Democracy, Up Close and Personal

I live in Minnesota’s Second Congressional District, which has been represented for the last 14 years by my friend John Kline. Colonel Kline has elected to retire at the end of his current term, so the seat will be open in November. Minnesota’s 2nd will be one of the most-watched Congressional races of 2016. The 2nd, once solidly Republican, is now considered a swing district. In 2014, comedian Bill Maher dedicated $1 million to trying to turn the 2nd District blue, and failed miserably. But in 2016, with no incumbent and a huge cash advantage, the Democrats think they will be able to capture the seat.

This year, I served as convener for my precinct Republican caucus. I described the experience here. My wife and I both volunteered to be precinct delegates to our Senate district convention, the next level up. At that gathering, we were both elected as delegates to the Second Congressional District convention, which took place yesterday. The chief task of the CD2 convention, along with electing three delegates to the national convention in Cleveland, was endorsing a Republican candidate for the open Congressional seat.

So we spent a long nine hours at a high school near our home. The morning was consumed by rules debates, which came to a close when the delegates more or less rebelled and demanded that the remaining sections of the rules be adopted en masse without further amendments. Then we got on to the Congressional candidates, which is where the day got interesting.

Minnesota’s caucus system is notoriously quirky; but then, maybe all caucus systems are. Caucuses are where grass roots activists dominate. Commitment to conservative principles is a given; commitment to winning elections, less so.

In the beginning there were five candidates for the House seat. Three were more or less serious. One was odd–he got a pretty warm reception, but no votes. Another, Darlene Miller, is a businesswoman with no political experience. For reasons that are opaque to me, she has John Kline’s support. She appeared at the convention and spoke along with the other candidates at the beginning of the nomination process, but then withdrew her name from consideration. Knowing that she has little grass roots support, she intends to run in the August primary against the endorsed candidate.

The three serious candidates for the endorsement were Jason Lewis, a long-time friend of ours who recently retired after 25 years as a radio talk show host; David Gerson, an activist who twice challenged John Kline for the party’s endorsement; and John Howe, a former legislator. Of the three, it seemed obvious to me that Lewis would be by far the strongest candidate, because of his name recognition and stature, his superior skills, and his ability to raise money both locally and nationally. But such considerations are not necessarily decisive with the party’s activists.

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On the first ballot, Gerson had 48% of the approximately 309 votes, while Lewis had 45%. The race quickly came down to these two candidates. On the second ballot, Lewis pulled ahead. After five ballots, he needed just 13 more votes to reach the 60% threshold for endorsement. Under the convention’s rules, the candidates got another opportunity to address the delegates after every five ballots. This proved decisive; Gerson actually performed quite well, but Jason Lewis’s speech was top-notch. In my opinion, his superiority as a candidate was blindingly obvious. But quite a few delegates either didn’t see it that way, or didn’t care.

Still, Jason’s performance moved 12 delegates to change their votes, so that he had something like 59.75% of the ballots. Just one more switch was needed, and the seventh ballot put him over the top. The delegates knew it was over when, after waiting through a number of speeches and other business, Gerson was announced for one final appearance, in the course of which he acknowledged that the delegates had chosen Lewis as their endorsed candidate. Jason then got one last speech–terrific like the others–and I skipped out before voting on the three national convention delegates, since I didn’t know any of the 26 candidates.

Jason Lewis addresses the convention

Jason Lewis addresses the convention

Participating in this year’s caucuses was interesting, to say the least. Democracy in action is messy, tedious, sometimes stupid, but ultimately inspiring. Republican caucus-goers in Minnesota are, almost without exception, deeply patriotic and as conservative as one could wish for. If you want to talk with some of those people you read about in the newspapers who are irate at Washington and what they see as the Republican Party’s elites, this would be a good place to start. Individually, some might be seen as eccentric. But in the end, they made a series of good decisions.

I don’t expect Jason to have much trouble winning the August primary, but the general election is anticipated to be close. The Democrats have nominated a political novice named Angie Craig. Craig, described by her supporters as an “out and proud married lesbian,” will raise lots of money from the far-left precincts of the national Democratic Party. Financially, Jason Lewis will need all the help he can get. He is a solid and principled conservative who can be trusted not to go native if we send him to Washington, and a good guy to boot. If we do our biannual Pick Six this year, Lewis will likely be one of our choices. In the meantime, any assistance you can give him here will be appreciated.

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