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First off, this year’s governor’s race won’t be a change election. It’s impossible to think of Gov. Dayton or Rep. Walz as change agents. They’re traditional non-thinking DFL establishment types. If the unthinkable happens and Becky Otto wins the endorsement or primary, she’s part of a different wing of the DFL establishment. To be fair, Gov. Pawlenty, Jeff Johnson and Keith Downey are part of the GOP establishment.

Next, it’s important to notice what’s frustrating Minnesotans lately. Topping people’s list of things they hate about government is MNLARS. People expect that renewing their drivers license, transferring the title on a car or getting new license tabs for the family vehicle is fairly effortless. The Dayton administration is the first administration to make those things all-day adventures. It’s also the first administration that isn’t serious about investigating reports of elder abuse and deaths in nursing homes.

Gov. Dayton has been a disaster. He’s raised taxes, presided over a state that’s lost wealth to other states virtually every year and seen high school graduates leave Minnesota in droves. Further, the DFL has done its best to punish businesses through regulations. Because the DFL is highly indebted to the environmentalists, they’ve proposed outrageous regulations.

First, the DFL pushed, then passed, the buffer strips legislation that hurts farmers. Next, the DFL, through the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, aka BWSR, is implementing a stiff penalty against farmers who don’t comply with the DFL’s controversial legislation. That penalty is $500 per linear foot per day. That’s a disaster waiting to happen to Minnesota farmers.

It isn’t difficult to tell that MNLARS is a mess when watching this exchange:

The answers provided were filled with hesitation. They were evasive, too. It felt like Sen. Dan Hall was pulling teeth. Finally, he got a reply.

Just based on whose administration was relatively incident-free vs. whose administration was incident-prone, Gov. Dayton is the governor with the lackluster history.

A loyal reader of LFR just sent me a notice that the SD-14 GOP is hosting a gubernatorial debate next Wednesday, April 18. Here’s the details of the event:

All of the GOP candidates will participate in this debate so it’s people’s chance to gauge the candidates’ command of the issues and their poise without having to deal with the Twin Cities’ Media filter. See you there.

Earlier this afternoon, Tim Pawlenty announced that he’s running for governor. Within hours, the DFL candidates and DFL State Party Chair Ken Martin had issued defensive-sounding statements.

For instance, Tim Walz, the supposed DFL frontrunner, issued a statement saying “Tim Pawlenty was a bad governor, and he’s not the leader Minnesota needs. When he was running the state, Tim Pawlenty made decisions that hurt working Minnesotans. Those decisions really hit home on the issues of health care, education, and infrastructure.”

DFL State Party Chair Ken Martin’s statement said “Minnesota needs a governor who will fight for everyday families. That’s not Tim Pawlenty. As governor, he deprived thousands of Minnesotans of affordable health care. He jeopardized our children’s education. He devastated our budget, and left roads and bridges across the state to crumble. From health care to education to infrastructure, Pawlenty failed our state. We need an honest leader who will fight to build a better Minnesota—not a Wall Street lobbyist who cares more about the wealthy than everyday families.”

With all due respect to Tim Walz, he isn’t a leader. Tim Walz is a pander bear. He’s one politician out of 435 politicians. He’s never had the responsibility of being the man before. He’s been a reliable vote for Nancy Pelosi, nothing more. What’s worse is that he abandoned his allies the minute he started running statewide. This wasn’t a decision based on gathering new information, then making a principled change. When Tim Walz attacked the NRA, it was a purely political calculation.

As for Ken Martin, he’s fought hard to hide the DFL’s contempt for blue collar Iron Rangers. That’s why President Trump won the 8th district by 15 points. President Trump is fighting for the Iron Range while Ken Martin is fighting the working families of the Range.

Amidst all of the DFL’s angry words, Tim Pawlenty reintroduced himself to Minnesotans with this upbeat-but-realistic appraisal of Minnesota:

The DFL’s angry responses are telling. Is it because they know that their candidates are back-benchers compared to Tim Pawlenty?

