Lori Sturdevant, an editorial writer and columnist, has covered state government and politics for more than 30 years.

Love and money in Minnesota politics

Posted by: Lori Sturdevant Updated: August 13, 2014 - 2:17 PM

A similar fate befell two largely self-financed candidates in Tuesday's primary. Both Republican Scott Honour, running for governor, and DFLer Matt Entenza, seeking to unseat State Auditor Rebecca Otto, took a drubbing at the polls.

Honour, a Wayzata businessman, finished in fourth place with 20.8 percent of the vote, trailing winner Jeff Johnson, Kurt Zellers and Marty Seifert. Entenza, a former state House DFL leader, scored 19 percent of the vote against Otto, who is seeking a third term. Honour pumped more than $900,000 into his own campaign; pre-primary reports show Entenza giving his campaign fund $674,000. 

The two losing candidates "tried to buy the election" in a way that is "somewhat antithetical to Minnesota values," asserted DFL state chair Ken Martin at a morning-after meeting with Capitol reporters Wednesday. Minnesotans prefer grassroots campaigns, of the sort that rely more on phone calls and shoe leather than slick mailings and broadcast ads, Martin said.

The problem with that argument: The governor whose reelection Martin favors won a primary election four years ago in similar self-funded style. Gov. Mark Dayton had already spent $3 million of his own money by primary time.

Recent state political history does not tell a story as simple as the yarn Martin was spinning about Minnesotans' views of candidates who bankroll their own candidacies. Some self-funders have won; some have lost;  and in most cases, how their campaigns were financed was probably not the deciding factor in voters' minds.

I'd say Honour lost because, as an out-of-nowhere newcomer, he did not have a political base and his three opponents all did. Entenza lost because he didn't persuade primary voters that Otto's performance as state auditor warranted her replacement.

Martin castigated Entenza for running a negative campaign that "really was about Matt Entenza." It was an unkind shot at a candidate who might have done the DFL a backhanded favor Tuesday. The interest Entenza generated in the state auditor's race contributed much to DFL turnout totals that topped the Republican showing, despite more high-level contests in the ballot's GOP column. Those numbers had some reporters asking GOP leaders whether their party faces an "enthusiasm gap" compared with DFLers this year. Any such gap that revealed itself Tuesday was at least in part of Entenza's making.

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