When it comes to statewide races in Minnesota, the DFL has managed to mop the floor with Republicans systematically. Of the 31 statewide races since 1990 (not counting judicial elections), DFL candidates have won 21. Even in 2010, when anti-Obama sentiment was at its peak, the GOP was not able to win one state-wide race. The GOP’s batting average is .322. While this would be exceptional in baseball, it is abysmal for the taxpayers of this state.
A lot of factors probably contribute to this. Minnesota’s main media sources are two very liberal newspapers, Hubbard broadcasting, and a nightly television news array that is slightly to the left of Noam Chomsky. Moreover, Minnesota has always been a traditionally liberal state that has voted Democrat in a record-setting 9 straight presidential elections. None of these factors are as important, however, as the wild card… The DFL is simply smarter than us in one important area.
The DFL has absolutely no care, concern, or love for the party-endorsing process because they are smart enough to realize that the caucus is an absurd relic of a forgotten past. In the 2010 Governor’s race, Mitch Berg suggested that the DFL’s endorsement of Margaret Anderson-Kelliher amounted to a “kiss of death.” DFL-endorsed candidates rarely win primaries. Now some have argued that since the Minnesota GOP has reunified after the “Independent Republican” era (1975-1995), this gives our candidates an advantage – their endorsement carries meaning, so they can confidently campaign for an extra month while the DFL continues the bloodletting.
This is patently wrong. What the DFL knows – that Republicans have not figured out – is that an active and contested primary gives media exposure to candidates, and allows for these candidates to be vetted and tested publicly, rather than behind closed doors. Do you think if Marge had been on the ballot in November she would have won? Absolutely not.
The caucus system is a hold-over from a bygone era. When Minnesota entered statehood in the 19th century, news was not readily at people’s fingertips. A decentralized rural population had only one opportunity to get together each year to hash out which candidate to support. Nowadays, even rural Minnesotans have 3G coverage, and can bypass the mainstream media by pulling up Drudge on their iPhones.
To add insult to injury, caucuses are rife with corruption. Many states switched to a primary system after the Boss Tweed era because one powerful man was so effective at gaming the system in his favor. Democrats used to use the caucus system to systematically exclude blacks from having any voice in their party.
And perhaps no state exemplifies the pitfalls of the caucus system better than Minnesota. Just this year, a well-oiled, methodical, and purpose-driven group of liberty-minded individuals commandeered the GOP caucus night to elect one of their boys. Their organization and effectiveness is to be commended, but that group represents a very small portion of the Minnesota voting population.
Now I like Kurt Bills. I’m voting for Kurt Bills. He is a fantastic candidate who Minnesotans desperately need, especially given his opponent’s Obama rubber-stamp record. But there is simply no way Kurt Bills would have survived a primary. Apparently he has been consulting Jesse Ventura for his media relations advice lately (who used to call the media a bunch of liberal scam-artists then complain how they refused to give him more coverage). Just recently he refused to sit down with the Star Tribune editorial board for an interview where he would have been given page-one coverage because he disagreed with their views. Rookie mistakes like this would have given any primary voter pause to realize this man, although possessing a compelling life and work history, and solid conservative viewpoints, does not know how to campaign. Knowing this, I would not have voted for him in the primary.
Although caucus night can be fun for hacks like me, the truth is it needs to disappear quietly into the night. When I lived a few doors down from Sue Jeffers I used to love going to caucus night just to hear her complain about all the “lousy RINOs.” But this only appeals to hacks like me, and only if I can set aside a few hours of my day to physically attend – for attendance is mandatory. There is no absentee-voting in a caucus. Active-duty military men and women have no voice. Students who leave the state and run College Republican groups at their universities can’t attend. Hard-working taxpayers who work nights can’t drop an absentee ballot in the mail. Yet the candidates given the endorsement as a result of this corrupt, easily-manipulated, exclusionary process are guaranteed to have the word “Republican” printed beneath their names on the November ballot.
And unfortunately those candidates tend to lose. Until we cast off our adherence to this caucus process, we will continue to be plagued with candidates who cannot appeal to the majority of Minnesotans. If nothing else, as taxpayers, we can no longer afford to allow our DFL counterparts to outsmart us in this area. Mitch is correct that the DFL-endorsement is a kiss of death for the DFL primary. Unfortunately, the GOP endorsement is the kiss of death for the general election.