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Today, Tim Pawlenty will officially announce that he’s running to become the governor of Minnesota. A GOP strategist is already speaking out about Gov. Pawlenty’s campaign, saying “Pawlenty is a huge addition to the Republican efforts across the map this fall. Specifically in Minnesota, Pawlenty’s entrance to the race is the type of game changer Republicans need. Pawlenty is not only experienced and has a very good image with voters across the ideological spectrum, he’s also demonstrated a level of confidence that most voters are looking for this fall and it’s exactly the type of thing Republicans want in every ticket in every state.”

This strategist spoke with “CNBC on the condition of anonymity.”

Gov. Pawlenty’s campaign strengths are two-fold. First, he’s able to raise a ton of money, something that’s been missing from GOP coffers for years. Next, he’s a great retail politician. On the stump, he’s got the gift of connecting with people. As the time-tested saying goes, you don’t get to govern if you can’t get elected.

Predictably, A Better Minnesota already has a video up in their attempt to stir up trouble:

I won’t criticize Prof. Schier but saying that he’ll have lots of questions to answer about being a Washington lobbying is what the media will care about. Voters will care about policies and Gov. Pawlenty’s plan for making their lives better.

It isn’t that those questions aren’t legitimate. It’s that they aren’t that important to voters unless there’s some sort of scandal Pawlenty’s involved in. And yes, that’s true about most politicians. That’s why the Trump-collusion ‘investigation’ has been such a failure. After 2 years of digging, they don’t have anything to show for their efforts. People have moved on.

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After watching the interview (see video below) and reading this article, it’s obvious that Prof. Larry Jacobs isn’t an objective observer in the Minnesota governor’s race in 2018.

Speaking about the GOP race, Jacobs said “It’s quite possible that Jeff Johnson, who has been in the race and winning a lot of these delegates, could win that endorsement headed into the primary as the party’s endorsed candidate against Tim Pawlenty. Everything is up in the air.”

First, I don’t have a dog in this fight beyond wanting the strongest candidate possible. I’m tired of candidates that can’t raise money and don’t excite the base. At this point, I’ll support the strongest candidate but only if they can raise money and get elected. Right now, I don’t see Jeff Johnson being able to raise the money it’ll take to be competitive. We’ve seen this episode before. (See 2014 vs. Gov. Dayton.)

Let’s admit something else right now. Both candidates are establishment candidates. They aren’t Trumpists, which is fine. They’re both excellent on policy. They’ve both proven that they aren’t inept like Gov. Dayton. When it comes to major projects like MNLARS, MNsure and the elder care crisis, Gov. Dayton has been terrible.

What’s telling from Prof. Jacobs’ interview with WCCO’s Esme Murphy is that Prof. Jacobs’ statement that “Tim Pawlenty has got all sorts of great things going for him — name recognition and a gold-plated Rolodex to raise money from and he’s a fabulous communicator to the point that both Republican and DFL leaders say that he’s probably the best candidate but he’s also the guy that came out against Donald Trump.”

Let’s be clear about this. When your potential opponents from across the aisle say that you’re likely the best candidate, that’s going to open fundraising doors, both in Minnesota and with the RGA. If Pawlenty’s the GOP candidate, the RGA will dump lots of money into the race. If Jeff Johnson is the GOP candidate, that isn’t likely.

Those are definite starting structural advantages in Gov. Pawlenty’s favor. They aren’t impossible to overcome but it’s daunting nonetheless. Things might be “up in the air” but I’d rather start in Pawlenty’s position.

