by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
Minnesota Republican Party officials reject the idea the party lies in “shambles” — a description Democratic State Party Chairman Ken Martin supplied.
“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.
But Minnesota Democrats control state government, hold the U.S. Senate seats, and for that matter, five of eight U.S. House seats.
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.
Appraising open seats, Martin, saying the 6th Congressional District is “tough” for Democrats, links the chances of a Democrat replacing Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann to advancing the right DFL candidate, Republicans, the wrong one.
“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.
Asked if Democrats would like to run against former Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, Martin indicated they would.
“I’d love to see Tom Emmer, sure,” Martin said of the talk radio personality and former state representative.
“In a lot of ways, he’s already defined in the eyes of the voters in that district,” Martin said.
Martin isn’t surprised by the fistful of Democrats expressing interest in, or announcing their candidacy for, Minnesota secretary of state.
DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie recently announced he would not seek reelection.
“In the DFL Party right now, because we have a such a lock on the state offices, there’s not a lot of opportunities for (DFL) legislators and others to move up the ladder, so to speak,” Martin said.
Looking to the U.S. Senate race, Martin called Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken one of the Democratic Party’s top fund raisers, 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.
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,” Martin said.
Dayton said he does enjoy campaigning, talking to Minnesotans.
“It’s wishful thinking on their part,” Dayton said on Tuesday (June 25) of Republicans who believe he will not seek a second term.
Another congressional seat Democrats look at longingly is 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 Congressman John Kline’s district.
But Republican leaders, rather than being cowed by Democratic domination, insist they see opportunity,
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.
Republicans insist Dayton, too, is vulnerable.
Dayton ran on tax-the-rich, they argue, but the Democratic tax net, flung wide, entangled the middle class as well.
Additionally, 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, speaking Tuesday (June 18).
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, speaking Thursday (June 20.)
“I don’t think there’s a lot of merit to raise that up as an election-year issue,” he said.
“It’s more or less water under the bridge — at least for now,” Downey said.
Downey assumed leadership of a party originally about $2 million in debt.
The debt stands at around $1.7 million, he said.
“So we’ve made some progress,” Downey 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,” he 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.
The paper’s Minnesota Poll placed Franken’s approval rating at 55 percent — a double digit increase from September.
Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected]