There’s an old saying that decisions are made by those who show up. The DFL mayoral endorsement process Saturday added some qualifiers to that adage: Decisions are made by those who show up, then endure tedious and soul-crushing 12-hour conventions while eating overpriced food and perhaps even witnessing a fistfight over a park board seat.
It all ended, predictably, in no endorsement.
Ray Dehn scored a victory over an incumbent mayor, but that certainly doesn’t make him a lock. Dehn is the poor man’s Bernie Sanders, an older white politician with an inauspicious profile at the Legislature who solidified the far left flank by promising to never veto any City Council action supported by activists at Our Revolution Twin Cities. Bad, lazy policy, but good politics apparently. But are there enough voters in the general election who go that far left, or even know who Dehn is? Doubtful.
Jacob Frey, who came in second, is the poor man’s R.T. Rybak, a frenetic dervish who would jump up on a bar with a locally made craft beer and tell you how totally awesome Minneapolis is every day. Voters love that pitch, but may find him a bit young for the job, or worse, a bit slick.
Betsy Hodges is the poor man’s Hillary, or perhaps she’s simply the poor man’s Betsy Hodges. She is who she is. If you put her in the top three before, you probably have no reason to change your mind, unless you are one of those people who think she should have been down at the Fourth Precinct screaming at police officers. Endorsements from Council Member Lisa Bender, with a strong populist following, Sen. Al Franken, SEIU and OutFront Minnesota give her solid left credibility.
In a three-way race, name recognition and reliability may be all Hodges needs.
“Hodges is still the favorite,” said David Schultz, a Hamline University political science professor who guessed before the convention that there wouldn’t be an endorsement. Either way, “Hodges is still in the driver’s seat as the incumbent and with the opposition divided. Hodges benefits from the fact that the opposition is fragmented and no one clear alternative has emerged.
“It is funny to think that four years ago she was the outsider challenging the establishment candidate and now she is the establishment candidate benefiting from the fragmented nature of the decentralized politics of Minneapolis,” Schultz said. “Right now I think she mostly needs to encourage disunity among her challengers and she should do well into the election. Ranked-choice voting will benefit her with name recognition.”
Larry Jacobs, a University of Minnesota political scientist, disagreed with Schultz, saying a third-place finish for Hodges was “embarrassing, and signals the significant erosion of her support, and that she is running without the support of a DFL core.
“It could also spell particular problems in a ranked choice system — DFL core may be signaling a willingness to vote for two candidates above Hodges,” Jacobs said. “Put more directly, Hodges won’t be the first or second choice of core DFL loyalists who are most likely to turn out. That’s an ominous development.”
“[The] big question for me: Why isn’t Hodges doing better?” said Jacobs. “Incumbents often benefit from advantage of name recognition; this is particularly the case in good economic times, which is Minneapolis now. It is peculiar that so much is going right in Minneapolis and the incumbent mayor seems so weak politically.”
One first-time candidate who isn’t counting Hodges out is Aswar Rahman.
“It’s very hard to take on Hodges because of the incumbency bump,” said Rahman, who estimates his team knocks on 1,000 to 2,000 doors a day. “We ask people who the Minneapolis mayor is, and they don’t know, or sometimes they say ‘Betty.’ But as one guy said, ‘We now have police wearing bodycams and passed a $15-an-hour minimum wage,’ ” developments that should help Hodges, who pushed for both.
Jacobs said Dehn’s strength has been organization. “Our Revolution and other ultraprogressive groups are giving him a devoted army of people and organizational strength,” Jacobs said. “He will be formidable.”
So who benefits most from a non-endorsing convention? Jacobs thinks Frey does.
“A tossup coming out of the convention allows Frey to then go into the general election with a broader and best-funded campaign,” said Jacobs. “For Frey, watch the post-convention action: Business and Downtown Council are probably stepping in with big money. Will this become a liability?”
The fight for mayor so far has also been relatively clean, with candidates playing nice and sticking to their own strong points. The day before the convention, however, some took shots at Frey for a donation from the Police Federation he received in 2015, something they likely knew about a long time ago.
Political observers at the convention commented on how cordial everyone was this time, compared to the last election. That could change.
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