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It isn’t surprising that the Alliance for a Better Minnesota started attacking Tim Pawlenty before he’s entered the gubernatorial race. This indicates who they see as the most formidable GOP candidate. Without endorsing anyone (I’m not a delegate to the GOP State Convention), this makes sense to me from the standpoint that Pawlenty has won 2 statewide races (in 2002 and 2006). Meanwhile, Jeff Johnson has lost 2 statewide races (in 2006 for attorney general and 2014 as governor)j

Of course, ABM is telling its readers that the moderate Pawlenty is a combination of the worst traits from the Koch Brothers and President Trump. It isn’t surprising that ABM’s fundraising letter focuses on Pawlenty and President Trump. It starts by quoting Gov. Pawlenty as saying “I agree with much of what President Trump is trying to do.” From there, it jumps directly into saying “Those words came straight out of Tim Pawlenty’s mouth last week, before he even announced his latest run for Minnesota Governor. This is why the Alliance for a Better Minnesota is committed to stopping Trumpism in Minnesota and why we’re committed to holding Tim Pawlenty accountable for what he’s said and done.”

Honestly, I’d welcome a spread of “Trumpism” to Minnesota. Compared with the Dayton administration’s incompetence, some Trumpism and, for that matter, Pawlentyism would be refreshing.

Let’s simplify this as much as possible. Tim Walz will have tons of strife with mining because his running mate is a strident environmental activist. Yes, he’ll win that fight but the strife will exist between him and Rep. Flanagan. Rebecca Otto won 1 district in the DFL’s statewide straw poll on the strength of a strong turnout of environmental activists in the Eighth CD. If I had to guess, Otto is the frontrunner because Walz isn’t crazy enough for the activists. That doesn’t mean he isn’t crazy. It just means he isn’t as far left as Otto.

Jeff Johnson and Tim Walz won their party’s non-binding straw polls at Tuesday night’s precinct caucuses. Unfortunately for both men, that won’t get nearly as much publicity as the breaking news from earlier in the day. The other noteworthy news from Tuesday night’s straw polls is that Keith Downey underperformed, losing to Commissioner Johnson by a 45.4% – 14.6% margin. Perhaps, more embarrassing for Downey is the fact that he lost to “Undecided” by a 15.6% – 14.6% margin.

After such a lackluster performance in the straw poll, the Downey campaign must ask themselves if there’s a legitimate pathway to the endorsement. At this point, nothing seems to suggest that there is a path to the endorsement.

Full disclosure: I’m still undecided so I don’t have a dog in this fight at this point. At some point, I’m sure that will change. It’s just that it hasn’t changed yet.

On the DFL side, it appears as though Paul Thissen, Tina Liebling and Chris Coleman have difficult paths to the DFL endorsement, with Walz, Rebecca Otto and Erin Murphy having the strongest finishes:

Here’s the unofficial results of the GOP straw poll:

Turnout at Republican precinct caucuses were significantly smaller than at DFL, which can’t please Republicans. Still, tonight was the night when initial assessments were made. This isn’t the night when final decisions are made.

If Walz is the DFL-endorsed candidate, it isn’t likely that he’ll have much of an enthusiasm gap in his favor. The Bernie Sanders wing of the DFL is dominant. That’s where the enthusiasm comes from. That isn’t where Tim Walz is from. Further, like I said earlier this week, Walz alienated NRA voters and the Iron Range. OF the 3 DFL finalists, all have difficult paths to the governor’s mansion. Erin Murphy is little known outside the Twin Cities. Further, she’s hated in rural Minnesota. Rebecca Otto is hated on the Range, especially after fundraising off of her decision to vote against approving mining exploration leases.

Based on this article, I’m betting that Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants his old job back. The article opens by saying “Tim Pawlenty is stepping down as the leader of the Financial Services Roundtable, the industry group announced on Tuesday, as speculation grows about his possible entry into the Minnesota governor’s race.”

I can’t picture this article as anything but an unofficial announcement of his candidacy. You don’t leave a lucrative position if you aren’t running for office.

Last week, a former top aide to Pawlenty, Brian McClung, told Fox News that he is seeking more input. “Gov. Pawlenty is considering running for governor and will be talking with Minnesotans over the coming weeks to assess support and gather advice,” he said, according to Fox.

That was last week. I suspect this announcement isn’t accidental in that today is the day of Minnesota’s precinct caucuses, the official start of the election cycle.

