Ramesh Ponnuru looks at the political situation in Minnesota and wonders what is happening with the GOP. He notes the apparent closeness of the Hatch-Pawlenty race (it isn’t that close), the apparent closeness of the Bachmann-Wetterling race (ditto), and the fact that Mark Kennedy is getting his butt kicked by Amy Klobuchar (which, sadly, he is) and wonders whether Minnesota is really going purple.
For one, one has to realize that the Minnesota Poll is a pile of crap, and is invariably wrong. The same holds true for the Humphrey Institute polls. Both have methodological biases that produce a Democratic bias in the double digits. They’re great for DFL propaganda, but they almost never serve as accurate predictors of the actual outcome of the race.
What Ponnuru misses is the ground game: the DFL doesn’t have one, and the Republican Party of Minnesota has an excellent one. In 2000 the GOP started working on better organization, better outreach, and better GOTV. That didn’t help Rod Grams, who was running against the Star-Tribune rather than the incompetent Mark Dayton. (Dayton was such a bad candidate that he chose not to run again, his tenure in the Senate being an abject joke.) In 2002, that ground game got better, seeing a major GOP push that put the GOP in control of several state-wide offices. 2004 also saw a strong push, just not enough to defeat the state’s natural Democratic tilt.
That ground game makes a huge difference, and that’s why I’m confident that the polls showing Hatch ahead are off by a significant margin. Hatch is a poor candidate — many DFLers don’t even care for him due to his flip-flopping on abortion. Pawlenty is charismatic, smart, and politically savvy. Between that, the benefits of incumbency, and the GOP ground game, Hatch is toast.
Mark Kennedy’s problems are much more severe. Amy Klobuchar is an eminently beatable candidate. She’s a lightweight on the issues, she isn’t good on the stump, and her record is atrocious. The problem with Kennedy is that he is a nice guy who doesn’t know how to campaign. He doesn’t have the same level of personal magnetism that a Pawlenty has, and when it comes down to two poor campaigners in a Democratic year, the Democrats will win. Klobuchar has built-in advantages with the female vote that hurts Kennedy even more. Kennedy left a safe House seat for a risky Senate run, and it looks like that gamble didn’t work for him. I think the polls showing a 20-point gap are complete BS and the race will be at most a 5-point race, but even that means that Mark Kennedy has almost no chance of victory unless Klobuchar gets caught selling crack to schoolkids to fund al-Qaeda.
However, I disagree that her seat is hers as long as she wants it. Klobuchar, like Dayton, won because of luck and the conditions being right. A strong candidate could easily unseat her. Someone like Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer or Rep. John Kline, should either wish to run, could unseat her. Klobuchar’s record as Hennepin County Attorney is mixed at best, and she’s unprepared for the reality of working in the Senate. I would look to her following Mark Dayton as a one-term Senator.
I haven’t been following the Bachmann-Wetterling race that closely, but Patty Wetterling’s ads have been nothing short of despicable. Her lies about Bachmann supporting a flat tax that would “raise taxes 23%” are blatantly false, and her attempts to capitalize on the Foley affair will only give her a short-lived boost. Bachmann is in a very friendly district, and the last round of polling is based on a demographic profile that doesn’t match the district as a whole. Bachmann seems likely to eke out at least a slim win.
There is no doubt that it’s a bad year to be a Republican in Minnesota, but the political tides are still turning. The RNC is smart to pick Minnesota as the location of the 2008 National Convention — if either McCain or Guiliani run, Minnesota is one of the states that could conceivably move over to the red column for the first time in decades.