Friday, April 18, 2014

The State of the Governor's Race, April Edition

First quarter fundraising results were due this week in the Minnesota Governor's race, which provides a good opportunity to review the race as is currently stands.

Bottom line: the fundraising results on the Republican side were disappointing. Most candidates didn't raise enough money, and some who did don't have any left.  Everyone needs to do better if we don't want another 4 years of Governor Mark Dayton.

I think we're suffering from a glut of candidates at this point, and several campaigns are going to have an increasingly hard time justifying their continued existence.

I'll review the campaigns as I see them, based not only on fundraising results, but my overall impressions of the campaigns so far. 

Jeff Johnson
Although I am undecided in the Governor's race, Johnson is the only candidate who I have ruled out supporting.  Simply put, I don't think he can win.

Johnson raised an abysmal $32,000 in the first quarter, despite the fact that he is one of the candidates who is not encumbered by being in the legislature, and he is accepting PCR contributions.  This embarrassing performance makes me wonder if Team Johnson was even aware they had a report due at all.

Johnson's campaign peaked early, with a win at the State Central straw poll last year, but it's been downhill ever since. He finished a distant third in the statewide straw poll in early February, and it's clear that had a negative impact on his fundraising. Winning the straw poll in his own Congressional District didn't do anything to get the funds flowing.

The Johnson campaign spent almost double what it took in during the first quarter, and the expenses were mostly on mail and staff salary- not an ongoing investment in fundraising. In fact, Johnson told the Star Tribune that he would not be focusing on fundraising between now and the state convention, instead expecting money to "loosen up considerably" after the endorsement.

This is a silly strategy that is a proven loser.

Johnson supporters will point out that he is sitting on about $140,000 in cash, which is more than some other campaigns, but significantly less than Governor Dayton has.

In my opinion Johnson's cash balance would be a great start for a campaign for Attorney General, something Johnson should seriously consider at this point. 

Dave Thompson
I have always liked Dave Thompson. One of the things I like best about him is how straightforward and direct he is. There is something appealing about someone who is unapologetic about their beliefs. Whether you agree or not, you always know where he stands.

Thompson's campaign for Governor, however, has not caught the fire it needs to go forward to victory in November. Thompson limped into 2014 with $125,000 raised for the year and about $50,000 cash on hand. In the first quarter he added about $67,000 to his total, but spent about $80,000. His cash on hand shows $37,000, but he has outstanding debt of $26,000, leaving him with an actual cash balance of around $10,000.  As a comparison, Dayton is sitting on $730,000 in the bank.

In addition, Thompson has made some missteps that chip away at his straightforward image, including being evasive about missing a vote in the Senate to attend a fundraiser, and a truly bizarre telephone call into a radio show earlier this week related to drunk driving immunity for legislators.

Thompson made a bold move by selecting fellow Senator Michelle Benson as his running mate early in the process- a decision which has worked out almost too well.  As the Thompson campaign has failed to catch fire the murmurs about how the campaign would work better as Benson/Thompson have gotten louder.

Thompson would make a formidable Attorney General candidate, and one I could support wholeheartedly, but his path to the Governor's mansion seems to be getting narrower by the day. 

Marty Seifert
I wasn't in Minnesota for the 2010 Governor's race, so I don't have any of the baggage that many others do related to that time period. From that perspective I can only look at Seifert's performance in this race, not the last one.

Of the three candidates seriously vying for the Republican Party Endorsement, Seifert is in the best financial position, despite having been in the race the least amount of time. Seifert raised and spent about $64,000 in the first quarter, and has about $140,000 in the bank.

Interestingly enough, delegates don't seem to be punishing Seifert for his stance on not abiding by the endorsement. He was the straw poll winner in February, slightly edging out Thompson, who is abiding. Some delegates seem to be having a bit of buyer's remorse about their choice in 2010, and want to give Seifert a shot this time around.

Seifert has done a very good job of inserting himself into media coverage- frequently holding press conferences or media availabilities to push back against Dayton's messaging.  There is still work to be done in that regard, but he is by far the most aggressive of the candidates at getting media coverage- which is a good thing.

Seifert's comments about fundraising in the Star Tribune earlier this week were quite frustrating, but I am glad to see him bring a professional fundraiser on board, and I hope it's not too little too late. 

Kurt Zellers
To me, Zellers has always been the most confusing candidate in this race. After a brief stint as Speaker of the House of Representatives that most Republicans look at as pretty disastrous, it was assumed by many that Zellers would not run.

But he is running, and he has raised the second most of any candidate so far, despite basically ignoring the party process for endorsement.  Zellers brought in $91,000 in the first quarter, spent $127,000 and has about $80,000 in the bank.

Ignoring the party endorsement process is not a bad thing in my book, and Zellers' fundraising performance has shown that it hasn't hurt him.  In fact, the candidates who are not abiding by the endorsement (Zellers and Honour) have outraised the others who are abiding (or in Seifert's case heavily participating).

Zellers has a very likable personality that could appeal to a primary electorate, and would be a very formidable candidate against Dayton, if it weren't for that pesky two years as Speaker and all the baggage they will bring.

I continue to think Zellers is the candidate that most people are underestimating, and he may continue to surprise.

I can't quite figure the Zellers campaign out, but I'm not ready to count it out. 

Scott Honour
Honour is the most well-funded of all of the Republican candidates. In the first quarter he outraised Johnson, Seifert, and Thompson combined, and that's before you add in the $50,000 he loaned his campaign.

Honour also spends his money. He spent $186,000 in the first quarter and about $600,000 in 2013. And while you can argue about the wisdom of some of the expenses ($250 at Starbucks, guys? Really?) money that is raised is supposed to be spent.

I understand that some within the Republican Party have decided that being able to raise money (and even self-fund) is a bad thing, but I would encourage them to look back at our win/loss record as of late to gain some perspective.

Honour himself has improved as a candidate quite a bit since the early days of his campaign, but he still has quite a way to go if he really wants to be competitive.

It's clear that Republican conventions and Tea Party meetings aren't Honour's comfort zone, but thankfully the importance of those types of gatherings will decrease as we move into the next phase of the campaign.

I'm glad that Honour is going to a primary, and I look forward to seeing how his presence challenges the other primary candidates to compete. 

Norm Coleman
OK, Norm's not running, despite my pleas, which were only half-joking.

The reality is that a big name like Coleman could easily step in at this stage of the race, and become immediately competitive.  And that's a problem.

Again, if we're serious about defeating Mark Dayton in November, some campaigns have some serious soul searching to do.

Either step it up, or step down, but time is running out.