It should be the party's year, for many reasons -- but uncertainty exists.
Sometime today at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, candidates for the Legislature will come to the DFL state convention stage to be counted -- at least by me.
Will the tally hit 201 -- one DFLer per legislative seat?
DFL leaders Tom Bakk in the Senate and Paul Thissen in the House say they'll come close to 201, if not in Rochester today, then by the end of this year's filing period at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Very few Republican legislators will go unchallenged, they promised this week.
But the pace of DFL filings has been slow. By midday Friday, 20 House and six Senate seats lacked DFL filers, according to the candidate-counters at the e-news service Politics in Minnesota and the secretary of state's office.
It must be noted that 35 seats -- 11 of them in the city of Minneapolis -- lacked GOP candidates at the same hour.
But the House GOP majority diverted attention from its numerical deficiency with a 50-candidate "file-in" at the secretary of state's office Thursday morning. The Republicans will have a clear and consistent message, said Speaker Kurt Zellers -- and you already know what it is: "No new taxes."
No similar pep rally was staged by the caucuses yearning to regain the majorities they lost two years ago.
Admittedly, one must be careful not to conclude too much from these evidentiary scraps about legislative campaign organization, message, zeal -- and prospects.
Admittedly, one ought not display excessive caution if one wishes to remain in the punditry business.
This much can be fairly said: The 2012 election presents DFL legislative candidates with a number of advantages that they did not have in 2010 and likely won't have in 2014. This ought to be their year.
In their favor: A presidential election that will generate high voter turnout. A strong candidate, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, at the top of the state ticket. A state Republican Party that has taken a Ron Paul turn, saddling its candidates with hard-to-defend positions like the elimination of Social Security.
The GOP legislative record provides considerable ammunition: A 20-day shutdown last July. A budget shakily "balanced" with one-time measures. Elimination of a popular property tax credit. Deep higher-education cuts, leading to tuition increases at state colleges and universities.
Then there's the messy stuff: a $2 million debt and leadership upheaval within the state GOP, and a relationship scandal at the top of the state Senate GOP caucus.
But DFL legislative candidates' ability to capitalize on those pluses will depend on the aforesaid organization, message and zeal. Plus a good showing by Friday's No. 1 patron at the Bachelor Farmer restaurant in Minneapolis, President Obama.
There's enough on that list to keep DFL worriers fretting for the next five months.
The Republican Party is not the only state political organization that has weakened in recent years. While the DFL's grass roots remain robust in the Twin Cities, Duluth and the Iron Range, they've dwindled elsewhere.
That appears to have affected legislative candidate recruitment this year. Bakk implied as much this week: "The party needs to take a look at how it can be more helpful to the caucuses in candidate recruitment."
A unifying DFL legislative message doesn't yet trip off voters' tongues. But that might be coming. Thissen and Rep. Erin Murphy, the St. Paul DFLer who heads her caucus's recruitment effort, have lately made a mantra of phrases like "shore up the middle class" and "preserve opportunity for all."
A rash of unexpected DFL retirements -- three since filings began on May 22 -- can't be reassuring. Has legislative service lost its appeal?
On the contrary, Murphy said. The more the Legislature disappointed DFLers in the past two years, the more eager her party's candidates became.
"I have seen the best side of Minnesota in the last few months, the part I've always adored. We're willing to do what is difficult for the future of Minnesota," she said.
"The civic and business leaders of our past often did what was difficult, made a sacrifice, for the betterment of our future. Positioning Minnesota for the future has been absent from our politics in the last decade. I see it again now. I feel so lucky to have seen it."
I'll be watching for that today, too.
Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. She is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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