In the absence of any real momentum from the Jeff Johnson campaign, an alarming number of Republicans have begun to latch on to a new strategy – raising concerns about Governor Mark Dayton’s health. Specifically, the claim is that Dayton is too mentally ill to be Governor, the apparent proof being Dayton’s speech patterns.
Rumors and innuendo about Dayton’s health are not new. Senator Mike Parry infamously accused Dayton of "pill popping" during his failed run for Congress in 2012.
What is new, however, is how mainstream this strategy has become among some Republicans, as it has now been embraced by both the Republican Party of Minnesota (RPM) and the Johnson campaign.
Erin Haust, a paid consultant for RPM, issued a series of tweets during the first gubernatorial debate this week calling Dayton “incoherent” and “not well”, a sentiment echoed by twitter personality @EyeOnPolitics (real name Diana), an advisor to Johnson’s campaign.
Johnson’s campaign engaged in this strategy directly when it boasted in a press release about the campaign's first ad that Johnson had “narrated almost all of the ad himself” while his supporters were pushing the narrative on social media that Dayton did not speak in his first ad because he was too unwell to do so.
This focus on Dayton’s health is a desperate strategy, and one that will not end in victory for Republicans.
Dayton has been quite upfront about his ongoing struggles with alcoholism and depression, giving an in depth interview about the topic during the primary race for Governor in 2009.
When asked to comment about Dayton's health, Tony Sutton, who was the RPM Chair in 2009 stated: "It's not relevant. I am more troubled with what he wants to do to businesses in this state than I am about his private mental health issues or his struggles with drinking."
The RPM did, however, try to make Dayton’s behavior an issue in the 2010 race. The first ad released after Dayton secured his party’s nomination was titled “Erratic” – the title taken from a quote in a Time Magazine article written about Dayton’s time in the US Senate. Highlighting Dayton’s erratic behavior was a strategy used by RPM throughout the campaign.
Dayton was elected anyway. Minnesota voters had the information and the opportunity to judge Dayton unfit for office. They declined.
Since then, Dayton has built a record as Governor- one that should be target-rich for his opponent.
Republicans who don’t want to see Dayton re-elected would be better served focusing on that record, trying to create real contrast about their ideas, and outlining their competing vision for Minnesota.
If Republicans can’t convince voters they would do a better job governing without stooping to petty attacks on Dayton’s speech, they don’t deserve the opportunity to govern.