5 Reasons the DFL Will Hold Their Ground in 2014

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. Continue reading

Key To Photo ID Outcome: Continued Persuasion of Seniors, Minorities and Independents

When proponents of the photo ID constitutional amendment burst onto the scene, they identified themselves as “reformers.”  As a result, many reform-minded Minnesotans initially accepted their reform claim at face value.  In June, a poll found the proposal was backed by nearly six-out-of-ten (58%) voters.

But over the course of the summer and fall, Minnesotans began to scrutinize the “reformer” claim more closely.  Many discovered that the alleged “reformers” were trying to deceive them with what amounts to a really bad fake ID.

As the non-partisan League of Women Voters and many others have pointed out, the voting “reformers” are actually voting restricters, intentionally seeking to suppress the votes of people least likely to have photo IDs – seniors, minorities, poor people and college students.  This message is finally starting to get out.

Who is figuring it out the fastest? Non-white Minnesotans.   Though I earlier noted that 68% of non-white Minnesota voters supported the photo ID in an early June 2012 Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey, that number has decreased dramatically to 55% in an October PPP survey.  Clearly minority voters, whose families have endured literacy tests and scores of other procedural barriers to keep them from voting, are beginning to smell another voter suppression rat.

Seniors are catching on too.  The support of Minnesotans older than 65 years old has decreased from 55% in June to 45% in October.  This is a key development, because Minnesota has a lot of seniors, and they are more reliable voters than many other groups.

Independent voters are also getting it, though a bit less slowly.  In June, 58% of self-identified Independents supported the photo ID amendment, and this month that number had decreased a bit to 52%.

The momentum with minorities (13-point swing), seniors (10-point swing) and Independents (six-point swing) over this four-month period is encouraging news for photo ID amendment opponents.  But it is still remarkable that the support for photo ID among these groups is  relatively high, in the 45-to-55% range.
Therefore, the battleground over the next three weeks includes Independent, senior and minority voters.  If the momentum among those voting blocks continues through the next month, the “reformers’’” fake ID scam could be fully exposed by Election Day.
– Loveland
Note:  This post was also featured in the “Best of the Blogs” portion of the Politics in Minnesota Morning Report.

Why Civil Unions Aren’t The Solution For Minnesotans Who Believe in Equality

A Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey released this week finds that 46% of Minnesotans support the gay marriage ban amendment, but 74% of Minnesotans think that gays should either be able to marry or form civil unions.

The large group of Minnesotans who support gay civil unions but not gay marriage are mostly not anti-gay. In some ways, it is encouraging to know that about half of the people supporting this moronic amendment actually support extending additional rights to gay people.  It’s also very bad news for Republicans that only one quarter of Minnesotans support their position.

Still, those Minnesotans who support gay civil unions but oppose gay marriage are wrong, wrong in a way that preserves inequality.  The fallacy of their logic needs to be exposed, because these folks are the persuadable swing voters who will determine the outcome of Minnesota’s constitutional amendment election.

Those who support gay civil unions but oppose gay marriage are misguided in two fundamental ways.

“Marriage” v. “Civil Union” Differences.  Many naively believe that civil unions bestow the same rights and respect as marriage.  Wrong.  The General Accounting Office (GAO) says the government provides 1,138 benefits to married couples that are not available to others. Tax benefits. Immigration rights.  Medical decision-making advantages.  Death benefits rights.  It’s a long list of legal distinctions that impact finances and quality-of-life.

But the equality difference between marriage and civil unions goes much deeper than the 1,138 benefits.

If the government told my wife and me today that it had stripped us of our marriage status, our first concern wouldn’t be about the loss of those benefits. Our more heartfelt concern would be that we were being stripped of society’s sacred recognition of our commitment and love.

Marriage is honored and cherished in our society in a way that is absolutely unique. It is put on a pedestal.  The stigma that would come if my wife and I were banned from claiming that special relationship status is what would most make us feel most unequal and stigmatized.  That’s what gay couples face.

Marriages bestow more legal and social benefits than civil unions.  In a nation built on the notion that all are created equal, it’s just not okay to have such inequality baked into one of our society’s most revered institutions.

Semantic Slavery.  Beyond those who mistakenly believe that marriage and civil unions are legally and socially equivalent, others essentially have a language hang-up.

In their minds, heterosexuality has always been at the core of the definition of the word “marriage,” and it just feels incongruous to them to adjust the definition. The vast majority of these folks don’t seem to hate gay people, or wish inequality on them.  They just can’t seem to get their head around that semantic shift.

