Monday, November 10, 2014

The Buck Should Stop With Team Johnson

I was interviewed by Politics in Minnesota last week for a story recapping the 2014 elections.
I believe that Governor Mark Dayton could have been beaten this year, but Republicans chose not to do so, by fielding the wrong candidate and then allowing that candidate to surround himself with the wrong advisers.  Simply put, it is my contention that Jeff Johnson and his team ran a bad campaign, and that’s the reason Mark Dayton will be Governor for 4 more years.  The election results were close enough that the many bad decisions* made by Johnson and his staff made a difference in the outcome of the election.

I have heard the spin starting from many quarters about what went wrong with the election, and it’s clear that some people are trying to rewrite history in an attempt to avoid their fair share of the blame. 

As an example, one of Johnson’s main strategists, Gregg Peppin, was also quoted in the same Politics in Minnesota story.  I was literally speechless after I read Peppin’s comments explaining why Johnson lost.  The story is behind the PIM paywall, but here’s the relevant portion.

Peppin, for his part, now thinks ABM was able to put the GOP operation on its back foot, having successfully tarred Johnson as a “Tea Party” candidate who would cut education funding if elected.

“The [ABM] playbook is to define the Republican candidate for governor before that candidate can define themselves,” Peppin said. Recalling the group’s scorching campaign against Tom Emmer in 2010, he added: “For the second election in a row, I think they were able to do that.”

For some context on why this comment is so egregious, I have to explain some history.

I was invited to a “Blogger Event” by Johnson’s campaign in July 2013.  A few bloggers got together with the campaign at the Davanni’s in Roseville and we heard from Johnson and his advisers (including Larry Colson, Craig Westover, and Danny Nadeau) about their campaign strategy, and then were given the opportunity to ask questions.  

I asked at that meeting what Johnson’s plan was to combat the influence of Alliance for a Better Minnesota (ABM) on the campaign.  The answer was, and I quote: “Jeff is ABM-Proof”.  Several of Johnson’s key advisers went on to explain that Johnson had a “squeaky clean” background and there was nothing that could be used against him.  To be clear, Johnson was sitting in the room, nodding in agreement.

The stunning ignorance and arrogance of that statement was one of the many reasons that I decided early on that Johnson’s campaign had no chance of winning this election.

Johnson was also asked at that meeting what his plans were to deal with the lopsided amount of outside spending that we have seen in recent elections.  His answer was that there were some big donors looking to set up a Super PAC to help him out, and that we shouldn’t worry about it.  Apparently that Super PAC never materialized, because I am unaware of any massive outside spending that came to Johnson’s aid.

Johnson and his team were aware of the “ABM playbook” and the outside spending disadvantage they would have well before Johnson got into the race for Governor, but never came up with a plan to mitigate those factors.  As a result, they lost, and we all get another Dayton administration.

Peppin’s comments about ABM are even more ludicrous in how they attempt to blame that group for defining Johnson as a “Tea Party” candidate, when it was Johnson who defined himself that way.  It wasn’t ABM who advised Johnson to campaign extensively at Tea Party meetings and refer to himself as “we” when he was at Tea Party events- those decisions were made by Johnson and his advisers.

Jeff Johnson said in one of his (rare) TV ads that “The buck stops” with him. It will be interesting to see if Johnson and his team eventually own up to their starring role in this loss, but based on Team Johnson’s behavior so far, I won’t be holding my breath.

If Republicans want any chance to win a statewide race again, they need a full and honest assessment of what went wrong this year, not ridiculous spin from campaign consultants trying to avoid blame. 

For this loss, the buck should stop with Team Johnson.

* More on the bad decisions and unforced errors committed by Team Johnson coming soon.