Green Room

Everything You Believe About Minnesota Is Wrong

posted at 12:54 pm on October 10, 2010 by

My radio colleagues Ed Morrissey (with the A-squad Hot Air) and King Banaian (of SCSU Scholars, also found in the Green Room) will post on occasion about politics in Minnesota, where the three of us live, work, blog and do a bit of talk radio.

And when we do write about Minnesota – especially its freaks of electoral fate, like Al Franken and Jesse Ventura – we get a long string of similar comments; “What do you expect from Minnesota?”,  “That’s those crazy Minnesotans” and, when the Emmer/Dayton gubernatorial race comes up, “I don’t have a whole lot of hope for Minnesota”.  We were the only state that never voted for Reagan – although to be fair, the state voted for Walter Mondale, a native son, in 1984 (a year before I moved here).

If that’s what you feel, you’re wrong, and you need to re-think things.  And I’m going to try to start that rethinking right now.

Don’t get me wrong.  Minnesota is a strange place, in a lot of ways.  It’s an adopted home for all three of us; Ed’s from LA, King was born in New Hampshire and arrived in Minnesota via California among a few other places, and I grew up in North Dakota (and moved here 25 years ago as of this coming Wednesday).  And I think we’ve all scratched our heads, agog, at some of the political weirdness this state has spawned.

Everyone recalls the bizarre 2008 election, where former comedian and failed talk show host Al Franken beat incumbent Norm Coleman in a race that Coleman led by 200 votes on election night – and Franken won by 300 after eight months of recounts and legal maneuvering, exposing many flaws in Minnesota’s electoral system (like the law allowing people to vote without showing ID, but being vouched for by another registered voter).

More infamously, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, running for Minnesota’s “Independence” party, which was essentially a vanity offshoot of Ross Perot’s “Reform” Party, won the 1998 gubernatorial election, beating Hubert Humphrey’s son Skip and…Norm Coleman.

Minnesota has had plenty of electoral weirdness in the past; the Democratic/Farmer/Labor Party (the “DFL”, as we call Democrats here) had long ties to the far, far left; Stalinists were a powerful force in the party until Hubert H. Humphrey managed to purge them in the mid-forties; former Eighth District congressman John Bernard, of the antecedent, radical-left “Farmer/Labor” Party, cast the sole vote in 1938 against embargoing arms to the Stalinist side in the Spanish Civil War. Gus Hall, long-time head of the Communist Party USA and one-time perennial presidential candidate, was a Minnesota native, who cut his teeth as a radical organizing the mines of Northern Minnesota.

There are reasons Minnesota is an odd place:

Culture: Minnesota’s dominant culture in its formative years was immigrants from rural Scandinavia, especially Norway and Sweden.  Both nations have long histories of being poor, and developed communitarian traditions to cope with the grinding poverty of life in the Norwegian mountains, the endless woods of Sweden, and the motti of Finland. These communitarian traditions were easy to co-opt for political ends.

Institutions: Minnesota’s prosperity over the past 100 years has been built around several key institutions:

  • Agriculture – Farmers in Minnesota and elsewhere tend to be conservatives, although like farmers in neighboring Iowa, Wisconsin and the Dakotas, they’ve had a willingness to vote for Democrats who bring home the pork.
  • Mining – Iron mining was huge business on the “Iron Range”, the taconite-rich area of northern Minnesota, throughout the 20th century.  Miners – largely immigrants from Finland, Germany and eastern Europe – were easy pickings for labor organizers, and formed the hotbed for the radical, Communist-affiliated “Farmer Labor” party that eventually joined with the Democrats.
  • The University System – Minnesota has two parallel university systems.  These systems run parallel lobbying efforts in the Legislature.  Lest you wondered, Minnesota faculties are no less far-left than academics in any other states.
  • The Media – Minnesota’s newspaper of record, the Star/Tribune, is second to none nationwide in the flagrancy of its editorial board’s pro-DFL bias.  It’s other mainstream media – the Big Three network affiliates, and the programming (albeit not necessarily the News) divisions of Minnesota Public Radio, the nation’s largest public-media network and a pseudo-national network in its own right, aren’t far behind.
  • Business – Minnesota’s key businesses – those that survive today (Target, 3M, Honeywell, Best Buy) and those that have gone by the wayside (Control Data, Cray, Daytons, Northwest Airlines) had a long tradition of communitarian philanthropy.  The DFL and their allied network of non-profits was happy to harness this to their ends.

