Thursday, October 13, 2005

The 2006 Senate Primary Circus

Ron Brownstein has a very good roundup of how primary contests could end up shaping next year's Senate races; he suggests that they may end up hurting the Democrats's chances for picking up some seats. I tend to agree. In Maryland and Minnesota, brutal primary fights between Democrats could open the door to Republican takes of those seats (more likely in MN right now than in MD, I think). In Ohio, Montana, and Rhode Island, Dem primaries could lend a hand to somewhat-vulnerable Republican incumbents.

Republicans have some primary troubles too: Linc Chafee is facing off against Stephen Laffey in Rhode Island (there we have a double-primary-struggle so maybe it ends up a wash), and several candidates are squaring off over Frist's seat in Tennessee (Frist is retiring, you'll recall). But Dems certainly have much more to lose if primaries get particularly nasty.

I don't hate primaries. I think that they are - in theory and sometimes in practice - good for the party, and offer a chance for intraparty discussion and debate that we don't often get. What I dislike strongly is the fact that all too often primaries don't turn into discussions and debates ... they turn into mudslinging slime-fests that do nobody any good and end up causing problems in the end. We need, somehow, to get beyond that. I don't have any good suggestions right now, but there's got to be a better way. Primaries should not leave candidates damaged, broke, and exhausted; they should be something more like an invigorating first round before the start of the general election campaign. How do we get to that point?


At 12:39 PM, Blogger McPherson Hall said...

Thanks for the Brownstein article. My infrequent blog entries are on MinnesotaCentral, so I clicked to read his take on Minnesota … albeit it was barely a mention and no insight. Sooo, here is my take .
Minnesota has strong independent voting group … everyone realizes that Jesse Ventura won the Governorship as an Independent ( over Norm Coleman ), but many may not realize that the previous Governor Arnie Carlson ran as an Independent until a week before the election when the state Republican Party endorsed him. Coleman, was a Democrat then a Republican, took two years of campaigning, highlighted by a stint as a host of a Twin Cities radio show, to make himself as Minnesota-Nice. Coleman was hand-picked by Rove/Cheney, as Cheney called current Governor Pawlenty and told him not to run for Senate. Coleman’s core of his campaign was that Paul Wellstone was ineffective and would not accept compromise with other Senators. Wellstone’s death changed the dynamics … especially after his televised funeral tribute that was seen by most as inappropriate political bashing of the Republican Party. Coleman has proven to be more of a Bush-lackey ( Bolton, CAFTA, etc.) than a voice of compromise.
In the 2006 Senate race, once again Rove/Cheney has eliminated any primary race within the Republican Party. Previously, Congressman Gil Gutknecht ( Catholic, Deficit-Hawk, and Importation of Prescription Drugs ) from Southern Minnesota wanted to keep his Contract for America pledge of no more than 6 terms and run for Senate highlighting the Flat Tax concept as a key legislative initiative. But the MoneyMachine went with Mark Kennedy a 3rd term Congressman from the Twin Cities area. Gutknecht bucked the administration on CAFTA while Kennedy has altered his view to whatever the Bush Administration wants ( most recently oil drilling in ANWR.). Gutknecht who has embraced Operation Offset proposal, which seem to be a rejection of many of the proposals that the Bush Administration has touted:
Cancel NASA’s New Moon/ Mars imitative
Eliminate Millennium Challenge Accounts
Eliminate Hydrogen Fuel Initiative
Postpone the Medicare Prescription Plan for one year.
A Gutknecht-Kennedy primary could have been very interesting. So no race on the Republican side … but a lot of money to support Kennedy.
The real interesting primary will be who replaces Kennedy in the 6th District … as everyone seems to be fighting over who is the most anti-gay, pro-God, anti-abortion, fiscal hawk.

On the Democratic side, there are three announced candidates and a prominent lawyer thinking about entering.
Patty Wetterling ran against Kennedy is 2004. She had local name recognition as an advocate for missing children. She was cajoled into running and although she ran a highly effective campaign, that was much closer than it should have been, lost. During debates with Kennedy, it was evident that she was unprepared. Her name recognition and appeal to women forced the Republican Party to have to send monies ( yes, from Tom Delay’s PAC.) Now, she is running for Senate and has visited with Cindy Sheehan in Crawford and recently advocated bringing the troops home.
Amy Klobachar is the County Attorney from Minneapolis. She has good name recognition as her father was a sportswriter for many years but sadly a kiss-of-death education --- graduate magna cum laude from Yale University. Her message has been patterned after John Edwards’ Two Nations. She is the leading money raiser and has many Democratic politicians endorsing her campaign.
Ford Bell has never been elected to public office. Bell is the grandson of James Ford Bell, founder of General Mills, and son of Ford Bell, founder of the Red Owl grocery chain.
The unannounced candidate is Mike Ciresi … a prominent attorney who made the state a lot of money in a tobacco lawsuit. He may have a lot of old money support and could be a player.
Key dates are March 7th for precinct caucuses set followed by the state convention on June 9th. There will be a primary later in the year and the key question is whether the candidates accept the convention endorsement or continue onto the primary. Although there will be divisions after the convention, there is such a stark difference between the Democratic candidates and Mark Kennedy that there should not be any long-lasting bloody internal fighting.
The general election is when all bets are off. There will be soooo much money spent on this campaign. Minnesota has a reputation as LIBERAL but in reality has a very strong voting participation by the religious community … especially at the local level. The Senate race could actually be determined by the Governor’s race. Pawlenty won last time based on besting the Democratic nominee and the Independence Party whose candidate was former Democratic Congressman Tim Penny. If the Independents ( and Greens ) do not have a strong candidate, Pawlenty could have a difficult race.

As always, it will be who turns out to vote. My prediction is that it will be Senator Klobuchar.

McPherson Hall


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