Minnesota DFL Party Chair Ken Martin entered the weekend of his re-election vote in a comfortable spot, with no opponent and riding a long streak of statewide electoral and fundraising successes.
Yet that doesn't stop Martin from painting a daunting picture of the challenges that await his party.
"One of the reasons that I decided to run again is that the next two years are going to be pivotal for setting the state for the next decade," Martin said, previewing a redistricting process that will likely touch off a painful round of restructuring in the party around the same time that the 2022 campaign season will be in full swing.
"I think it is important to be realistic with your stakeholders and others with the challenges that you're facing," Martin said. "Oftentimes I see political leaders put on rosy glasses. If you approach every election cycle with the same strategy and same strategic lens, you're not going to be successful."
Martin's party is coming off a string of statewide election wins, and more than $130 million raised compared to the state Republican Party's $45 million during his 10-year tenure. Of that, the Minnesota DFL Party has $2.5 million in the bank compared to $55,000 on the GOP side.
But Martin is not complacent — he still thinks back to the party he inherited a decade ago. It was fresh off bruising defeats in the 2010 cycle and $725,000 in debt. When then-Gov. Mark Dayton asked Martin to run for party chair, he said his first response was "hell, no."
"I'm glad I did," he says now. "It was a real turnaround job — the party was in deep disrepair. There's no doubt the party is much stronger than when I inherited it and stronger than it's ever been in its 77-year history."
Last week, the DFL also added four new staffers to bolster its grassroots organizing and outreach around the state.
On the Republican side, State GOP Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan has confirmed that she is seeking a third term. She will be running against state Sen. Mark Koran, R-North Branch, in April for control of a party that is still seeking to find success in statewide races.
For the DFL, Martin predicts "huge headwinds" in 2022 between a late redistricting process — one in which the state is likely to lose a congressional seat — and a midterm election that is not often kind to the party in power.
"This requires, I think, some stability in the party," Martin said. "It is not the time to change horses amid this ecosystem."
Martin was just elected to a third term as president of the Association of State Democratic Committees, a wing of the Democratic National Committee that oversees Democratic state parties around the country. Martin interprets his re-election as a national commentary on the success of his party here.
"The Minnesota DFL is really looked at as one of the gold standards for state parties around the country," Martin said. "Here in Minnesota, it is hard for folks to recognize what we've built. But people around the country really look to our state, and I'm proud of that."
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755