Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson on Sunday proclaimed he'll be a champion of Minnesota's middle class, but stumbled when asked how to define them.
During Sunday's Fox 9 debate at Hamline University, Johnson said "I have no clue how I would define that."
The remark was immediately seized on by Gov. Mark Dayton's campaign and the DFL, which put out an ad deriding his opponent. But, even the governor had a tough time defining what middle class is, offering his best guess of a total annual household income of between $50,000 to $60,000.
Turns out, both might be right.
Economists, sociologists and political scientists have not decisively defined what it means to be middle class. Disparities in cost of living in different regions and cities also makes it difficult to pinpoint income brackets for this subset of Americans. Moreover, public opinion polls find views on what it means to be middle-class vary widely.
A 2013 Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll found that nine in 10 Americans believe the top threshold for middle class are families with a total income of $100,000. The tendency, according to this poll, is Americans more often than not believe their own income brackets to be considered middle class.
Dayton's guess appeared more in line with the majority of Americans in this particular poll. Half of those with total annual incomes of $50,000 to $75,000 considered themselves to be middle class. That's compared to 29 percent of all adults who believed the $50,000-$75,000 bracket to be middle class.
A 2013 story in the Cincinnati Enquirer found various estimates by credible groups on how to define middle class based on income levels. Unsurprisingly, the brackets varied widely.
"In the past few years, the "middle class" income range has been described as between $32,900 and $64,000 a year (a Pew Charitable Trusts study), between $50,800 and $122,000 (a U.S. Department of Commerce study), and between $20,600 and $102,000 (the U.S. Census Bureau's middle 60% of incomes)," Dan Horn at the Enquirer wrote.
State Democrats are seizing on Johnson's "I have no clue" remark, saying it undercuts his argument that he'll be an advocate for the "forgotten middle class" has he said during Sunday's opening statements.
“Today’s debate made crystal clear that Jeff Johnson is completely clueless about how to strengthen middle class families,” said DFL Chairman Ken Martin in a statement.
Jeff Bakken, a spokesman for the Johnson campaign, said that it's ironic Dayton, the great-grandson of the founder of Dayton’s, a department store chain that spawned Target Corp, is questioning Johnson's commitment to the middle class. Johnson grew up in Detroit Lakes in a middle-class household, Bakken said.
"Jeff Johnson was born and raised in Detroit Lakes, his dad delivered bread to supermarkets for a living, and Jeff has earned every dollar he’s made," Bakken said in a statement. "If Mark Dayton and his attack machine want to get into a debate with Jeff Johnson over who better understands the middle class, bring it on.”
Student-loan debt, the job market for recent college graduates and even a question on favorite ice cream flavors were among those asked during Sunday's debate between gubernatorial candidates Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican challenger Jeff Johnson.
Held at Hamline University, the debate was the fourth face-off between Dayton and Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner. It was the first debate of two debates to be held in the Twin Cities.
The candidates were more subdued and cordial than in recent confrontations but nonetheless outlined starkly different visions for the state.
Asked how they would preside over a divided legislature, Johnson and Dayton sparred over how they have worked with members of their opposing parties and disagreed on the worthiness of one-party rule in state government. Dayton said that if Minnesotans are satisifed with policies made by the DFL-controlled Legisture, they should vote for that to continue. Johnson said divided government has hisotorically been a good thing for the state.
"I think you just have to look at my record in the House," Johnson, a former state representative said. "What you've done is the best way to tell what you're going to do."
Johnson said that during his time as a state lawmaker, the House was controlled by Republicans but the Senate had a DFL majority. He touted his work with DFL lawmakers on eminent domain and identity-theft bills. He blamed Dayton for presiding over the state's government shutdown in 2010.
Dayton defended the clash with Republicans that led to the shutdown, saying he shared responsibility for it with lawmakers but that the outcome -- a tax hike on the wealthiest 2 percent of Minnesotans to balance the state budget -- was worth it.
"The Republican Legislature would rather raise a billion-and-half through additional borrowing than raise taxes on the richest people of Minnesota. Fortunately, that changed when we had a DFL Legislature," Dayton said.
Questions for Sunday's debate, sponsored by Fox 9, came from a panel of political reporters from two local newspapers and public radio, as well as through social media and students who were present at the forum.
The two candidates fielded questions on how they would work to reduce student-loan debt and improve the job market for recent graduates.
Dayton touted a tuition freeze bill he signed last year that affected state colleges and university as an example of how he has helped keep rising college costs in check. Johnson said he would work to cut administrative costs.
To improve the job market, Dayton said that investing in higher education and early childhood education programs would be critical. "If we do that, the opportunities are going to be out there," he said.
Johnson responded by criticizing the state's tax and regulatory climate, saying it has hurt the state's competitiveness and "because of that, the good jobs are being created in other states."
