In what could prove to upend traditional Minnesota Republican politics for the last 20 years, we may find GOP gubernatorial candidates battling it out in a primary just like their DFL counterparts.
This goes against a long practiced tradition of the GOP backing endorsed statewide candidates and thereby preserving party unity along with an earlier run in the general election. But that was then and this is now.
Capitol Report outlined the scenario recently by noting that “attitudes toward the endorsement are changing after two statewide GOP-endorsed candidates considerably underperformed Republican expectations." It also pointed out that the Republican Party is strapped for cash and doesn’t have the backing it could provide endorsed candidates.
This actually could prove most beneficial to voters who will have an opportunity to select their party’s representative rather than getting the candidate selected by strict party regulars.
GOP political consultant Ben Golnik posited to Capitol Report “Should 1,200 Republican delegates be the ones who decide who our candidates are? I think, in the last two elections, we’ve seen that shouldn’t be the case.”
Golnik was referring to 2010 when activists had a choice between two different conservatives — Marty Seifert and Tom Emmer. They eventually picked Emmer who lost to now-Gov. Mark Dayton. And in 2012, the party regulars had to pick between popular war veteran Pete Hegseth and Rep. Kurt Bills to go against DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. The libertarians in the GOP threw the backing to Bills who then went on to lose the race carrying only 35 percent of the vote.
While not dismissing the endorsement process, GOP activist Jennifer DeJournett told Capitol Report that “primaries aren’t necessarily a bad thing. It helps you practice your message and fix any bugs you might have before the general election. … With the party slowly recovering, it’s not the juggernaut it was a few years ago.”
There are still candidates who will look for the party’s endorsement including Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson who told CR “I do believe that our best path to victory as Republicans is through the endorsement, as long as we can pick a candidate that has broad appeal to people who don’t consider themselves Republicans.”
And that’s the harder challenge. Strong influences dominate the character of the state’s Republican Party and those same people end up being delegates looking for like-minded candidates. The primary option gives a wider selection criteria and opens up the possibility of getting someone who has a broader appeal.
Let’s hope the primary option remains viable for the general election and gives the people of Minnesota a better voice in selecting their candidates.