I understand this position, because it was the position that I was taking when I was first exposed to this issue in the 1990s. Ultimately, I realized that my reasoning was silly.

After all, dictionaries are not written in stone.  Every year, scores of definitions are added, deleted and adjusted, based on how society’s use of the language is changing.  Languages evolve as societies evolve.  Therefore, we shouldn’t be denying people something as sacred as equality based on what lexicographers say. Lexicographers take their cues from society, not vice versa.  If a democratic society declares, in the name of equality, that marriage is open to everyone, then it is, and dictionaries will adjust accordingly.  Dictionary definitions shouldn’t rule the day.  Equality should rule the day.

Unlike the 24% of Minnesotans who oppose any kind of legal recognition for gay couples, I’m convinced that many of those who oppose gay marriage but support gay civil unions are “persuadables” when it comes to the constitutional amendment.  If they aren’t written off as “homophobes” and “haters,” some of them can be convinced that separate but equal doesn’t work any better for civil unions than it did for segregated schools.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured as a “best of the best” in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin feature.

Why Are Top DFLers Outperforming DFLers in State Legislature?

Minnesota’s top DFLers got good news from a recent Public Policy Polling survey.  They are receiving public support that dwarfs Minnesota’s leading Republicans.  The approval rating for Senator Al Franken stands at 49% and the approval rating for Governor Mark Dayton is at 48%, while the favorability ratings for former Governor Tim Pawlenty (40%), former U.S. Senator Norm Coleman (35%), and U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann (29%) are much lower.

Moreover, Franken would handily defeat any of the three top Republicans if the election were held today.  Franken would defeat Bachmann by 12 points, Pawlenty by 7 points, and Norm Coleman, who Franken barely defeated two years ago, by 7 points.

Why are top DFLers polling so much stronger than top Republicans?  Some might theorize that these DFLers are simply more talented and charismatic politicians, and that explains the gap.

But in terms of being articulate media magnates, the top three Republicans are more accomplished than the top two DFLers. Former comedian and talk show host Franken is obviously capable of being articulate and grabbing the spotlight.  But the fact is, Franken has been very low key since becoming a U.S. Senator two years ago.  Dayton is an earnest but awkward communicator, and is easily the most low-key of the bunch.  At the same time, Pawlenty, Coleman and Bachmann are very articulate leaders who regularly get themselves on national news programs.   But despite the charisma gap, Franken and Dayton are much more popular with Minnesotans.

If political talent and charisma don’t explain why top DFL politicians are more popular than top GOP politicians, another theory might be that ideology is behind the gap.  That is, maybe Minnesota is becoming a more progressive state these days.

However, that doesn’t bear out in PPP’s polling on state legislative races.

When asked who they are inclined to support in a state legislative race in their district, Minnesotans are split, with the generic DFL candidate chosen by 47% of the respondents and the generic GOP candidate chosen by 44% of the respondents, a 3% margin that falls within the 3.4% margin of cerror.

So, what explains the difference between the strong performance of top of the ticket DFLers and the mediocre performance of the DFLers in the state legislature?

It’s far from the only explanation, but one big factor is messaging.  The messaging of Franken and Dayton is clear and consistent, and it is proving to be compelling with Minnesotans.  On the other hand, DFL legislative candidates are offering up a cacophony of scattershot messages that each individual candidate crafts on their own to appeal to their respective districts.

I’ve argued that legislative candidates should unite under a common statewide campaign theme along the lines of “replace the worst legislature ever,” to make the election into a referendum on the unpopular GOP-controlled Legislature.   After all “worst ever” is the verdict Minnesotans have given the current GOP-controlled Legislature, with a 19% approval rating, which appears to be the lowest level ever recorded.  That kind of sticky, unifying campaign umbrella would convert the the legislators’ confusing cacophony into the kind of consistent messaging that is benefiting top-of-the-ticket DFLers.

Whether caused by messaging or something else, the gap between the performance of the upper echelon DFLers and the DFLers in the State Legislature is striking.  DFL legislative candidates would be wise to study the approaches of Franken and Dayton, and replicate them.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured in Politics in Minnesota’s “Best of the Blogs” feature.

Whatever Happened to Firebrand Franken?

