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This past weekend, I took my annual late summer road trip up to northern Minnesota.  I take a different route each year, but was particularly ambitious this year heading to the hinterlands that Minnesotans affectionately refer to as "far northern Minnesota".  I was really excited about the opportunity to keep score in the yard sign wars, particularly since I knew the result would be lopsided as the territory I was driving through is rock-solid DFL country in the northern 7th and 8th districts.  However, I was disappointed.  Not disappointed in the Democrats, mind you, whose ground game presence was noticeable even on the most remote backroads near forest and farm, but disappointed in the Republicans for being unwilling to even make a contest out of it.  The GOP appears to have forfeited the ground game this year as their main statewide candidates (Tim Pawlenty and Mark Kennedy) were all but invisible during hundreds of miles worth of driving.....

In fact, I saw a grand total of three signs for Senate candidate Mark Kennedy, all in the town of Bemidji.  As for Governor Tim Pawlenty, one sign, also in Bemidji.  Specifically, Pawlenty's sign was on the roof of the county's GOP headquarters.  Ouch!

Clearly, I'm not suggesting there is zero support for Republicans in northern Minnesota.  In fact, local Republicans were quite organized in a number of places, particularly the stretch of U.S. Highway 71 between International Falls and Bemidji where local GOP legislative candidate and District 8 Congressional candidate Rod Grams signs dotted the road every two or three miles.  However, there was no sign presence at all for Pawlenty and Kennedy amongst them, indicating the county chairs have not received any significant number of signs to advertise their candidates in regions where Kennedy and even Pawlenty are not abundantly familiar to residents, many of whom get their media from out-of-state markets.

But is this phenomenon exclusive to the northern extremes of the state?  No!  I no longer live in Minnesota, but my family ties are to the Austin-Albert Lea area.  While this is a strong Democratic area, the local Republican offices are active in hyping their own candidates and have a strong ground game in place at the local level.  Still, Hatch and Klobuchar have been allowed to monopolize at the state level.  Even the Republican stronghold of Owatonna just north of these two cities didn't have a single noticeable sign presence for Pawlenty or Kennedy as recently as two weeks ago, only for local Republicans.  A couple of acquaintances informed me the same was true for the Republican-leaning stretches of highways through central Minnesota heading north from Minneapolis-St. Paul to cabin enclaves like Brainerd, Mille Lacs, and Walker.  All Klobuchar and Hatch, no Pawlenty or Kennedy.  I've only heard a little about the scene in Minneapolis-St. Paul, but it sounds as though Kennedy and Pawlenty are non-entities even in the reddest of suburbs along Lake Minnetonka west of Minneapolis.

I gave Mike Hatch props last July when his signs were popping up throughout rural Minnesota, with particular abundance in those western counties that get their media from North and South Dakota and where Pawlenty is not an overly familiar face or voice to voters.  Klobuchar didn't take long before she was nearly as omnipresent as Hatch along the backroads of outstate Minnesota.  Two months later and the state GOP has yet to lift a finger to counter this monopolization of low-cost advertising in areas that could easily swing a close election.  Perhaps it's the hubris of incumbency holding back the GOP from erecting Pawlenty signs, but as far as Kennedy is concerned, the logic is downright baffling.  In previous Minnesota Senate races, Republicans have been extremely aggressive in going toe-to-toe with the Democrats in the yard sign wars.  This year, recognizing that they're swimming against a partisan tide, they choose to let Klobuchar be a dominant presence on the ground with only seven weeks before the election.  

Mark Kennedy has been the most invisible Minnesota Senate candidate of either party since the Democrats' disastrous 1994 candidate Ann Wynia.  It's almost as if either he or his party doesn't want him to win that badly, or possibly have given up.  There's no other explanation I can come up with as to why he continues to fly under the radar outside of his TV ads, which have clearly done him not one bit of good.

