Yesterday, I made the case for why the DFL may lose ground in 2014. For my DFL friends who are now out on the ledge staring into the inky abyss, here are five reasons to not jump. Yet.
DFL Has A Broader Base. Minnesota is a fairly solid blue state these days. According a recent Public Policy Polling survey, there are significantly more Minnesotans who say they are Democrats (38%) than Republicans (27%). That’s a big reason why the polls show that DFL state legislators have a significantly better, though not good, approval rating (36% approve) than Republican state legislators (23% approve). It also probably explains why the DFL starts the campaign season ahead in generic head-to-head races, with a generic DFL candidate preferred by a six point margin (47% for the generic DFLer and 41% for the generic Republican). Again, the DFL’s seasonal voters have to be energized get off the proverbial couch to vote in a non-presidential year, but an average DFL legislative candidates does start the race with a significantly broader base than their Republican opponents. That’s a big deal.
Congressional GOP Fatigue. President Obama’s approval ratings aren’t very good right now. But the Republicans aren’t well positioned to take advantage of that weakness. Remember, the 2012 Congress controlled by Republicans ranked below Ghengis Khan, cockroaches, traffic jams, NFL replacement referees, and used car salesmen. That’s not a punchline; it’s a research finding. Therefore, moderates who are weary of congressional GOP game-playing may not be anxious to put the GOP in charge of the State Legislature. This should at least neutralize Obama’s recent slip in the polls.
Mark Dayton. Governor Mark Dayton’s approval ratings are solid, 57% in a recent Star Tribune Minnesota Poll. Republican legislators approval rating is just 23%. As a result, the relatively popular Governor will be able to use his bully pulpit, both on the stump and on the airwaves, to bring more message discipline, cohesion and consistency to state legislators’ campaigns. Governor Dayton is hardly a spellbinder on the hustings, but he comes across sincere, honest and decent, and that will help him sell the messages and legislatlive accomplishments that DFL legislative candidates need to sell.
DFL Party Infrastructure. The Minnesota DFL Party campaign infrastructure seems to be in good shape, while the Minnesota GOP Party campaign infrastructure remains badly broken from the Tony Sutton-Michael Brodkorb reign of error. The importance of party infrastructure is often overstated by party officials, but in a close race it can make a difference. This DFL advantage could be the gift that keeps on giving, and the reason why the DFL wins some tight races.
Republican “Overreach.” Republican spin savants have trained their members to repeat the word “overreach” whenever describing the DFL record in the 2013 legislative session. It can make for a lethal drinking game for television viewers of State Legislature proceedings. But during the GOP caucus season, Republicans themselves are quite likely to overreach. Anxious to appeal to their extremely conservative Tea Party base, the burgeoning field of rivals is very likely to say and do some outrageous things. Remember 2010 GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. His federal law nullification amendment, pharmacy birth control bill conscience clause, and abolition of the minimum wage are among the things that earned him a) his party’s endorsement and b) an embarrassing general election loss to a badly damaged opponent in a year when it was not easy for a Republican to lose. This kind of conservative overreaching doesn’t sell well with the moderate Republicans and Independents the GOP needs to win over in 2014. Minnesota Republicans’ worst enemy remain themselves. It is not an enemy that any of us should take lightly.
I’m not saying the DFL has a solid grip on their current State Legislature majorities. But I am saying that, because of foundational advantages that DFLers enjoy, they’ve got a chance to buck mid-term trends that typically favor Republicans, just as Governor Dayton did in his race against State Representative Emmer in 2010.