When Al Franken announced in 2007 that he was running for the Minnesota U.S. Senate seat then held by Norm Coleman, I was worried whether he could sell in the land of Minnesota Nice.  Like others, I had an image of what I expected to see in Senator Al Franken. I expected to see a wise-cracking, fire-breathing, attention-seeking political hack who was constantly making mild mannered Minnesotans roll their eyes during an endless tour of contentious cable TV and talk radio appearances.

In other words, I expected Senator Al to be a lot like the Al that appeared on Air America Radio, and in books with titles like “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot.”  I expected him to be, well, Michele Bachmann.  And Bachmann doesn’t sell statewide.

Last night, I was reminded once again  how wrong I was.  During MSNBC coverage of the Democratic Convention, host Rachel Maddow, Al’s former Air America Radio colleague, became positively giddy when the network secured a very brief, non-substantive interview with Franken.  Maddow repeatedly noted that Franken doesn’t give interviews to national media outlets, even to liberal outlets, even to outlets populated by his pleading friends and former colleagues. As Senator, Franken apparently has gone cold turkey on cable.

Moreover, what Franken said last night in the MSNBC interview was telling.  He repeatedly tried to put the national spotlight on his fellow Minnesotans, not just himself.  And frankly, he was only mildly funny, and pretty boring.

I have to imagine this is all by design.  Underexposed by design.  Locally focused by design.  Only mildly humorous by design.  Dispassionate by design.   Franken and his team have successfully navigated the evolution of Firebrand Comedian Franken, a national figure, to Thoughtful Senator Franken, a Minnesota figure.

And in Minnesota, it’s working.  Here is what a recent Public Policy Polling survey found about Franken’s political strength at home:

 Al Franken’s proven to be a stronger than might have been expected Senator. 50% of voters approve of him to 36% who disapprove. Democrats have ended up being pretty universally happy with him (85/4) and he’s strong with independents as well (48/33).

Franken leads hypothetical contests with Minnesota’s three leading Republicans. He has a 51-41 advantage over Norm Coleman, a 52-41 one over Tim Pawlenty, and a 57-35 advantage on Michele Bachmann. It’s impossible to say what the political climate will look like in 2014, but at least for now Franken finds himself in a strong position.

In 2008, Franken defeated Norm Coleman, now a Super PACman, by the slimmest of margins.  Now, polls show he would defeat Coleman handily, as well as the state’s other leading Republicans.

The lesson?  Al is minding his Minnesota manners, and it matters to Minnesotans.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured in the Politics in Minnesota Morning Report “Best of the Blogs” feature

What if Romney Picked Bachmann To Be His Running Mate? He Did.

Congressman Paul Ryan comes across well.  He’s attractive, smiles a lot, wears the presidential uniform well, and has a ready string of impressive-sounding statistics on the tip of his tongue.

But beyond the candidate packaging, what does this guy stand for?

When trying to understand something new entering our lives, the natural tendency is to seek out a local point-of-reference.  For instance, when Minnesota Timberwolves fans recently asked “who the heck is Alexy Shved,” a player the Wolves’ brain trust acquired this summer, Wolves PR people explained “He’s the Russian Rubio,” referencing their talented point guard Ricky Rubio.

Whether or not the “Russian Rubio” description turns out to be an apt description of Shved’s ability and style of play, it connected with Minnesotans, because it took something unknown and linked it to something known.

So with the Russian Rubio example in mind, what’s the Minnesota parallel to Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan?

Since he’s a popular, moderate-feeling Republican, is he “the Wisconsin Jim Ramstad?”   Since the Beltway media often labels him a “serious” numbers guy, is he “the Wisconsin Arne Carlson?”

Try “the Wisconsin Michele Bachmann.” An analysis of congressional voting patterns by DW-Nominate found that Paul Ryan’s voting record is nearly identical to  Michele Bachmann’s, the local politician who most consistently embarrasses Minnesotans with her ideologically extreme positions.

(Incidentally, another analysis found that Ryan was the most extreme conservative vice presidential nominee — the furthest from the center — since at least 1900.)

Ryan’s tone may be less grating than Bachmann’s, but once you remove the packaging, his policies are almost identical to Michele Bachmann’s.  Paul Ryan is Michele Bachmann, just with more lip control and less lipstick.

Knowing that, ask yourself this question: “If Mitt Romney had chosen Michele Bachman for his running mate, would that make Minnesotans more or less likely to support Romney?”  Because, substantively, that is the question Romney has now effectively posed to Minnesotans, and Americans.