Legend: Minnesota was a sleeping economic giant for decades before the late sixties – when the confluence of resources, an educated populace, infrastructure (the Mississippi, the Great Lakes and the rail system) and booming markets launched Minnesota into prosperity.  The media, Minnesota’s academy and the big-government interests assigned the success to a series of government programs that essentially redistributed tax wealth from the Twin Cities to the poorer outstate regions, christened it the “Minnesota Miracle”, and launched a myth that survives to this day.

Events: Minnesota was 20-odd years late to the Reagan Revolution.  The Minnesota GOP closely mirrored the national Republican Party throughout the fifties and sixties, the years of the Rockefeler/Eisenhower axis of very, very moderate, big-government Republicanism.  The aftermath of Watergate and the rise of the social conservatives in the national party in the mid-seventies caused then-ascendant “progressive” wing of the MNGOP to essentially secede from the national party, rebranding itself the “Independent Republican Party“, which lasted for twenty years and the governorships of very liberal Republicans Wendell Anderson and Arne Carlson (and Al Quie’s single term, during which his mid-stagflation budget-cutting enraged the DFL establishment enough to get him tossed from office).  The Republican grassroots didn’t actually get on board with the rebirth of conservatism until the mid-nineties.

So Minnesota’s got some dodgy history when it comes to politics.

But there are also grounds for hope – maybe immense hope.  Like most “purple” states, Minnesota is really very sharply divided between conservative and “progressive” voting.

The inner cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul – the 5th and 4th Districts, respectively – and the “Arrowhead”, the northeast part of the state, DFL-dominated Duluth and the Iron Range – are traditional DFL strongholds.

And it’s there that we see the encouragement.  Here’s why:

Demographics: The deepest-red districts – the southern and western suburbs of the Twin Cities – are where most of the growth is happening.  Most business and population growth is in these districts, which include the Second CD (John Kline, a staunch conservative who will win his race by at least 30 points this November), the Third (Erik Paulsen, who is growing more conservative in office as his district, once considered “purple”, drifts rightward) and the Sixth (Michele Bachmann, of whom more in a bit).

The Wave: It’s hard to tell, but it seems big things are happening in the hinterland.  First, the First District – the traditionally-Republican, ag-dominated southern tier of counties, represented by second-term DFLer Tim Walz – is considered in play; Walz supported Obamacare, which will gut one of the region’s major employers, the world-famous Mayo Clinic, which is already diversifying its operations outside the state and US to hedge against the worst.

Better yet?  The Seventh District – the tier of counties along the western border, represented for a generation by blue-dog Colin Peterson – are restless.  Lee Byberg, a Norwegian immigrant and bio-tech entrepreneur, has raised more money in this campaign than all of Peterson’s opponents together in recent memory.  The ag-dependent district is not thrilled about Obamacare, and there is speculation that those red counties could be one major tipping point away from sending a Republican to Washington.

Best of all?  That tipping point may be brewing up in mining country.  Last week, news broke that Chip Cravaack, an Annapolis grad and retired Navy chopper pilot, was within three points of 18-term Representative Jim Oberstar in an internal poll in the Eighth District, the “Arrowhead”, which has sent DFLers to Washington since 1947.  Oberstar hasn’t had less than a 29 point margin of victory in a generation. If it’s even close in the Eighth, anything can happen.  The voters in the Eighth are union voters, largely, and have been voting DFL for several generations – but they are largely pro-life, as was Oberstar, until he threw his lot in with the Administration on flipping the Stupak coalition toward Obamacare last year.  Worse?  Cap and Trade will shred the mining industry, which uses immense amounts of energy whose price spike after passage will put many mines out of business.

