional offices tend to be obscure enough that party label is important, so not all is lost. I actually consider Simon the favorite at this point. The difference in the quality of the candidates is pretty stark. Simon has authored much of our election law while Dan Severson wants to try again for photo ID. Severson’s knowledge of election law is exhausted at that point, while Simon debated the issue extensively in 2012 and helped defeat the photo ID amendment.
I think I talked myself out of my concern about Simon’s name recognition. Still, some attention to this race on our part would be wise.

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