By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — In the 2010 general election, only a razor-thin victory in the governor’s race by Mark Dayton kept Republicans from taking complete control of Minnesota state government.
Two years later, Minnesota voters put the Republican Party on the sidelines — giving Dayton the chance to work with a Democratic House and Senate in the Legislature, re-electing Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar by a landslide and giving five of the state’s eight congressional seats to Democrats.
In a victory speech on Election Night at Mankato’s City Center Hotel, Congressman Tim Walz said Republicans had promised in the 2010 campaign to focus on jobs. They got sidetracked, the Mankato Democrat said.
Instead of concentrating on creating more jobs for the American people, they were obsessed with obtaining just a single job — the U.S. presidency.
“And they couldn’t even get that one,” Walz thundered as hundreds of south-central Minnesota Democrats erupted in cheers.
After a series of wave elections nationally (huge wins for Democrats in 2006 and 2008, a momentous victory for Republicans in 2010), this year’s election wasn’t expected to lopsidedly favor one party or the other. At the federal level, that turned out to be true. Barack Obama’s re-election was the big news on Nov. 6 and Republicans failed badly in their attempt to take control of the U.S. Senate, but the GOP held the strong majority in the U.S. House the party had gained in 2010.
Minnesota was a different story — an undeniably disastrous election for Republicans, particularly in the Mankato area. After gaining control of both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in nearly four decades in 2010 (and coming within a half-percentage point of winning the governor’s office, too), the Minnesota Republican Party nearly imploded this year.
A sex scandal in the state Senate forced Republicans to pick a new majority leader just before the new year and the state Republican Party was deeply in debt and in disarray.
The party failed to field candidates against Mankato Democratic Sen. Kathy Sheran or St. Peter Democratic Rep. Terry Morrow, likely the first time in history the party had been without a candidate in Blue Earth and Nicollet County legislative races.
Republicans also struggled mightily to settle on a candidate against Walz, whom national Democrats had put on a list of potentially vulnerable swing-district incumbents. State Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, and former state Rep. Allen Quist, R-St. Peter, both wanted a crack at the three-termer.
When it came time for southern Minnesota Republican activists to endorse a candidate, they deadlocked. For 14 hours and 23 rounds of balloting, delegates never came close to giving either contender the 60 percent support required for endorsement.
A Waseca County delegate expressed hope that it would be an advantage to have both Republicans running through the Aug. 14 primary election, provided Quist and Parry could agree to attack only Walz — not each other — during the spring and summer campaigning.
“I don’t look at this as a no-endorsement. I look at it as a co-endorsement,” the Waseca County man said. “We love both these candidates equally.”
But they didn’t love each other.
Parry publicized controversial statements and actions by Quist in the 1980s and 1990s, saying they made him a long-shot to topple Walz.
“I think it’s time for him to man up and face the music,” Parry said.
Quist — who accused Parry of being too liberal, too ignorant on key issues and too ill-prepared to debate Walz — said Parry’s attacks showed desperation.
“You can tell how successful we’ve been by the shrill negative attacks from my opponent,” Quist wrote to supporters. “Nothing positive is coming from him — no issues, no leadership, no direction. Just negative attacks.”
Quist won the August primary over Parry, Walz ended up beating Quist by 15 percentage points in the general election, and Parry’s state Senate seat went to a Democrat — part of the DFL takeover of state government.
Sen. Julie Rosen, a Fairmont Republican who represents much of rural Blue Earth County, won her usual easy re-election. But Rosen saw numerous Republican colleagues unseated and watched the party’s long-sought majority disappear.
Were they too partisan? Too impatient in pushing too big of an agenda? Too acrimonious?
“All of the above,” Rosen said shortly after the election. “... I think whenever a party goes way off to one side or another, you’re always going to have an adjustment. I think the adjustment happened (Nov. 6).”
If Democrats use their new power to take the same approach in pushing politics too far to the left, Rosen predicted voters in future elections will adjust accordingly.