The Loyal Opposition: Conservatives in Minnesota are a close-knit political Band of Brothers; we’ve had to fight two wars in the past fifteen years.  We had to win over our party before we could even take on the DFL. And the veterans of those struggles are tough as nails, immune to abuse, and so clear on  principle that debates against DFL opponents usually resemble turkey shoots.  The rest of the nation knows Michele Bachmann as the vice-queen of the Tea Party, at Sarah Palin’s side.

But Bachmann didn’t start in Congress. She started out fighting the Stillwater (MN) school board, a Twin Cities exurb clogged with liberals tired of the DFL’s failed cities, but unable to leave the failed policies behind.  She had to battle her own district’s IR legacy to get endorsed, first for State Senate (where she was a conservative lightning rod for six years) and then against a moderate-leaning establishment in the Sixth District in 2006, even before facing the DFL.

Many Minnesota conservatives have similar stories; years spent fighting the “Independent Republican” establishment before even being able to take on the Democrats.

This has created a grass-roots conservatism in Minnesota that has slowly insinuated conservative ideals and, eventually, policies into parts of Minnesota that would have been inconceivable a few decades ago.

How do we know?  The latest Rasmussen poll shows that while voter ID in Minnesota is very close between the GOP and DFL, that Tea Party sympathy is actually higher in Minnesota than the national average.

Conservative Unity: Minnesota’s “craziness” was as much a symptom of the Minnesota GOP’s schizophrenia over the past forty years as it was to any liberal tradition.  For several elections, Minnesota’s “moderates” duked it out with, and defeated, conservatives; in 1990, while the GOP grass roots endorsed social conservative Alan Quist, Arne Carlson – a man more liberal on many issues than the DFL incumbent Rudy Perpich, including gun control and abortion – ran and won a primary challenge, and spent two terms as a free-spending, surplus-gobbling “Republican” governor.

Even Tim Pawlenty, who had a reputation as a pragmatist if not an outright moderate during his time as House Minority leader, had to tack hard to the right to fend off a challenge to get endorsed in 2002, against fiscalcon challenger Brian Sullivan, winning the nomination after promising “No New Taxes”.

This years MNGOP convention was distinguished by the fact that the front-runners – House minority leader Marty Seifert and eventual nominee Tom Emmer – while impeccably conservative, had three challengers to their right.  There was no “moderate” in the race (after Norm Coleman declared he wasn’t running).

For the first time in recorded history, the Minnesota GOP is a unified conservative bloc (to the consternation of the regional media, which audibly slavers for a return of the old, “moderate”/liberal “IR”, basically liberals with better suits.

So this is not your father’s Minnesota.  This is not the same Minnesota that voted for Walter Mondale.  This is a hungrier, less-prosperous Minnesota than the one that voted for Jesse Ventura in the cha-cha nineties, when the state was running multi-billion-dollar surpluses.  This is not the Obama-crazy state that delivered Al Franken to Washington – and the conservative movement is not the naive bunch of trusting schlemiels that let the DFL bully its way through a recount process that was designed to manufacture votes for Franken and toss votes for Coleman.  The wave of conservative, anti-Obama sentiment is washing up in Minnesota as well; there is evidence that the regional media has no idea how much so.

But as Ed and my radio colleague King Banaian – who is running for the Minnesota House of Representatives, in the exurban northwestern part of the metro – wrote this morning, there are no guarantees, and even in the best of times conservatives in Minnesota have to work harder than most:

For whatever reason (as discussed on the NARN shows on AM 1280 Saturday) and with Michael Barone at the Center of the American Experiment talk this past Tuesday, “Minnesota is different.” Whether it’s genetics, an isolated view of ‘liberalism’ or something else, in order for our great, conservative candidates to win, we simply have to work harder, dig deeper and make those voter ID phone calls. Yes, they can be a pain but we need to do them. Why? In 48 states, voters declare party affiliation at time of voter registration. They don’t have to spend $$$$ trying to find out who votes how. Any candidate can apply for the list of R or D or all voters and get it. We don’t have outside $$ funding id for us, we have to do it ourselves.

And so we do.

Don’t write Minnesota off.  This race is just getting interesting.

Cross-posted at Shot In The Dark.

