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.