Expert panel: land of 10,000 lakes is not a DFL stronghold

Libby George

While Republicans across Minnesota celebrated and the Democratic and third parties licked their wounds, five experts convened Friday for the Minnesota Post-Election Panel.

Sponsored by the Center for the Study of Political Psychology, the panel included Rob Daves, the Star Tribune’s director of news research; University political science professor Bill Flanigan; Bill Hillsman, chief advertising officer for North Woods; Minnesota Public Radio reporter Laura McCallum and Wyman Spano, editor of “Politics in Minnesota.”

Shifting to the right

the panel first attributed Republican Party election success to the idea Minnesota is no longer a Democratic stronghold.

“It’s not a Democratic state. That’s a big holdover, and it’s not accurate,” Hillsman said, citing Democratic losses in the last three election cycles.

Daves agreed, adding that Democrats here are losing a majority of their traditional voters for demographic reasons alone.

“Remember what the Democratic Party is called (Democratic Farmer Labor),” Daves said. “There’s a lot less of that middle than there was 30 years ago.”

A Star Tribune poll released Sunday

verified the panel’s assertion, finding that 44 percent of those polled identified themselves as Republican, 41 percent as Democrats and 15 percent as independent. The poll was based on interviews conducted Wednesday through Friday of 1,066 Minnesotans who said they voted.

Effective campaigning

in addition to the affiliation shift, panelists said other factors were important regarding the election results.

“People say Democrats got caught up in a Republican shift, which is really simplistic,” Hillsman said.

McCallum said Democrats failed to define important campaign issues while the Republican messages were consistent and easy to present.

Hillsman added that many voters were satisfied despite the fact that Republicans never said how they would enact their plans for Social Security, prescription drugs and the budget.

Other Republican strengths, according to the panel, were splitting votes between Democratic and third-party candidates in the gubernatorial race and the “likeability” of Coleman and Pawlenty’s youth.

Wellstone tragedy

panelists also said the death of former Sen. Paul Wellstone and his ensuing memorial service – widely perceived as a rally – skewed the election.

“Republicans and others simply felt violated (by the memorial), and that was the election,” Spano said.

Spano said former Vice President Walter Mondale’s hurried entrance into the Senate race as the Democratic candidate and his subsequent low-profile campaign alienated voters.

Future of the state

the panelists agreed that there will be major changes in future state policies.

“There have been a lot of policy issues that have been dicey, and you didn’t know where allegiances would be, but now we know,” McCallum said, citing Pawlenty’s support for anti-abortion laws, conceal and carry laws and abolition of the Profile of Learning program, which she said are likely to occur.

Pawlenty’s pledge not to raise taxes will also bring change in the way things are run, Daves said.

“You are going to see tremendous increases in fees,” Daves said, predicting increased fees for things such as ski passes, parking and hiking trails.


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