Sunday, February 21, 2016

I'm Starting to Think This Jason Lewis Fellow Is Not Ready for Primetime

When Jason Lewis first entered the race for Congress in MN's second district last year, he was the instant front-runner for the Republican endorsement and ultimate nomination.

Lewis began the race with near universal name ID, plenty of goodwill among Republicans, and that plus his previous national radio platform should have equated to the ability to fundraise.

His one big liability was his years on the radio, where he had inevitably said some outrageous things, as radio people are wont to do. In an environment where Donald Trump seems to be teflon coated, it was unclear exactly how much Lewis' past would hinder him. Plus, Al Franken was able to be elected in Minnesota despite his portfolio of rape jokes.

Lewis also brought some life into the race in CD2, which had previously been unusually boring for an open seat in one of the few real swing districts in the country.

The open question in all of this was whether Lewis would be able to make the transition from radio personality to political candidate.

That question seems to have a clear answer at this point.

Despite his allegedly national following, Lewis raised an embarrassingly paltry $100,000 for the race in 2015. Nearly 2/3 of that cash was raised from large donors including many of the familiar names among those of us who regularly review MN campaign finance reports- Bob and Joan Cummins, Bill Cooper, Bron Scherer, Harold Hamilton, Brian Sullivan, etc.  That leaves only about $35,000 which came from the type of small donors that you would expect would make up contributors from a radio audience.

When you remove the fundraising advantage Lewis was supposed to have, all you're left with is a guy who maybe said some outrageous things on the radio in the past.

Yeah, well about that.

The first of what will be many stories about "dumb things Jason Lewis said" broke this week with a round-up of some of his comments about women- comments which prompted some of his GOP rivals to call on him to jump out of the race.

More concerning, however were Lewis' comments about the Civil War (or as he likes to call it "The War Between the States") and slavery, which came from an updated version of his audio book, which was released after he declared his candidacy for congress.

In response to criticism, Lewis has 1) lashed out at the press 2) laughed it off (literally laughing about it on TV today) and 3) doubled and tripled down on his past statements.  Lewis discussed on KSTP TV this morning that President Abraham Lincoln "exploited" the issue of slavery, citing author Thomas DiLorenzo, who advocates for demolishing the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

(Good thing this news broke after the recent MNGOP Lincoln/Reagan Dinner, otherwise things could have gotten a bit awkward...)

Jason Lewis likes to think of himself as a deep thinker, unafraid to tackle important issues, and unwilling to run from his controversial past. That's nice and all, but it's not a recipe for winning a Congressional District.

Nuanced arguments may work on talk radio, but "Jason Lewis Not Sure Civil War Was Worth Fighting" will be pretty damning when it comes on a postcard in your mailbox.

If Jason Lewis is the GOP Nominee in the Second Congressional District, he will lose, and he will likely hurt other candidates down ballot.

The DFL knows this, which is why they are silent on Lewis. Remember, Ken Martin and the DFL were able to turn around a fauxoutrageous press release reacting to a joke tweet about the closing of Old Country Buffet in a few hours. They have yet to release anything on Lewis. The DCCC mentioned him once in passing in a generic "Republicans All Suck" press release that isn't even worth linking to.

The DFL wanted people talking about Jason Lewis' past comments- but they wanted this conversation to happen on August 10- not now.

In April 2008 Jason Lewis was on Sean Hannity's TV Show discussing the race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken. In response to criticism about something Franken had written, he had this to say:

Well, I've got one word for you Sean, macaca. Can you imagine if there were George Allen who was drummed from the presidential race for saying something much less offensive. You know, not only the Asian stereotypes but the vulgarity of the language is clearly unbecoming of a would-be senator.
So a lot of people around here, I think, are starting to wonder whether Al Franken is not quite ready for primetime to use a pun.
After that heaping dose of irony, I'll end where I started - I'm starting to think this Jason Lewis fellow is not ready for primetime.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

UPDATE: SD35: The Canary in the Coal Mine?

Former State Rep Jim Abeler won a contested primary election for the SD35 Senate seat on Tuesday against Republican endorsed candidate Andy Aplikowski.

The result of this election should not have surprised anyone, but it apparently did.

Abeler represented half the district in the state house for 16 years, had nearly universal name ID, and was (and clearly still is) popular.  For example, in 2012, Abeler took 58% of the vote.  As a comparison, Mitt Romney came in with 52%, Kurt Bills 34%, Michele Bachmann 48%, and State Senator Branden Peterson 50.46%.