Before Sunday's debate, Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet and her supporters protested outside of Hamline's Klas Center over her exclusion from the forum. Nicollet, a former software developer, participated in two previous debates in Rochester and Moorhead.
Dayton and Johnson will debate once more before the general election on Nov. 4.
With fundraising numbers in for U.S. House candidates, the disparities in fundraising are clear.
Incumbents, in both contested and safer seats, have far more cash at the ready for the final stretch before the election.
Explore the congressional map below to view the candidates' campaign cash.
Hover over the chart below to see the candidates' hauls arranged, by district.
Alejandra Matos contributed to this report.
Minnesota's candidates for governor are keeping busy Friday as they prepare for another debate this weekend, the first in the Twin Cities.
Gov. Mark Dayton is speaking Friday morning at a leadership summit of the Minnesota State College Student Association in Bloomington.
Dayton also has an active official schedule Friday, with a handful of events closed to the press: a conference call with executives at BNSF Railway and Minnesota Power; a special Cabinet meeting for an update on Minnesota's Ebola preparedness and prevention efforts; and an evening banquet of the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association.
Republican Jeff Johnson does not have public events on his calendar Friday. His campaign said he would be fundraising and doing media interviews, and on Saturday had plans for retail campaigning in a number of locations.
Hannah Nicollet from the Independence Party has several campaign events Friday and Saturday as well. She's appearing Friday night on Duluth Almanac Extra, and at a Saturday conference in favor of marijuana legalization.
Dayton and Johnson are set to debate Sunday morning. It will be aired live on Fox 9 in the Twin Cities.
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glenn Howatt
Absentee ballots are streaming to election offices across the state but very few of those early voters are new voters, according to a Star Tribune analysis.
Only 5.6 percent of the nearly 34,000 voters who have already had ballots accepted did not vote in the last midterm election year, 2010. Another five percent did not vote in 2010 or 2012, the last presidential election year.
The analysis indicates that despite pushes from both Democrats and Republicans, new voters are not yet availing themselves of the law that allows anyone to vote by absentee.
About 34,000 people voted by absentee ballot as of Oct. 14. Another 6,000, in small, rural precincts, voted by mail.
Of the people who cast absentee ballots, 29 percent also voted absentee in both the 2010 and 2012 elections. Another 31 percent went to the polls in both of those election years.
The analysis also shows that more voters who have already had ballots counted come from Democratic areas than from Republican areas. By county, by Minnesota House district and even by precinct, more ballots are flowing in from areas that lean toward Democrats than lean toward Republicans.
Nearly half of absentee ballots have been cast by voters who live in Democratic House districts, 32 percent came from those in Republican House districts and about 19 percent came from swing districts.
Minnesota voters do not register by party so the Star Tribune does not have access to the personal politics of voters.
Keith Downey, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party, and Ken Martin, chairman of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, have both been pouring over absentee voter list. Both parties have invested in identifying voters by party.
With that data, the DFL and the Republican Party have come up with different results.
Martin, the DFL chairman, said their numbers show that 59 percent of absentee ballots have been cast by voters they have identified as Democrats. Martin said many of those Democrats are infrequent voters -- exactly the demographic they have need to turnout if the DFL is to do well this year.
The Republican Party shows statewide 39 percent of absentee votes so far have come from Republicans, 36 percent came from Democrats and 25 percent came from independent or unidentified voters, Republican chair Downey said.
Across the state, significantly more voters are opting to vote absentee than had in the 2010 election, according to the secretary of state.
Compared to nearly 40,000 accepted ballots as of Wednesday, election officials had only accepted 23,000 absentee ballots by this point in the 2010 election.
This year for the first time, anyone who wants to vote absentee can do so regardless of whether they can show up at the polls on Election Day. Previously, voters would have to offer an excuse for why they needed to vote absentee.
Below, see the number of ballots already cast and accepted, by county.
Updated to reflect more specific numbers.
|Vikings (7)||Health care (1)|
|1st District (150)||2nd District (149)|
|3rd District (119)||4th District (91)|
|5th District (171)||6th District (547)|
|Funding (669)||Health care (252)|
|Minnesota U.S. senators (616)||Minnesota campaigns (1598)|
|Minnesota congressional (849)||Minnesota governor (1764)|
|Minnesota legislature (2020)||Minnesota state senators (845)|
|National campaigns (500)||President Obama (416)|
|State budgets (835)||Celebrities (1)|
|Anoka (1)||Fridley (1)|
|2012 Presidential election (323)||7th District (116)|
|8th District (235)||NHL news (1)|
|Gov. Tim Pawlenty (455)||Political ads (116)|
|Recount (97)||Gov. Mark Dayton (1312)|
|Democrats (1199)||Republicans (1382)|
|Morning Hot Dish newsletter (116)||Sept11 (1)|
|Public safety (2)||Marriage Amendment News (1)|
|Voter ID News (2)||Budget news (4)|