Tom Hauser’s tweet is the first to break the news that Lori Swanson isn’t running for governor. Instead, she’s running for re-election to be Minnesota’s Attorney General. Hauser’s tweet simply states “JUST IN: MN Attorney General Lori Swanson announces she will run for re-election as AG rather than run for governor.”

I’m betting that this will start the speculation of whether this means Tim Pawlenty is getting into the gubernatorial race.

In Swanson’s announcement, she said “I appreciate the support of the many people who have encouraged me to run for Governor. I signed up with my fellow Minnesotans for a four-year term as Attorney General. While I am complimented that recent polls show me in a leadership position if I were to run for Governor, the work of the Attorney General’s Office is at a critical juncture for the next two months. I must focus all my energy and attention on that work.”

Did Lori Swanson decide not to run because she heard TPaw is running? This isn’t an endorsement of TPaw. It’s the perception amongst the chattering classes that TPaw is unbeatable. That’s still an untested theory that might never get proven or disproven.

Here’s Hauser’s tweet announcing Swanson’s decision:


Let the speculation begin.

Ed Morrissey is the latest Minnesotan to ask the question about whether Minnesota is turning red. Prior to Ed asking that timeless question, Barry Casselman asked that question in his Weekly Standard article.

Ed and Barry both note that Tim Pawlenty is the last Republican to win statewide office in Minnesota, with Ed noting that Hillary’s near-defeat shouldn’t be attributed to Trump’s strong performance as much as it should be attributed to Hillary’s poor performance. Ed highlighted the fact that “Trump did manage to outscore Mitt Romney’s 2012 results, but only by 2,000 votes. Clinton, on the other hand, dropped nearly 180,000 votes from Barack Obama’s 2012 total. That lack of enthusiasm for Clinton, and the poor GOTV effort on the ground in the state, is what nearly cost her the election.”

What neither gentleman wrote about was the strength of the Republicans’ legislative victories in 2016. In my opinion, that’s missing a key data point. Just look through the margins in the State Senate races. Republicans flipped SD-1 and SD-2 in northwestern Minnesota, SD-5 on the Iron Range, SD-17 near Willmar, SD-20 in south central Minnesota. Most of those seats were won by double-digit margins. Of the Republicans winning re-election, most won by high double-digit margins. On the House side, Republicans won by impressive margins.

The point isn’t that President Trump didn’t win. It’s that legislative candidates outperformed President Trump by a significant margin throughout the state. Further, DFL incumbent Tim Walz almost got defeated in CD-1. The race was so close that Walz opted to run for governor rather than accept a rematch with Republican Jim Hagedorn.

Walz is considered the DFL frontrunner for governor. Speculation is that the DFL might not endorse a candidate this year. If there’s a 3-, 4- or 5-way primary, which is a distinct possibility, the winner will limp out of the primary to face a hungry Republican Party and a well-rested, respected candidate.

Ed ends his post by saying “Before we get around to declaring the state ready to go red, perhaps the GOP can win one statewide office first. Casselman suggests that Pawlenty might be enticed to run again for his old office. That would be good news for the GOP, but we should wait to see whether any other Republican can crack that code — for the Senate, for secretary of state, auditor, etc. Until then … stay skeptical.”

That’s a fair point but I’m getting more confident that something historic is getting ready to happen with each passing election cycle. Don’t forget that I was the only journalist that predicted Chip Cravaack’s victory in 2010 and I’m the only journalist that predicted that Republicans would flip the Minnesota Senate.

In my opinion, Gov. Pawlenty’s time has come and gone. There’s little doubt that he’d do well in the suburbs but there’s equally little doubt that he’d struggle in rural Minnesota. The traditional pick, if he runs, would be Kurt Daudt. The dark horse candidate I’d pick would be Amy Koch. They’re both urban enough and well-known to win in the suburbs. They’re both rural enough to win rural Minnesota by a big enough margin.