Additionally, Abeler raised significantly more money than Aplikowski did.  So why the surprise that the better funded, more well known and well liked candidate won?

Aplikowski was always facing an uphill battle, but he did have some advantages that were supposed to be an equalizer. He had the Party's endorsement, the support of the Senate Republican Caucus, the backing of the well-funded Freedom Club, and support from many big names inside the party including Congressman Tom Emmer and former House Majority Leader Matt Dean.

Aplikowski was the candidate of the Republican establishment, and the establishment's candidate lost.

Immediately following the loss, the pitiful yet familiar event of the post-election clamber away from responsibility began. Republicans pretend to be the party of personal responsibility, but that mantra has always had an exception for election results.

The Senate Republican Caucus trotted out staffer Bill Walsh yesterday to clarify that the loss shouldn't reflect on them because the Caucus didn't spend any money on the election. This despite the fact that Caucus staffers and several Senators were heavily involved in the campaign effort. Walsh even sought to re-write history claiming that Senate Minority Leader David Hann never endorsed Aplikowski, despite the fact that Aplikowski claimed he had Hann's supportWell sure he supported him, but he didn't "endorse endorse", if you know what I mean... wink wink.

It's unclear why the Caucus thinks that it makes them look better that they said they would support Aplikowski but failed to do so, but that type of doltish excuse making and abdication of responsibility is fairly typical within the Senate GOP Caucus these days.

Speaking of abdication of responsibility, chalk up yet another loss for the Republican Party of Minnesota, which failed to drag their endorsed candidate across the finish line. However, at this point the Republican Party of Minnesota failing has really become more of a dog bites man story, hardly worth noting.

Perhaps the most peculiar development in this election was the emergence of State Senator Dave Osmek (R-Obscure) as chief anti-Abeler spokesman for the Freedom Club.

Osmek created a website (which, as an aside looked like a time portal into the internet circa 1998) called  The site was apparently modeled on his own campaign website and sought to expose Abeler's RINO tax-loving record. Sadly, the website is down now, but the disclosure on the website indicated it was prepared and paid for by the Freedom Club State PAC, the same group that funded anti-Abeler, pro-Aplikowski radio ads featuring Osmek's voice.

Osmek could be heard at Aplikowski's election night gathering muttering about how it was all the fault of the unions that his guy lost, a sentiment he repeated on Twitter the next day.

Clearly Osmek's hedonistic tactic of throwing money away on a amateurish website and radio ads to target GOP Primary voters wasn't the problem- it was those damn dirty unions.

Aplikowski has made two Facebook posts since the election, and both indicate that he had perhaps been mislead into thinking his victory was imminent.  In one he says that the election "didn't work out like people told [him] it would" and in the other he mentions that he is "ashamed that so many people let me down."

He hasn't let on (yet) who told him the results would be different, or who let him down, but I think it's pretty clear that the Republican Party of Minnesota, the Senate Republican Caucus, and the Freedom Club all own a share of this loss.

2016 will be an important election year for the legislature in Minnesota. All seats in the House and the Senate are up, and the House has a tenuous hold on the majority.

What we saw in SD35 was a dry run of the election operation that the Republican Party of Minnesota, the the Senate Republican Caucus, and the Freedom Club have put together for 2016.  It's a losing operation, and nobody who was responsible for the loss has stepped up to take responsibility, or even acknowledge there is a problem.

The fact that Republicans will remain a minority in the Senate is a foregone conclusion, but it's quite possible that these feckless groups could drag down efforts of the House Caucus to retain their majority.

There's still time to turn things around, but that would take personal responsibility, something that's in short supply among the so-called leaders in the Party and at the Senate, and entirely absent within the Freedom Club.

When the DFL takes back total control of MN government in 2016, remember that SD35 was the canary in the coal mine.

P.S. Let's put a stake in the heart of the idea that turnout was particularly low in this race. About 400 more people turned out for the special election primary in 2016 than turned out for the 2014 primary when there was a contested race for both US Senate and Governor. This turnout number should also put to rest speculation that it was OMG UNION CROSSOVER DFL VOTES that won it for Abeler. Turnout was what turnout always is in that district. Look elsewhere for excuses.

2014 August Primary: 4200 votes in SD35 for the US Senate election that featured Abeler
2016 January Primary: 4600 votes in SD35
* Counting GOP Voters only

UPDATE: Via Facebook, Freedom Club mailers in SD35 hit mailboxes... today.