A group of current and former DFL legislators wrote a letter to party leaders criticizing DFL campaign strategy that they say “intentionally ignores many voters and offends others.”
An eight-page memo obtained by the Star Tribune was signed by 11 sitting lawmakers, including greater Minnesota stalwarts Rep. Paul Marquart of Dilworth and Sen. Kent Eken of Twin Valley, but also Twin Cities legislators like Sen. John Marty of Roseville and Rep. Paul Rosenthal of Edina.
The dissension comes amid a contested election for party chair Saturday between DFL Chair Ken Martin, who is running for re-election, and liberal activist and former associate chair Donna Cassutt.
The letter illustrates the angst roiling the party in the face of crushing losses in the 2016 election. The DFL lost its majority in the state Senate as President Donald Trump tallied an unexpectedly strong showing, nearly breaking a 42-year Republican losing streak in the presidential race here.
The memo to the DFL State Central Committee criticizes the party’s strategy for reaching voters via face-to-face, door-to-door conversations. The DFL is emphasizing data collection and a too-small group of targeted voters at the expense of a broader approach that would try to reach more Minnesotans and in a friendlier fashion, the memo argues through anonymous anecdotes.
“Particularly in greater Minnesota, where there are few rural DFL legislators who survived recent elections, most of the survivors are candidates who rejected the DFL coordinated campaign’s tactics, which they consider counterproductive,” the letter read.
Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, who was not one of the signatories, said it’s always good to rethink approaches, especially after the 2016 results. However, she added: “I don’t think we should be making decisions based on anecdotes.” The DFL’s data-centric approach that did not work in 2016 worked well in 2012 when the party took full control of state government, she said.
As for criticism of the DFL voter database, which is the lifeblood of the party’s efforts to keep track of voters, she said, “I wouldn’t want to run without it.”
Political operatives of both parties have spent years honing their voter outreach methods with new technologies in an attempt to efficiently reach voters who are most likely to vote for their candidate or can be persuaded to do so. The memo charges that the DFL’s methods too often ignore local knowledge and underestimate the ability of quality candidates to reach voters of all stripes.
The timing of the letter has irked some in the DFL, whose central committee is meeting Saturday to elect a chair. Without naming him, the letter appears to be an attack on Martin. He declined to comment on it.
Sen. Dan Schoen of St. Paul Park, a Martin supporter, said the DFL was saddled with the effects of the presidential race. He said Martin had built the necessary infrastructure for success since he took over at the urging of Gov. Mark Dayton after his 2010 election.
Sen. Chris Eaton of Brooklyn Center, who signed the letter because she said she wants the party to rethink some door-knocking tactics, is supporting Martin, she said.
“He can bring the resources — financial and organizational — to bring the party together,” Eaton said.
J. Patrick Coolican • 651-925-5042