Behind The Minnesota Cliffhanger

Behind the Minnesota Cliffhanger

The automatic recount in one of the nation’s closest races for governor this year ended last week with a victory for the Democrat who has clung to a small lead since November 2.

Former Liberal Democratic Sen. (2000-06) Mark Dayton led the race for governor of Minnesota by 43.6% to 43.2% over Tom Emmer, a conservative Republican state legislator. About 12% of the vote went to Tom Horner, a moderate GOPer who ran on the Independence Party ticket.
Because the two major party candidates were originally separated by only about 8,000 votes, Gopher State election law required an automatic recount. Dayton’s lead grew to just over 10,000 votes and he appeared on the way to succeeding retiring Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Those odds increased on Tuesday, when the Minnesota Supreme Court denied Emmer’s petition accusing state election officials of wrongdoing, and Emmer conceded defeat.

But there is much more to the saga from Minnesota than the tightness of the contest. Emmer had a solidly conservative record in the state legislature on both cultural and economic issues and was considered more to the right than any of his rivals for the Republican nod or than the moderate-to-conservative Pawlenty. It is impressive that, with such a pedigree, a Republican could come so close to winning in a state that has given the nation such liberal icons as Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and Paul Wellstone.

A key factor in Emmers’ loss is one worth pointing out to GOP moderates who frequently complain that conservatives are out to sabotage their candidates. Former Republican Governors Al Quie (1978-82) and Arne Carlson (1990-98), former Sen. (1978-94) David Durenberger and longtime GOP contributor and former state legislator George Pillsbury—moderates all—bolted from Emmers to support onetime Durenberger aide Horner. (This wasn’t the first apostasy for Carlson and Pillsbury, both of whom were Republicans for Obama in ’08.) Last week, the Republican state committee led by State Chairman Tony Sutton voted 59 to 55 to bar the Republicans for Horner from party activities for the next two years.

Silver Linings

Dayton’s victory notwithstanding, conservative Republicans in Minnesota did have much to celebrate: The biggest election surprise was that both houses of the state legislature fell into Republican hands for the first time in history. Republicans picked up 25 seats in the House to give them a-72-62 margin over the Democrats. In the Senate, Republicans picked up 16 seats for a margin of 37 to 30 over the Democrats.

State Rep. Kurt Zellers, a onetime aide to conservative former Sen. (1994-2000) Rod Grams (R.-Minn.), will be the new house speaker, and State Sen. Amy Koch will become the first-ever woman to be senate majority leader.

In the 8th U.S. House District (Iron Range), there is still no definitive explanation of how Republican Chip Cravaack, onetime commercial pilot and first-time candidate, was able to upset House Transportation Committee Chairman and 36-year Democratic Rep. James Oberstar (D.-Minn.). But Cravaack did pull off what many consider the biggest upset in any House race in the nation.

So Minnesota Republicans have much to celebrate in 2010. And even the dark cloud of Emmers’ loss may have a silver lining as talk was beginning that Emmer might take on Democratic Sen. Amy Klobachur in 2012.

Row C Means Conservative (Again)

It’s not official yet, but it looks as though, after 12 years, the New York Conservative Party has won back the third ballot line known as Row C from the Empire State’s Independence Party.
With near-final results in from the November 2 elections, losing Republican gubernatorial nominee Carl Palladino appears to have won about 213,000 votes on the Conservative ballot line, far more than Democratic Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo won on the line of the Independence Party, which was formed in the early 1990s by state supporters of Ross Perot’s independent presidential bid.

When multi-millionaire Tom Golisano ran on the Independence Party line for governor in 1998 and spent freely of his own fortune, he won more votes than Republican then-Gov. George Pataki did on the Conservative Party line. As a result, the Independence Party was given Row C on the state ballot and the Conservatives dropped down to Row D. Since then, whoever had the Independence Party line for governor got more votes than the Conservative standard-bearer—until now.

All signs are that the Cuomo got 54,000 fewer votes on the Independence Party line than Democrat Elliot Spitzer did when he carried its gubernatorial standard in 2006. Now there is speculation that the Independence Party might just drop down to Row E and that its Row D slot will go to the Working Families Party (which is backed by the far-left ACORN).

What these changes mean is that the endorsement of the 48-year-old Conservative Party—founded to counter liberal Gov. Nelson Rockefeller’s dominance of the New York State GOP—will regain a lot of political clout in future elections. State Conservative Chairman Mike Long is sure to be courted by state GOP leaders to get his party’s endorsement of candidates and Republicans are likely to be more wary about endorsing less-than-conservative candidates for office.

For older backers of the Conservative Party, there were warm memories of 1966 and their gubernatorial nominee Paul Adams. A little-known dean of Rochester’s Roberts Wesleyan College who sported a Hitler-style mustache, Adams stunned the political establishment by winning more votes than Liberal Party nominee Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. and thus giving the Conservatives Row C for the first time. As the Buffalo Evening News headline put it: “C is For The Conservatives.”

Also in New York: The recount of a tight race for a Long Island seat last week finally won back for New York Republicans control of the state senate, thus giving them a likely veto of unfavorable redistricting sure to originate next year from incoming Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the heavily Democratic state assembly under Speaker Sheldon Silver. In the last senate race to be resolved, Republican Jack Martins edged out Democratic  State Sen. Craig Johnson. This means that the GOP will retake the state senate from Democrats by one seat.

Life After Elective Office

It is never dull to find out which former office-holders and onetime political superstars are now seeking—and getting—some pretty high-powered positions with private trade associations.
Last week, reports were rampant that former Rep. (1994-2008) Tom Davis (R.-Va.) was the leading candidate to head up the Motion Picture Association. Moderate GOPer Davis, who served as head of the National Republican Congressional Committee and later as chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, is going for one of the most illustrious association jobs in D.C. Notables who have headed the MPA include the late Jack Valenti, once an aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson, and Dan Glickman, former secretary of Agriculture under Bill Clinton.

Last month, former Idaho Gov. (1998-2006) and U.S. Sen. (1992-98) Dirk Kempthorne became the latest in a long line of Republican politicians to assume what is known in Washington as the “Cadillac” of trade association jobs: the presidency of the American Council of Life Insurers. The conservative Kempthorne, who also served as secretary of the Interior under George W. Bush, succeeds former Oklahoma Gov. (1994-2002) Frank Keating at helm of the ACLI. Keating, a veteran of several subcabinet positions in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations, moved on to become chief executive officer of the American Bankers Association.