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Comments

Fascinating article. Just one question: is Minnesota Public Radio even bigger per capita than WGBH Boston? I thought they had the king’s seat in public broadcasting.

MadisonConservative on October 10, 2010 at 1:04 PM

Thanks for this, I’m always fascinated by the history of our states, which sadly are barely taught in schools any more.

DrAllecon on October 10, 2010 at 1:08 PM

Fascinating article. Just one question: is Minnesota Public Radio even bigger per capita than WGBH Boston? I thought they had the king’s seat in public broadcasting.

MadisonConservative on October 10, 2010 at 1:04 PM

I believe the figure is based on per-capita hours of programming produced and/or syndicated. WGBH does more in raw hours, but Minnesota puts out a boatload more stuff per capita, considering how much smaller Min-uh-soe-duh is than Mass-uh-chew-sits.

gryphon202 on October 10, 2010 at 1:44 PM

Even Tim Pawlenty, who had a reputation as a pragmatist if not an outright moderate during his time as House Minority leader, had to tack hard to the right to fend off a challenge to get endorsed in 2002, against fiscalcon challenger Brian Sullivan, winning the nomination after promising “No New Taxes”.

So Tim Pawlenty came out of this Independent-Republican Party, “basically liberals with better suits”?

Very interesting. It would be nice if Minnesota went red.

sharrukin on October 10, 2010 at 1:59 PM

Very interesting. It would be nice if Minnesota went red.

sharrukin on October 10, 2010 at 1:59 PM

Don’t count on it. I have a lot of family in Minnesota, and I don’t share Mitch’s optimism.

gryphon202 on October 10, 2010 at 2:02 PM

Don’t count on it. I have a lot of family in Minnesota, and I don’t share Mitch’s optimism.

gryphon202 on October 10, 2010 at 2:02 PM

Do you know why the rural districts in the ‘arrowhead’ back the Democrats? That seems odd to me. Union domination? It is a lack of choice between the IR and the Democrats or something else?

sharrukin on October 10, 2010 at 2:14 PM

Being from S TX and hubby born and raised in MN, I can think of two things that are not wrong about MN. One, it snows lots and lots. Two, it is way way too cold up there! Otherwise is one beautiful state from what I have seen visiting hubby family, in the summer that is. Sorry to say, most of hubby family seems to lean left. They all love their football though.
L

letget on October 10, 2010 at 2:19 PM

Do you know why the rural districts in the ‘arrowhead’ back the Democrats? That seems odd to me. Union domination? It is a lack of choice between the IR and the Democrats or something else?

sharrukin on October 10, 2010 at 2:14 PM

I think a lot of it is union domination. That’s just speculation on my part, though. Dad still lives here in South Dakota, where he grew up; most of his siblings who grew up here ended up moving to the Twin Cities metro area.

gryphon202 on October 10, 2010 at 3:36 PM

Great article! Whatever the case may be, MN seems to like gadfly politicians, eg, Ventura, Wellstone, Franken, Ellison, Bachmann, Harold Stassen, Rudy Perpich and even Mark Dayton. It’s strange the state is so liberal; it’s very prosperous and is actually quite socially conservative, majority pro-life and pro-gun.

But this year seems like it’ll be an utter disaster. Tom Emmer is one of the weakest people the MNGOP could’ve run. There is no excuse for Mark Dayton to be ahead; the man is an utter fool and squandered his wealth. Unless something dramatic happens, Mark will win. The consequences will be tough to reverse. The tax increases and new regs won’t get repealed since the MNGOP has never controlled all three branches. There’ll be redistricting that’ll take out bachmann and maybe the other two suburban reps, and seal the DFL majorities in the legislature. Dark times ahead.

IR-MN on October 10, 2010 at 3:41 PM

Unless something dramatic happens, Mark will win.

Disagree. I think you underestimate Emmer. He does face some partisan pushback after five terms of no DFL governors – but he’s a very sharp guy and a potentially great communicator.

And there’s some evidence to show that Emmer’s going to do a lot better than the big polls are showing so far.

I’m pretty confident.

Mitch_Berg on October 10, 2010 at 3:46 PM

I think a lot of it is union domination.

