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 support. Well 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 AbelerTruth.com. 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.