Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Job of the Party: Beat Democrats, not Republicans

If you read my postmortem on the race for Minnesota's 30B, it is pretty clear I supported David FitzSimmons. However, some activists are calling on FitzSimmons to run in the primary against the endorsed candidate, Dayton city councilor Eric Lucero*. FitzSimmons has not ruled out such a run, saying he does not plan to run "at this point."

The rumor floating around is that the House Republican Campaign Committee (HRCC) would back FitzSimmons in such a primary and spend money to help (stress on the rumor- I am using this rumor to make a broader point about the relationship of the party to intra-party contests, not to criticize the HRCC for something that it has not actually done). It also is not much of a secret that the HRCC preferred to keep Daudt in his own endorsement contest with Mark Korin last Saturday, and several staffers were working on their own time to help the Minority Leader. Similarly, HRCC folks have been working at the heart of former Speaker Kurt Zellers' gubernatorial campaign.

If it is on their own time, I cannot criticize HRCC staff for helping candidates they support and think are a good fit for office in intra-party contests; they are entitled as much as any other activist to support their preferred choice within the party. However, I become skeptical when actual party resources are expended in intra-party contests, like the rumors indicate could happen in 30B.

In 2012, FitzSimmons won election with 61.8% of the vote; Romney took 61.6% of the vote in the same district. Even Bachmann won here with just over 55% of the vote. The HRCC exists to win elections for Republicans. No Republican is going to lose here in 2014, with or without the HRCC's support.

I know there is a concern with optics. Certain members of the House Republican caucus are more likely to opine on subjects on the floor or in committee hearings that the party does not want its members discussing. The last thing they want is a repeat of Rep. Mary Franson's comments that drew national attention in 2012. Some fear Lucero, with his focus on gay marriage, might make statements in the same mold.

However, I propose that this is a problem better addressed within the caucus than through elections. Is money spent to manage optics really worth more than sending more funds into DFL-held districts in the Twin Cities' suburbs or in MN-07? We need to flip seven seats to retake the state House, and if $50k were dropped defending FitzSimmons, that would be $50k less spent targeting Joe Radinovich in Crosby or Paul Rosenthal in Bloomington or Tim Faust in Hinckley.

If FitzSimmons runs, a few phone calls to friends and lists he has access to will leave him flush with cash for a primary. An extra few bucks from the HRCC will not make the difference.

This applies just as well on the national scene. On Sunday the NRSC spent time on social media bashing physician Milton Wolf on Twitter. A few tweets will not win or lose an election, but will the NRSC invest resources defending incumbent Senator Pat Roberts? Never mind Roberts made himself vulnerable by foolishly failing to maintain his own residence in his home state. I don't want Kansas to go Democratic as much as the next guy, but we need to focus on the big races that are most at play nationally and let local activists and politicos pick up the slack in the marginal seats.

In sum, we should be counting on party organs to focus their guns on beating the Democrats, not crushing dissension within the ranks.

*The question of if FitzSimmons should run in the primary is more complicated. He promised to abide by the endorsement, but his supporters say his opponent hijacked the endorsement process by bringing in new supporters to convention that are not interested in helping the party and that his campaign broke several convention rules last weekend. However, all of this sounds too similar to my comfort of the criticism of Ron Paul supporters new to the process in 2012. For all of the messiness of that affair and the mistakes made on both sides, it brought new blood and new ideas into the party, including FitzSimmons in 2008.


  1. Daniel, a friend pointed out your post to me. This was very thoughtful and well written. Thank you.

  2. If the thrust of your post is that party resources shouldn't be used to campaign against an endorsed candidate, I agree. Beyond that, this situation has demonstrated to me that the endorsement process can be gamed, and many of the criticisms directed at Ron Paul supporters in previous cycles had legitimacy. There is no shortcut to winning political support. You can't just take the endorsement convention hill and expect the activists and party officers you shove aside in the process to fall in line behind you. You have to earn it. And that's what the primary is there for, to see whether or not you have.