By Labor Day we will know with relative certainty the winners of the Minnesota Governor and U.S Senate elections this fall.
It’s not that I have inside information or a direct line to the Almighty.
It’s because the State Fair will tell us.
I’ve operated there as a food vendor all of my adult life and have been in politics about as long. Every election season I use this quintessential Minnesota gathering as a barometer of public attitudes toward political parties and candidates.
It is about as accurate as any poll I have ever read.
The State Fair is a conglomeration of Minnesota culture. Far from being just an agricultural exposition, it is a rich cross section of Midwestern humanity that falls at a strategically crucial time of the political election cycle.
The hand of the electorate is tipped at this event. It is evident in the body language of the attendees, T-shirt slogans, buttons, snippets of arguments overheard in the din of the crowd, gratuitous insults hurled toward one side and fawning admiration crooned by the other.
These nuanced demonstrations of temperament and tendency are rock solid hints of the likely outcomes in the upcoming elections.
Take 2012 for example. In 2012, the mounting hostility to the Marriage Constitutional Amendment that would ban gay marriage was palpable at the Fair. Earlier polls suggested that the darkest impulses of human nature would prevail.
But there were curious rumblings at the Fair.
Pro-gay marriage political collateral overwhelmed the opposition’s. I was standing by the Marriage Amendment booth and the priest who was lecturing an opponent on the evils of sodomy was met with spontaneous boos from bystanders. I was pretty sure this exchange heralded the coming of an electoral earthquake, even though the polls didn't.
So what’s going to happen this fall? Here is what the masses at the Fair tells us:
If the Democrats have an enthusiasm gap this year, the Republicans have a yawning chasm.
Their party faithful is lethargic. This lack of pizazz is reflected in the leading Conservative candidates—the somnolent Jeff Johnson for Governor and soporific Mike McFadden for Senate, who will have to manufacture custom-made personas--or slanderous ads-- to keep us awake.
With all the venom spewing from the reptilian national Republican message machine, the flared nostrils and fiery rhetoric that emanated from the Right’s rank-and-file in past elections is oddly absent at this year’s Fair.
The truth is, Senator Franken has acquitted himself nicely with voters concerned with his comedic pedigree; he has proven to be a savvy bridge builder and serious problem solver. The Governor has turned in a stellar performance on nearly every economic and social indicator. He could be the best performing Governor since the 1970's, when national media waxed on about The Good Life In Minnesota under a previous Democratic Governor.
That silent recognition is in keeping with the temperament of this year’s fairgoers, whose seeming contentment tells us they don’t see a need to make big changes.
So, to my friends at the DFL who are wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth over turnout, it is wise to repeat the old political saw that low voter turnout tends to hurt Democrats. But even wiser to remember that VERY low voter turnout is likely to hurt Republicans even more.
Strong job performance by the incumbents and mushy challengers who lack a natural ability to ignite their base is why voters seem more interested in the judging of ribboned state fair horses than the riding of political ones. As we approach the final stretch of the 2014 elections, the inside track is held by the incumbents.
Indications are for a modest turnout and likely re-election of the states top elected officials.
The observed attitude of the fairgoing public prophesizes it.