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Convention Contention

The Minnesota State DFL Convention is this weekend.  It’s one important step on the road to what should be a highly contested and interesting election for Governor this November.  It should be, that is.  The USofA isn’t in the kind of mood that makes for good elections at the state level, and it certainly isn’t in the kind of mood that favors left-leaning candidates.  That’s a real liability given that the last time a State DFL Convention endorsed a winning Governor was in 1986, when Rudy Perpich was picked.  But the real question isn’t the candidate, it’s what the DFL does to bring up its energy and focus for the next six months.

There is no more fascinating contrast to the mood that the US electorate is in than the contest going on right now in the UK.  The ruling Labour Party is not having a good time of it largely because it seems tired and directionless.  However, a quick glance from afar shows that their first ever “American Style” debate centered on domestic issues such as fixing the health care system, the kind of stuff that has actual American Style politics boiling over in a frenzy.  What’s the difference?

While their atmosphere isn’t exactly the bed of roses that someone like Blair could fall right into, the UK is clearly in a mood that favors lefty politics.  The most likely beneficiary will be Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats, a young and articulate man who brings new energy but no tremendous change in policy.  The USofA, by contrast, seems to be going through an “End of the Empire” throes that were made for someone like Margaret Thatcher.  It’s a bad time to create a compelling debate on running a state and fixing the problems that are built into the system.

What can the DFL do to change the mood and get voters to focus on state issues?  It’s not generally something you can do in six months.  Yet there is still a lot of hope as the DFL contends for the open Governor’s seat.  Here’s my take on it.

I’ll start with the demonstrable fact that turnout has a lot to do with how the DFL wins.  In another place, I showed how there is a Republican base of 900 to 1,100 thousand voters who are reliable.  The DFL has to have a Get Out the Vote (GOTV) strategy at the center of its campaign to turn out more people than that, something it hasn’t been able to muster in more than 20 years.

That’s where the mood of the electorate and the election becomes so critical. People are going to have to become excited enough to identify themselves as willing DFLers and the machinery is going to have to identify them and get them to show up.  You can’t do that with negative campaigning, or telling everyone how bad the other guys are – you have to make a positive case that fires people up.  This is a marked contrast to the debate in the UK that clearly favors the left, one based on policy and detail.  Yet at the same time, the DFL wins when it demonstrates that it is the party that is capable of running the government competently and fairly.

That’s a lot of fine distinctions to split in a short campaign season.  No one honest or smart will tell you this will be easy.

Yet this can still be done by building the case carefully, strategically, and with a great deal of energy.  You don’t have to look at Obama’s huge win too long to realize that “Yes, We Can!” is a lot more than a slogan, it’s the winning strategy.  There’s little time or interest in the specifics and details, but the connection has to be made all the same.

What will win this for the DFL is if the focus moves to one of basic Fairness and decency in government.  As an example, the Minnesota Tax Incidence study shows that after we’ve paid all the various sales, property, income, and excise taxes the net effect on the state is that rates go down as you make more money.  The poorest tenth of our state pays a net 22.1%, the middle 12.5%, and the richest tenth 10.1%.  Does this seem fair?  Ask the question, let the voters sort it out.  Let those who are into it read the whole study for themselves because the truth is there in black and white.  For the campaign, it’s a matter of Fairness.

That won’t solve the budget mess we have, but turning the debate on matters of Fairness opens up the vast middle ground for the DFL.  The ideological purity demanded by the Republicans is a terrible liability for them because they are hardened in their trenches and cannot maneuver.  They can easily be flanked and spanked into a loss that gets the population cheering.

The DFL will have a tendency to want an election that turns more or less like the UK one is playing out for the simple reason that that’s the kind of election we know we can win.  Wishing that was how our debate went has cost us 20 years.  We have to force the debate in that direction in an atmosphere that is much more poisonous than how we score an easy win.  We haven’t been organized enough as a party to get to that point and the electorate is frankly distracted by a very toxic national debate.  That doesn’t mean we can’t find another way around the problem.

“Yes, We Can!”   It’s about getting out the vote and getting the energy up, no matter who we are rallying behind.  We might know how likely this is after the Convention this weekend.  Are you with me, DFL?

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8 thoughts on “Convention Contention

  1. Bravo! I agree completely. I believe that the candidate who can bring us this energy is RT Rybak, who has a long record of getting things done and making government work. But what matters most is getting that message out and firing people up, I totally agree!

  2. Annalise, I’m still a Kelliher fan, but I think the DFL can and should have a major role as a party making this work. We have to start changing the nature of our debate long before campaign season, and to do that we either have to pick our candidates years in advance (as they frankly do in the UK) or have a party mechanism for making it work.

    But it’s never too late to start, really. The sooner the better.

    I’d love to hear from some of my British friends about their election, however. It’s a real contrast with ours. What say, Gwei or Lauri? How are things going in your first “American Style” election? Have our methods given you more interest and excitement, or just pulled you into the gutters? 🙂

  3. I think you left of discipline as a major problem with the DFL. You don’t have to read too many blogs by Democrats to realize that they are more interested in spouting off than actually organizing. Without a united front I don’t think we can make any strategy work – good as this one is.

  4. Controlling the debate is definitely what the DFL has to do. But 20 years of failure shows how bad they have been at doing just that.

    I don’t see how it can turn around in just 6 months (is the election that close?). What I can see is that the Republicans will kill themselves by looking very extreme and out of touch. That’s probably how this one will play out.

  5. I agree that this is the message we need, but it may be too late for a lot of reasons. I am afraid that what worked in 2008 for Obama may not work in 2010 for anyone else. Things have gotten even more angry and vicious since hope beat out fear.

  6. John: I agree with you there, but as a blogger myself I’d rather not make a lot of enemies. I think there are ways to lead by example – show, not tell – that I’d rather be known for. Barataria breaks an awful lot of the “rules” of blogging, but people like you show that it can be successful all the same. I’d like to keep moving along that path and (hopefully) one day people will realize why we have something good going on here.

    (and maybe I’ll get real, paying work out of it, too!)

    Dale, Janine, you’re both on the same tack here. Just because we’ve been bad at it doesn’t mean that we’ll always be bad at it. I can see that the great lesson of 2008 may not be universal for all elections everywhere, but we still should have learned a lot. I think a lot of people have learned, too.

    We will have to see. I have to do my part, and I’m sure wiling. Is everyone?

  7. Very intrsting post especially to see Birtish politcs through the eyes of a non Brit! I fear that an enforced “collaboration” between whom ever with the Liberal Demoracts holding the balance of power (if the polls turn out to be true) will either cure or kills us let shope that it is the former and not the latter.

  8. Pingback: Move Ahead with Kelliher! « Barataria – the work of Erik Hare

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