Election Analysis--Results--Statewide part 4--posted by Tony Garcia on 11/20/2006
While looking at this race keep a few things in mind. Jeff Johnson is a very nice person...maybe to a fault. When I first talked to him as Attorney General candidate I wondered if maybe he was too nice to convince the average person he was capable of "going after" the people and companies that needed to be pursued. This fear of the unfortunate "flip side" of a candidate's image I could not get away from.
Understand also that people in this country think that everyone should be sued when one does not get their way in any fashion. If you have access to a law database go through and look at some of the complaints filed (and thrown out) throughout the country. We sue, and sue, and sue and sue. We like to punish if there is a hint of MABYE something that possibly could be perceived as interpreted as wrong.
So when the opponents of current Attorney General spend eight years complaining that he is sue-happy it rings to people. On the surface people hate that but they will remember one of those times they thought "yeah, they needed to be sued" and will find little reason to change the status quo.
The way I see it the complaint of a sue-happy or anti-business Attorney General is an all-or-nothing charge. And there is no way to tell beforehand if the message will be a winning theme or a losing theme.
Some people still try hanging the tobacco lawsuits around the DFL's neck (in a kind of 'guilt by association' line of attack). This is a perfect example of the double edge sword of a "sue happy" or "anti-business" charge. While sometimes people may think the tobacco lawsuits were a horrible precedent there are times when people (many of the same people) will secretly thank the Minnesota Attorney General for beating 'big tobacco'.
Enter Lori Swanson. A strategy from her based on "I can continue Mike Hatch's work" would be risky on so many fronts. Who sees his work being continued as a good thing? Risky toss-up. Who would support a candidate basically running to be their predecessor part II? Not many.
And Jeff Johnson's supporters (myself included) saw Swanson's ties to Hatch as a big negative, an indicator that more of the same anti-business practices would be in place and the continuation of using the Courts to create policy they could not get through the Legislature. To us the harms of Swanson's connection seem to be a truism. And we said so.
That logic we thought was irrefutably sound actually to the average person was not logical. In the end, we are sue happy and the charge that Swanson comes from a sue happy office could be a positive. Worse, by coming from opponents of Swanson it seems to be a personal attack--punishing her for doing her job.
I believe deeply this is what happened. By September I began to realize witness this effect when I talked to people and so I stopped using that line of support for Johnson. That left very little to offer the average person on Johnson's behalf. Johnson need more visibility.
Unfortunately Johnson's campaign was one of the most invisible to people I talked to before the election. Those are the reasons I believe he lost.
This is the one race that leaves me perplexed. Pat Anderson was a good candidate and ran a campaign that never said a negative thing about her opponent. Never. Anderson had a record of competence and with a little digging one would find Anderson not only did her job but went above and beyond. It seems that her office was focused on constantly answering "What else would help the citizens?" and then pursuing that end. And Pat is a good person. Anderson was the rare trifecta for a candidate.
Historically people generally want a fiscal conservative in this office regardless of their leanings. That too should have been in Anderson's favor.
Rebecca Otto was in the center of some partisan controversy regarding campaign laws. Guilty or not, that should have been enough to keep some people from voting for her. Otto also did not seem to project any confidence in her ability to be an effective Auditor much less be able to maintain the high standard Anderson set.
Nonetheless Otto defeated Anderson by a hefty margin. While for this race a strong case could be made that Anderson was simply collateral damage in the tide of "change" the voters sought I find that a little too simplistic to leave as the final analysis. A few other factors may have been involved.
After talking with about a dozen people both before and immediately after the elections I discovered most people who voted for Otto (or were planning to vote for the 'other guy'--showing how little they knew about the race) did so because of a misplaced blame.
Many of them were upset about some local aspect. A few of the more common complaints used as reasons to vote against Anderson were "property taxes skyrocketing" or the localities revenue raising after their Local Government Aid was cut. After trying to refocus the blame in more appropriate directions (local officials, legislature, etc) there was simply rationalizing their own positions rooted in a belief that the Auditor should be halting some of the tax hikes.
That is the first big contributor to Anderson's defeat and it seems legitimate to say the overall culture for "change" or even the anti-Republican mood was magnified in this race.
The other compounding problem normally would have affected the Secretary of State's race to a lesser extent. It impacts the Auditor more because the Secretary of State gets additional exposure for simply being the overseer of elections...free face-time. The Auditor does not get that.
The problem: ridiculously low spending limits for the campaign. As high as the figure you are about to read may seem initially, once you think about how expensive a campaign is you will realize it is literally pocket change.
For a statewide race the limit is $200,000. That is enough to send one postcard sized mailing to 30% of the state...and nothing else. Consider the other things that need to be paid for and you understand how strangling this limit is. At least one full-time staff (campaign manager), lawn signs, website costs (and a webmaster), traveling expenses to be able to meet people throughout the state. The list goes on and on.
The limit is ridiculous and the result is an horrifically under informed public. This leaves the voter to essentially flipping a coin in order to decide which of the candidates to select. In an election cycle where both parties are campaigning for change the incumbent Auditor is in a bad position with little hope of saving themselves.
That, and this is, in my analysis, the only race in Minnesota where an "anti-Republican" mood was a major factor in the outcome.
Coming next: Results--Statewide part 5 (almost done)