THat’s a big part of it. Mining is big on the Range; so are DFL subsidies.

Mitch_Berg on October 10, 2010 at 3:47 PM

I’m pretty confident.

Mitch_Berg on October 10, 2010 at 3:46 PM

Mitch, my friend, there is a difference between confidence and optimism. I believe you to be optimistic. Nothing wrong with that, of course. It kind of comes with the territory of being conservative. But there’s one aspect of electoral strategy that those red/blue maps don’t show: Population density.

By the by, I hope to God you’re right. Not sure, but I hope.

gryphon202 on October 10, 2010 at 3:49 PM

Nah…I do believe the Minnesota Vikings suck.

🙂

catmman on October 10, 2010 at 4:00 PM

Nah…I do believe the Minnesota Vikings suck.

🙂

catmman on October 10, 2010 at 4:00 PM

Some things never change.

gryphon202 on October 10, 2010 at 4:08 PM

Mitch, my friend, there is a difference between confidence and optimism. I believe you to be optimistic

I am both. And being Norwegian and Scottish, neither comes to me naturally.

The latest Rasmussen poll showed the race tied, based on an R+1 likely voter model

And as I point out here and here, I think it’s reasonable to expect GOP enthusiasm and turnout in Red areas might go way beyond the ability of recent historical stats to measure.

Mitch_Berg on October 10, 2010 at 4:10 PM

And as I point out here and here, I think it’s reasonable to expect GOP enthusiasm and turnout in Red areas might go way beyond the ability of recent historical stats to measure.

Mitch_Berg on October 10, 2010 at 4:10 PM

Which is why I said “optimistic.” Please note I did not say “overly optimistic,” nor did I accuse you of being wrong. I picked my words carefully. 😉 Did I mention that I hope you’re right?

gryphon202 on October 10, 2010 at 4:20 PM

Mitch_Berg on October 10, 2010 at 4:10 PM

Being optimistic is good. Here are my concerns. In 02, Pawlenty had Tim Penny as the IP candidate, a strong DFLer who got Pawlenty a narrow win. This year it’s Tom Horner. As you mentioned above, the moderate to liberal GOPers are backing Horner, when with a Coleman or Pawlenty they would’ve stayed put. You wrote about Zellers district. South of you, in Minnetonka, there’s tons of Terri Bonoff signs, an intensity that is scary. The 3rd CD is a good bellweather, but there’s no poll of the whole district. Dayton just needs to win the 5th, 4th and 8th with huge margins and be competitive elsewhere. Nice blog.

IR-MN on October 10, 2010 at 4:23 PM

IR-MN on October 10, 2010 at 4:23 PM

Optimism is good, to a point. Unfortunately, in politics, prediction can be a messy and ugly thing. We see it in people’s reaction to various GOP candidates, including but not limited to Palin and O’Donnell. We keep out some of the best conservative candidates because we’ve got the whole election figured out months (or sometimes even years, in Palin’s case) before it takes place. Optimism? Good. But when it drives us to ill-informed decisions about which candidates to run? I try to temper it with realism for just that reason.

gryphon202 on October 10, 2010 at 4:30 PM

gryphon202 on October 10, 2010 at 4:30 PM

Emmer would never have gotten the nod if a more substantial person was running. No one of substance showed up. Palin won’t get the nod unless she prove herself and is electable. She still has time of those two fronts. Is Noem going to win in S. Dakota?

IR-MN on October 10, 2010 at 4:47 PM

Emmer would never have gotten the nod if a more substantial person was running. No one of substance showed up. Palin won’t get the nod unless she prove herself and is electable. She still has time of those two fronts. Is Noem going to win in S. Dakota?

IR-MN on October 10, 2010 at 4:47 PM

That’s my whole point, IR. Palin hasn’t committed to running yet. We’ve been talking about her since early-2009 as if she had already thrown her hat into the ring. “Electability” just gets you lousy candidates like McCain. I’m not in the business of making predictions. I’m in the business of advancing conservative principles in my own small way.

For what it’s worth, I do believe that if Palin believed it was in the country’s best interest for her not to run in 2012, she wouldn’t even bother. That’s my best guess as to why she’s been so circumspect thus far.

