Party leaders look ahead to Minnesota’s 2014 election

Republicans think they can reverse DFL gains next time

Minnesota Republican Party officials reject the idea the party is in “shambles” – a description Democratic State Party Chairman Ken Martin, of Eagan, supplied.

Keith Downey
Keith Downey

“It’s a turnaround, but it’s not an entire rebuild,” Republican Party State Chairman Keith Downey said of revitalizing the party.

Republicans are united.

“I really see quite a unified front,” Republican Party Deputy Chair Kelly Fenton said.

Minnesota Democrats control state government, hold the U.S. Senate seats, and five of eight U.S. House seats.

Ken Martin
Ken Martin

Looking ahead to the 2014 election, Martin is upbeat about preserving the hold.

“If we start to overreach, if we start to do things that aren’t the best interest of the state long term, we’ll get booted out,” Martin said.

Rather than overreach, Democrats have a record of accomplishment, he argued.

“I’m pretty confident we can win in ’14,” Martin said.

Republican leaders, rather than being cowed by Democratic domination, insist they see opportunity.

Democrats look longingly at taking the 2nd Congressional District.

“The 2nd, on paper, is exactly a 50-50 district,” Martin said.

“It is the swing-most district in the state,” he said of Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline’s district.

Eagan attorney and former state Rep. Mike Obermueller is seeking the Democrats’ endorsement for a second chance at Kline.

Kline defeated former Obermueller in 2012, winning about 54 percent of the vote.

Kline, a former Marine Corps colonel who chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee, won over former state Rep. Shelley Madore in 2010 with 63 percent of the vote and war veteran Steve Sarvi in 2008 with 56 percent of the vote.

Martin says the 6th Congressional District is “tough” for Democrats, but likes the chances of a Democrat replacing Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.

“If they put forward someone who’s too far to the right – an extremist, a Tea Party Republican that’s out of the mainstream of voters in the 6th District – I think it’s going to be tough for them to win,” Martin said.

Republican leaders talk about fighting for every vote next election, of taking nothing for granted.

“I’m confident in the 6th District, as everywhere else, we’re gong to have great candidates,” Downey said. “We need some Republican victories to turn back what they’re (Democrats) doing.”

Martin see things falling into place for Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

“He’s (Dayton) made promises; he’s kept those promises,” he said. “He’s not a voracious campaigner. But he likes being out with people.”

Dayton said he enjoys campaigning and talking to Minnesotans.

“It’s wishful thinking on their part,” Dayton said on June 25 of Republicans who believe he will not seek a second term.

Republicans insist Dayton is vulnerable.

Dayton ran on tax-the-rich, they argue, but the Democratic tax net, flung wide, entangled the middle class as well.

The idea that Dayton is simply a nice guy, trying his best, falls apart when considering the larger picture, Downey argued.

Democrats are highly partisan, Downey insists.

“And it’s not Mark Dayton saying it, and it’s not Al Franken, it’s not the Democratic candidate, it’s the Democratic machine launching all these personal insults and derogatory comments,” Downey said of perceived behavior by the Democratic Party and pro-Democratic groups.

In terms of campaign issues, Martin foresees taxes, as well as DFL legislation allowing for a possible unionization vote among child care and long-term care workers, as likely campaign fodder.

Republicans will “mischaracterize” the latter, while “nitpick” the tax issue, he said.

One issue Martin doesn’t expect Republicans to campaign on is marriage equity.

“They’d run a real risk of damaging their brand even further,” Martin said.

Downey indicated same-sex marriage is not an issue the state party will focus on.

“From a legislative standpoint, there’s nothing left to do,” Downey said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of merit to raise that up as an election-year issue.

“It’s more or less water under the bridge – at least for now,” Downey said.

Martin dismisses the idea that Minnesotans like divided state government.

Rather, voters want results, he said.

“And when they see people delivering results for them, they’ll continue to support them,” Martin said. “That’s the bottom line.”

A Star Tribune poll recently placed Dayton with a 57 percent approval rating.
Senate race

Looking to the U.S. Senate race, Martin called Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken one of the Democratic Party’s top fundraisers, and a lawmaker whose approval rating continues to climb.

“He hasn’t done anything completely controversial or made any stupid remarks,” Martin said.

“He’s kept his head low, and done the hard work of being a senator. I think he’s taken on some tough fights that people appreciate,” he said.

Martin views the perceived amateurish entry of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden into the race — a hastily called press conference at the State Capitol — as evidence the Republican Party has not been properly grooming candidates.

“What the hell are these guys doing?” Martin asked of the perceived clumsiness.

In the U.S. Senate race, Downey, citing colorful Minnesota U.S. senators of the past, finds it strange Martin would point to a low profile as an accomplishment.

“I think people know his (Franken’s) name. But I don’t know if they know him,” Downey said.

A solid Republican U.S. Senate candidate, one with business background perhaps, a familiarity with budgeting, would be a great contrast, Downey said.

“I think we have a good chance to have a strong, top-of-ticket in the U.S. Senate race, whether it’s a candidate with statewide name ID or not,” he said.

The Star Tribune’s Minnesota Poll placed Franken’s approval rating at 55 percent — a double digit increase from September.

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