Though Michele Bachman continually gets reelected in one of the most conservative parts of Minnesota, she is remarkably unpopular with Minnesotans as a whole.  A January 2012 PPP survey found that only 34% of Minnesotans view her favorably, while 57% view her unfavorably.  She would get crushed by a whopping 23 points in a head-to-head race versus U.S. Senator Amy Kloubachar.

In other words, Governor Mitt Romney just picked the ideological twin of one of Minnesota’s least popular figures to join his ticket.  Good luck selling that in Minnesota.

– Loveland

What Exactly Do Minnesota Republicans Have Against Minneapolis?

There is something about Minneapolis that disproportionately irks Minnesota Republicans.   A recent Public Policy Polling survey found that a strong majority of Minnesota Republicans loves them some Duluth, and are fine with St. Paul and Rochester.

But a majority of them just don’t approve of Minneapolis.

At first, I thought the obvious explanation is that Minneapolis is a DFL stronghold.  After all, Hennepin County gave Barack Obama 65% of the vote in 2008, and I could see how that wouldn’t go over well at the country club or Tea Party rally.

But that explanation doesn’t really hold up especially well, because Duluth’s St. Louis County and St. Paul’s Ramsey County are as about blue as Minneapolis’s Hennepin.  In fact, St. Louis and Ramsey gave Obama 67% in 2008, slightly more than Hennepin’s 65%.  Moreover, Republicans didn’t express strong preference for GOP-friendly Rochester (Olmstead: 52% for Obama in 2008) over the DFL strongholds of Duluth or St. Paul.

So I don’t get it.  Maybe it’s all of those descendants of Sweden, what with that nation’s despicable insistence on providing comprehensive access to education and health care to all its citizens.  What a cancer that would be if it spread across the Minnesota motherland.

I’d sure like to think that it’s not because Minneapolis was named the Gayest City in America by The Advocate, or that it has the largest Somali and Hmong population in the nation, and the second largest Vietnamese and Ethiopian populations in America.

On paper, it would seem like there might be a lot Republicans would love about the City of Lakes.  CNBC named Minneapolis one of its “Top Places for Business.” Forbes calls it one of the most innovative cities in America.  Many rankers have listed Minneapolis as one of the best places to find a job and make a living, or start a small business.

Holy free market felicity, Minneapolis sounds like a Republican nirvana.  What’s not to love?

I honestly don’t know what it is.  But if you’re new to Minnesota and are planning a get together with a Republican friend, here’s a little tip:  DO NOT SUGGEST MINNEAPOLIS.

– Loveland


Note:  This post also was featured as a “best of the best” on Minnpost’s Blog Cabin feature.

Polls: Minnesota GOP’s Libertarian Lunge Looks Like A Loser

Devotees of libertarian candidate Ron Paul occupied the Minnesota GOP State Convention this weekend, winning all but one of the national convention delegate positions.  It was a remarkable organizing feat.

But will the Minnesota GOP’s dramatic lunge to libertarianism be a winner on Election Day?  Polling on issues pushed by Paul isn’t promising:

  • LEGALIZING DRUGS – 84% OPPOSE.  In a Rasmussen poll released yesterday, Paul’s support for legalizing cocaine is opposed by 84% of Americans.
  • LEGALIZING PROSTUTION – 81% OPPOSE.  A national survey from the mid-1990s found Paul’s position of of legalizing prostitution running opposed by 81%.
  • CUTTING SOCIAL SECURITY – 72% OPPOSE.  A June 2011 PPP survey of Minnesotans shows 72% of all voters, 69% of Independents and 61% of Tea Partiers, oppose cuts in Social Security.  Paul says the national Social Security program is unconstitutional and should be eliminated.
  • CUTTING ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTIONS – 77% OPPOSE.  An August 2011 PPP survey didn’t find much support in Minnesota for Paul’s call to cut environmental regulations.  Over three-fourths (77%) of Minnesotans say environmental laws should not be weakened or repealed for industries, even if industries claim the move is necessary to create jobs.

I couldn’t find any polling on eliminating the Federal Reserve or switching to the gold standard.  I’m just guessing here, but there might be a pretty solid majority for “Not Sure” on those obscure Ron Paul fetishes.

One Paul position that does have a plurality of support is pulling out of Afghanistan.  Almost half (47%) of Americans would like to withdraw from Afghanistan sooner than the current timetable.  Congressman Paul’s opposition to banning same sex marriage also has majority support in some polls.

But with those exceptions, an overwhelming majority of Minnesotans don’t seem to be nearly as enamored with Paul’s libertarian policy agenda as Minnesota Republican activists are.