As for Noem, though I am not in the habit of making predictions, I think she stands a good chance this year. I am somewhat of a philosophical outlier on the matter, but I find Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin to be a vile reprehensible human being — and that’s mainly based on the ads she’s been running in just this election cycle. The last polls I looked at showed Noem up, but within the margin of error. Here’s hoping.

gryphon202 on October 10, 2010 at 4:53 PM

It’s gottah be the cold and snow.

SouthernGent on October 10, 2010 at 6:32 PM

It’s gottah be the cold and snow

And yet the Dakotas and Montana are colder and snowier, and they’re pretty solidly conservative.

Mitch_Berg on October 10, 2010 at 6:55 PM

And yet the Dakotas and Montana are colder and snowier, and they’re pretty solidly conservative.

Mitch_Berg on October 10, 2010 at 6:55 PM

Philosophically conservative, yes, but I’d strongly qualify that description. South Dakota did, after all, give Congress the likes of James Abourezk, Tom Daschle, and Tim Johnson. Even farmers that like to think of themselves as ruggedly independent will sell out for enough pork.

gryphon202 on October 10, 2010 at 7:45 PM

Gryphon,

Noted in my post. I’ve written about NoDak’s curious affection for Byron Dorgan, Kent Conrad and Earl Pomeroy…

…while noting that two of the three will likely be gone this January.

Finally.

Mitch_Berg on October 10, 2010 at 7:50 PM

Noted in my post. I’ve written about NoDak’s curious affection for Byron Dorgan, Kent Conrad and Earl Pomeroy…

…while noting that two of the three will likely be gone this January.

Finally.

Mitch_Berg on October 10, 2010 at 7:50 PM

We got rid of Daschle too, only to bring in Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin, a woman who has absolutely no shame about parading her young son in front of the cameras and taking EMILY’s list money at the same time.

I wouldn’t be surprised if, one or two election cycles from now, they trade a couple of liberals for a couple of other lbierals. That’s the way it’s been down here in SD.

gryphon202 on October 10, 2010 at 7:54 PM

Interesting article. I was born and raised in the “arrowhead” region of MN for 18 years. In my opinion, the Iron Range has been a DFL stronghold for years due to the steelworker unions. My entire family voted DFL as far back as my grandfathers who both moved to the region in the 50s. This seemed to be the norm for everyone I knew up there, multi-generation DFL voters.

Another issue with the 8th CD is the propensity for people to stay in the region hoping the mines come back. With the multi-generation DFL voters plus a lack of decent jobs, there is no mass migration to the area hence no new voters with different ideas.

Look into the IRRRB (Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board) as well. The IRRRB has done a lot of good for the region (backing industrial revenue bonds for new businesses, making investments into tourist areas, reforestation) but at the cost of increasing the cost of domestic taconite which directly led to the mines in the region not being able to compete directly with importers.

Eprider on October 10, 2010 at 8:00 PM

Any state that gave us MST3K can’t be all bad.

ZK on October 10, 2010 at 9:04 PM

Homogenous populations tend to lean more socialist as well.

Theworldisnotenough on October 10, 2010 at 9:45 PM

I know I’ve written this before but the nuttiest thing about Franken/Coleman is the simple fact it was even close given that Franken openly hates Minnesota. (I mean what other conclusion can you get from a guy that left your state the first chance he got and didn’t come back for 40+ years? He only came back to run for senator, a job that basically requires him to leave the state. I mean this shouldn’t have even been close, who the hell votes for a guy who basically hasn’t lived in the state for nearly half a century and is at best a minor celebrity?)

Dave_d on October 10, 2010 at 11:41 PM

who the hell votes for a guy who basically hasn’t lived in the state for nearly half a century and is at best a minor celebrity?)
Dave_d on October 10, 2010 at 11:41 PM

Is Coleman one of those “nice” Republicans who won’t attack? Franken isn’t a normal target; he’s all bulls-eye.

Feedie on October 11, 2010 at 1:26 AM

This post has been promoted to HotAir.com.

Comments have been closed on this post but the discussion continues here.

Ed Morrissey on October 11, 2010 at 1:24 PM