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Mon Apr 16, 2018, 12:11 AM

Interesting commentary by Lori Sturdevant in the Sunday strib

(She started by acknowledging that Pawlenty is the most known candidate for governor, even though the others have had other positions.)


For that choice, don’t blame them. Blame what I consider a defect in Minnesota’s political calendar. The primary election — set this year for Aug. 14 — comes too late. It creates an incentive for two-stage campaigns — first a slow, private courtship of party insiders that culminates at state conventions, then a hard-to-follow frenzy for everybody else.

The insiders have tended to be defenders of late May/early June endorsements followed by a mid-August (before 2010, it was mid-September) primary. That calendar enhances their ability to insist that candidates “abide by” endorsements, rather than heading for a primary no matter what a convention does.

But even with that advantage, party endorsements have been losing their punch. Primary contests have become more typical in major races, with endorsed candidates not necessarily shoo-in winners. Consider: The last time a DFL endorsee went on to win an open governorship without a serious primary challenge was 1970.

And some party insiders aren’t fans of August primaries. Take state Rep. Kelly Fenton, a Republican from Woodbury who served as acting Republican state chair when a debt crisis led to the previous chair’s resignation in 2011. Fenton is sponsoring a bill this session to move the primary to mid-June. Her bill lacks DFL cosponsors, but it’s backed by DFL Secretary of State Steve Simon, the state’s chief elections administrator.


What’s more, she said, a June primary would set the general election matchups five months before they will be decided. Voters would have a better chance to know the candidates and hear their messages.

I’d note that parties could then choose to make endorsements in the midstream of primary campaigns, not in advance of them. That would allow delegates to evaluate how candidates are appealing to the voters, not just speculate about how they’ll fare. Endorsements might no longer winnow the field under that scenario, but they might gain attention as timely recommendations to the voters.

The current calendar is built around a bias in favor of selecting candidates at conventions and using primaries as a rubber stamp. But when a candidate with a big name and fat war chest comes along and opts not to respect that pattern, a calendar with a late primary puts the endorsement “abiders” at a disadvantage. And, one might argue, it puts the state at risk.


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