How We Lost the Minnesota House…

From my diary on Kos:

I was a 3rd tier candidate in an R+8 district, a pawn recruited by the majority leader to keep a republican incumbent busy and blowing money instead of helping his fellow republican state house candidates in districts that were actually competitive. They needn’t have bothered- My opponent is too lazy to seriously campaign for himself, never mind anyone else. And while he spent $17,000 to my $4000, in an election that saw over ten million spent on just the state house races, sinking his $17k was insignificant. And that’s just the beginning of the comedy of election errors that resulted in the Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL) losing 11 house seats, most of them in rural areas. Meanwhile, flaming progressive DFL senator Al Franken won almost every one of the districts that the DFL legislative candidates lost.

Just how did the House DFL caucus manage to pull defeat from the jaws of victory?

Well, it wasn’t easy, said DFL House Caucus being saddled with a mere five million dollar plus budget and friendly “independent expenditure” groups pouring in millions more. They picked their targeted races wrong from the start, a mere 15 or so incumbent candidates in a 134 seat house. Past history would suggest that they target every district between D+5 and R+5, about 50 seats, and with five million plus they could well afford to. With all their eggs in one basket, no serious attempt was made to win a few republican districts to make up for potential DFL loses.

Having targeted their election artillery so poorly, the DFL House Caucus then set about creating a united PR front, emphasizing the DFL legislators “positive accomplishments”, while the republicans readied their attack ads. I actually had a 22 year old DFL staffer try to coach me to “carry the positive DFL message” in a debate… And I’m a challenger, not the incumbent. I listened to his canned “debate coaching”… But having campaigned for progressive DFLers for longer than he’s been alive, I thought… What would Wellstone do? I went on the attack and exposed the republican candidate’s hypocrisy and just plain incompetence at that and every other debate!

That “united front” seeped into everything. We were offered templates for lit pieces, and I had to admit it was slick, maybe done by the same DC agency that did the DFL House Caucus’ radio ads. Yup, here we are in Minnesota, home of the biggest assemblage of ad, PR, and production talent between the coasts, and the Minnesota DFL House Caucus is having their ads done in DC! The actual template was near impossible to work with for low budget campaigns that couldn’t afford to hire a professional graphics designer to customize it for your district- I wasted several days figuring out how to insert my name and picture into the template with a trial version of an Adobe program I could never afford. Then when I went to print it, the glossy full color lit sucked up $60 worth of color cartridges for every 300 copies printed!

Then there was the campaign offices and staffers we didn’t get, until it was too late to matter. Early in the cycle, we had our assigned staffer drive out for an event… A mere 400 mile round trip from the other side of the state! Said he didn’t mind the drive at all… At 56 cent a mile reinbursement and got him outa door knocking for the day, I can see why. Then we got assigned a closer staffer, a mere 70 miles away… Let’s see, thats $80 a day for mileage and a couple hours of time and a half for driving time. That was for the 2nd tier race in a neighboring district, the 1st tier districts got a whole horde of these staffers.

Did I mention that about half of these targeted districts were in rural areas? Yup, and almost every staffer I met was from “the cities”, a metro area of three million better known as Minneapolis-St.Paul or just MSP. My district is 170 miles away, and the biggest towns in the district don’t even have quite 5000 population. We had a couple local young folks apply for paid and intern staffer positions and were blown off by the state DFL if they even got a reply. Found out later that you had to know the “right people” in “the cities” to get hired…

So we have rural campaigns, saddled with a “be Minnesota nice” campaign strategy in the face of relentless republican attacks with lit written in the cities and ads done in DC. Then the DFL just piled it on deeper, with daily “door knock ’til you drop” and phone bank repetitions that caused the sudden appearance of multiple “no solicitors” signs and answering machines at the few remaining landlines. No wonder we lost 11 seats, 10 of them in rural districts.

And while the brass at the DFL blames “low turnout”, Al Franken danced to an easy victory in most of the same districts the DFL House Caucus lost. And in the suburban 3rd Congressional District where the local DFL units have set up their own House campaign support unit to compensate for the DFL House Caucus’ failings, they lost not a single house seat, despite several being targeted… And I doubt they even had a budget, never mind the five million plus the DFL House Caucus had!

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