Cluelessness Runs Deep

Here in Minnesota, the GOP had a very good, and nearly a great, election. Hillary Clinton carried the state by a mere 1.5%, lending credence to the view that Minnesota will go Republican in 2020. Two Republican Congressional challengers fell short by heartbreakingly small margins, in the 1st and 8th districts, and in District 7, old-time DFLer Collin Peterson could muster only 53% of the vote against an unknown challenger. Meanwhile, former talk radio host Jason Lewis kept the 2nd District in Republican hands, beating a well-financed Democratic opponent.

But the big news was in the state legislature, where the Republicans entered the election controlling the House, while the Democrats held the Senate. According to the local news media, the only question was whether the GOP would be able to hold on to its control of the House. Control of the Senate was assumed to remain in Democratic hands–where, to be fair, it has resided for 40 of the last 42 years. To the surprise of many, Republicans expanded their control over the House and gained a net of six Senate seats to seize control of that body, too.

This is typical of what is happening across the country. Republicans are capturing one state legislative body after another; they now control more than two-thirds of them. Somehow, though, both national and local media fail to catch on. Thus, we have this post mortem by the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “How the Minnesota GOP surprised everyone by flipping the Senate.” As we will see, not quite everyone was surprised.

When the Star Tribune asked a group of political insiders to make election predictions, they disagreed on some things, but there was near unanimous consensus on the outcome of the state Senate — it was safely in DFL hands.

I wonder who those “insiders” were. They evidently were people who had little knowledge of what was actually going on in Minnesota. They were either all Democrats, or they included a few Republicans who were not in the loop.

The predictions were reasonable enough: Majority — now Minority — Leader Tom Bakk, who was the architect of the DFL’s sweeping 2012 victory, was leading the charge. They had incumbents, a boatload of cash and two seats in the suburbs that seemed like potential flips given the suburban struggles of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

The Democrats always have a “boatload of cash,” but money counts for relatively little in politics, as Donald Trump showed.

But Senate Republicans, led by Sen. David Hann and staff, believed all along. The math was not complicated: They needed to flip six districts, and there were six DFL senators who represented districts that Mitt Romney had won in his failed 2012 presidential bid.

Yes, and there were a number of DFL senators representing districts that had elected two Republican House members (each Minnesota Senate district includes two House districts). This presented obvious opportunities.

Then they did something unusual: Rather than set up an “independent expenditure” campaign — a mechanism for raising and spending big sums on targeted races — they outsourced it to Minnesota Action Network, a business-backed group associated with former Sen. Norm Coleman.

“It was innovative,” said Gina Countryman, the group’s executive director. Because Minnesota Action Network has experience doing campaigns every two years instead of every four like the Senate GOP, it was ready to go with research and quality vendors.

Having completely failed to foresee the Republican wave of 2016, the Star Tribune reporter based this story, evidently, on an interview with Gina Countryman, the executive director of Norm Coleman’s PAC. Nothing wrong with that, perhaps, except that the article never mentions the name of the group that had the most to do with the Minnesota GOP’s success.

So, is it true that “everyone” was surprised by the Republicans’ flipping of the Senate? Of course not. I wasn’t. I knew which districts were being targeted–the Democrats apparently didn’t–and I saw the polls that showed that the districts could be won. I knew what resources were being devoted to flipping those districts, which the Democrats didn’t know at the time, and the Star Tribune evidently still doesn’t understand. So on election night, I fully expected the Minnesota Senate to go Republican. Which it did.

This is just one instance of a phenomenon we are seeing across the country. Republicans are on the march, capturing one state after another, and the local press, dependent mostly on Democratic Party sources, augmented at best by an occasional establishment Republican, have no clue what is going on.

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