The Pawlenty campaign is applying intense pressure on MNGOP gubernatorial candidates Jeff Johnson and Keith Downey to quit the race. In one sense, this isn’t surprising given the raison d’etat for the nascent Pawlenty campaign: the idea he has the best chance of winning this November. Sometimes this is upgraded to a certainty: he’s the only one who can win. How precisely he wins is either left unmentioned or buried in a word salad from Chez Consultants.
The arguments are straightforward. Pawlenty has immediate name recognition throughout the state. This is but a truism yet some mistake it for an argument. Another claim is that he is the last Republican to win statewide. Again, factually true but how is this persuasive given his narrow win in 2006, which was more a matter of his opponent Mike Hatch, and his running mate, imploding at the last minute, than his own merits? Rarely mentioned is that Pawlenty won twice but both times with less than 50% of the vote and in each election with strong third party candidates. A statewide race where Pawlenty beat the DFL candidate straight up has never happened.
Money: that’s what it all comes down to in trying to bully Johnson & Downey out of the race. It’s not an argument per se but at least we’re getting closer to one. The money argument is twofold.
First, the lack of substantial dollars raised by either candidate can’t be denied. At best it can be explained away and the persuasiveness of such depends on whether you’re supporting a current candidate or want one from the past, refurbished and with his software updated sufficiently to win in a political environment of which he shows little innate understanding.
The strongest explanation for the low fundraising numbers is that the big donors beg off, saying disingenuously that they won’t get in until there is an endorsed candidate. In my opinion, this happens to be true: they often stay on the sidelines, hedging their bets because they hardly have principles to wager. This deprives a single candidate of building up a campaign war chest of any significance. Donors have very specific agendas and as they shop the candidate store, they’re inclined not to buy until they see a product to their liking. When such is not in stock, they wait until it is, perhaps forcing new stock into the store by the very act of declining to buy now.
It’s the people who donate fifty or a hundred dollars because of what they believe who are shunted aside in this process. But until recently, that has always been more or less the case. Big donors are sought for big money, with the implied promise to deliver for them once in office, with an occasional nod to the base who actually deliver the votes in the hope that a candidate in office will bear some resemblance to the one on the trail.
Only President Trump has shattered this model, most recently demonstrating his loyalty to Americans instead of the Uniparty by imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum coming into the country. Great clucking was heard from the sclerotic mandarins who’ve been in office for decades as America was hollowed out. Dire predictions abounded but Friday the stock market closed up 441 points. Oh, and the “local angle?” Trump just won Minnesota’s Iron Range.
The second aspect of the money argument is that the Pawlenty campaign promises to be able to raise a lot of it. Few would doubt the ability of the former CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable in this regard. The second money argument thus conflates with the strongest political argument: a candidate with lots of money and the strongest hypothetical ability to win.
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Shrewdly, Pawlenty recently met with Susan Marvin, of Marvin Windows fame. She’s been asked to run for any number of offices for a long time. The allure of a Pawlenty/Marvin ticket would be strong. The Marvin family is well known and widely respected on the Iron Range. Pawlenty is not a natural fit with those voters so Marvin would add credibility in a region essential to any candidate’s chances to win.
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Pawlenty has a Trump problem, however, starting with my suspicion that he doesn’t think he has one. But he does, believe me. Happily, this problem can be solved straightforwardly: admit he got Trump wrong and move on. Dennis Prager recently did something similar and my sense is that Minnesota Trump supporters would be satisfied if Pawlenty followed suit. It doesn’t need to be belabored but it does need to happen. The career, careful politician needs to acknowledge that the outsider got it right and is the most successful conservative president of the modern age in only his sophomore year. Mind you, he must actually praise Trump, not just admit to being clueless. That will be an exquisite moment and also a measure of how much he wants to win.
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Jeff Johnson was having none of it. He released a remarkable video that is the single best thing any Minnesota Republican has done in the ten years I’ve been paying attention. The video reveals that Johnson has watched the early attacks of A Better Minnesota on Pawlenty, understands their effectiveness and uses them as a warning sign as to what the campaign will be about in the future if the former governor is our candidate.
In the first confident, crisp, brutal 55 seconds, Johnson lays bare the fault lines of a Pawlenty candidacy, ending by acidly noting “and all the money in the world won’t change that.” The balance of the 2:42 video is equally good, equally strong, equally astonishing. You owe it to yourself to see it.
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Pawlenty is expected to announce this week, possibly next at the latest. He sent a fundraising letter last Sunday to donors beyond the 100 plutocrats he met with at the Minneapolis Club last month. Checks can’t be cashed until the political infrastructure is in place, which doubtless is happening as I write. Look for the largest amount possible to be raised by the end of the March reporting deadline. This will prove what no one doubts and the realization of it will be heralded as “momentum.” They think we’re rubes.
It would be nice if, somewhere in this process, Pawlenty is asked to commit to campaigning and fundraising for Republican candidates should he lose the primary. The question and answer both must be extremely specific so he can be held to whatever representations he makes.
Having abandoned Minnesota, Republicans and anything remotely conservative once he left office, it’s not too much to ask if he’ll hang around to be useful between August and November for Republican victories in this crucial election year.
That the question has to be asked reveals the uphill battle Pawlenty faces but likely doesn’t realize.
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In addition to Alpha News, John Gilmore is also a contributor to The Hill. He is the founder and executive director of Minnesota Media Monitor.™ He blogs at MinnesotaConservatives.org and is on Twitter under @Shabbosgoy. He can be reached at Wbua@nycunarjfza.pbz.