I'm sure Republicans and even some Kossacks may not see much significance in the yard sign wars, but they're fought for a reason.  If a given candidate dominates in a neighborhood, city, or county, a certain psychological momentum is created in the minds of swing voters who all too often choose to vote for the person they think will be the winner.  I was amazed at how the Minnesota yard sign distributions county-by-county in 2004 were prophetic in measuring not only whether Kerry or Bush won the area, but whether their margins grew or shrunk in the area compared to the 2000 election.  Furthermore, the strength of the ground game is often a good indication of how engaged the local parties are in getting out their voters.  If the local party apparatus is bullish about advertising for their candidates, it's likely they're gonna be just as bullish in getting voters to the polls on election day.  If any of the psychology I'm suggesting here comes to play in 2006 based on the evidence I've seen, Minnesota Republicans are in for a bloodbath on November 7.

Originally posted to Mark27 on Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 05:24 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Refocused on the house (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    guyermo, rapala, Mark27, Lashe, prose

    I think Minnesota republicans have given up the Kennedy campaign and have refocused on the house campaigns. They're fighting to not go down 7-1 this year.

    • In MN-01, (Iraq vet) Walz (D) is giving Gutknecht (R) a run for his seat.
    • In MN-02, Kline (R) is trying to hold off (FBI) Rowley (D).
    • In MN-03, Ramstad (R) doesn't seem to be sweating the Wilde (D) campaign.
    • In MN-04, McCollum (D) is holding on to a safe Democratic seat (Vento's old seat).
    • In MN-05, Ellison (D) is leading over Fine (R) who is slinging and sliming as best he can for Sabo's seat.
    • In MN-06, Wetterling (D) is running in close race with crazy Bachmann (R) who is tied to Bush and the religious right for Mark Kennedy's seat.
    • In MN-07, Peterson (D) faces another crazed wingnut Barrett (R).
    • In MN-08, Oberstar (D) is holding on to another safe Democratic seat.

    With the governor race, I think they're hoping Hatch will sandbag himself and come November, after a Twins World Series win, Pawlenty will be remembered as the guy who got the Twins to stay.

    •  Interesting Theory Regarding the Twins.... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Magnifico

      I hadn't even thought about how their postseason performance could be spun as a boost to Pawlenty.  It certainly wouldn't hurt his chances.

      As for the House races, the fact that Rowley is even in the game in the rock-solid Republican district she's running in is a good testimonial that the GOP is on the ropes in the state.  

      Walz really impresses me, but I don't think he's anywhere close to where he has to be at this point to topple Gutknecht.  Hopefully, the next six weeks change that dynamic if Walz's TV barrage is well-crafted.

      Having seen that ugly SUSA poll showing Michelle Bachmann beating Wetterling by more than Kennedy beat her by in 2004, I'm afraid Wetterling's only hope is for the 527's to come in and expose Michelle Bachmann as the unhinged nutball that she is.  Patty needs to keep her hands personally clean if she wishes to maintain her motherly image, but that image won't be enough to drag her across the finish.  Only if the country club yuppies and German Catholic social conservatives of this ruby-red district are made to appreciate the extent of Bachmann's derangement will they ever consider voting for a Democrat.

      •  Michelle Bachmann is another Katherine Harris (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kkjohnson
        only wackier
        •  Why is Bachmann now leading Wetterling? (0+ / 0-)

          I live in MN-05, so I'm not as familiar with this race. What happened - the race was so close until just recently.

          •  It was Only One Poll..... (0+ / 0-)

            ...by SUSA, showing Bachmann leading 50-41.  I won't push the panic button until I see some additional numbers, but this is a brutally tough district for a Democrat.  The only reason Patty did as well as she did in 2004 was the fact that Mark Kennedy ran such a sleazy campaign against such a sympathetic figure.  On top of that, Bachmann is an incumbent Senator in some of the least hostile terrain for the DFL in all of MN-06. As I said earlier in the thread, Patty's only chance of winning is to have the 527's carry water for her and slime Bachmann.  If Bachmann gets sufficiently defined as the unimaginable wingnut that she is and still manages to win, they we never had a chance here in the first place.

  •  I hope you are right!! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rapala, Magnifico, Lashe

    I would love to see the Dems take control of the state again. My Amy Klobuchar sign is in my garden at the corner of my property :-)

  •  All kinds of Kennedy signs in N Washington Cnty (0+ / 0-)

    Bachman too.  Not a Wetterling sign in sight.  Amy Klobuchar does have a few out.  Patty's commercials are positive and probably have to stay that way - but I agree, some good negative 527s to expose Bachman would be very helpful.

    •  Have They Went Up Recently??? (0+ / 0-)

      The Kennedy signs that is?  I'm curious if the GOP is just getting a ground game started or if they just have a very small operation going in a select number of locales such as northern Washington Co.

      •  I would say it is the latter. Seems like we have (0+ / 0-)

        a very active Republican group here that gets those signs out quickly.  They have been up for close to a month. (Or maybe it just feels that way.)  

        The bright spot is the big Amy Klobuchar sign on my way home!

        BTW - I think that Amy's ads, where she does the speaking, are great.  She also does what few politicians ever do - specifics.  (EX:  I will push to have the Bush tax cut overturned for people earning over $336,000 per year.)

        •  I Agree..... (0+ / 0-)

          ....she's been lucky enough to have a lead so significant thus far that there's no need for her to go negative.  Kennedy's cheap stunts only seem to be digging his hole deeper.  Are you vastly outnumbered with your Klobuchar sign up there in northern Washington County?  I know that's the conservative part of the county.  And how about Pawlenty?  Does he have many signs in your area?

          Another area that always has a very good ground game for the GOP is Houston County in the state's southeastern corner near La Crosse, Wisconsin.  I'll be going there to see the fall colors near the Mississippi River in the next few weeks.  If Kennedy and Pawlenty have a yard and highway sign presence anywhere in the state, Houston County would be the place.  It'll be telling if even Houston County fails to produce an abundance of Pawlenty and Kennedy advertising this fall.

          •  Can't say that I've seen many Pawlenty signs (0+ / 0-)

            or Hatch for that matter.  Only commercials on TV for those two.  

            Of all the 'large races' this year in MN, I can handle Pawlenty winning re-election.  Don't want it, but if the Genie gives me only three wishes, I have to take Wetterling, Klobuchar and probably Rowley.  (Any turnover of a house seat R to D would be ok, but I think Rowley could really 'stir the pot' so to speak.)

            •  Pawlenty Poses a Bigger Problem than '06.... (0+ / 0-)

              A young, affable, and popular Governor from a blue state is just the kind of profile GOP Presidential candidates are salivating for.  For that reason, I'm just as concerned about defeating Pawlenty as I am about defeating Kennedy.  If we don't stop this guy now, we'll have much bigger problems to deal with in 2008 or a future Presidential election.

              Hatch's yard signs are everywhere outstate.  Judging by his yard sign distribution and his rural voter friendly TV ads, I think Hatch is conceding the suburbs to Pawlenty and trying to make up the difference outstate.  So I'm not surprised that you haven't seen many of his signs in Washington County.  Head out to Clearwater County (Bagley) or Traverse County (Wheaton) and there are as many Hatch signs as cows in the pasture.

              And again, do the Kennedy signs up there in north Washington Co. badly outnumber Klobuchar signs?  I'm eager to see if the Dems have any chance of turning things around in places like Forest Lake and Hugo or if the exurban growth zone will forever produce double-digit victory margins for even the most anemic Republican candidates.

              •  Since I have only seen the one for Klobuchar... (0+ / 0-)

                I would have to say they are outnumbered.

                Part of that might be that Ray Vandeveer is our state of MN house rep (a Republican) and he lives in Forest Lake.  He may have an active local group that gets the signs out.  Michele Bachman and Ray are joined at the hip.  Everywhere you see Ray, you see Michele.  

                (Actually, the second time I saw them together - before they were introduced to me - I thought they were husband and wife.  I had just seen them previously together at another function about a week earlier - and they hadn't been introduced to me at that time.)  

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