Last Friday Mike McFadden, the hand picked establishment candidate for the republican nomination to run against Al Franken this fall, surprised just about everyone by doing something he hadn't done often: showed up for a public republican senate forum.
I met McFadden for the first time at my senate district convention a week ago Saturday. I found him cordial, professional and personally self-possessed. There's not a lot of professionals left in any field but he's clearly one. I wanted to hire him immediately and I had no idea for what; just hire him. Preferably using someone else's money. This is his métier.
I called him a gentleman on Twitter and hoped that it wasn't so old school of me in using that term that people wouldn't get it. I meant it and my concerns have never been personal. He gave a fine speech before the delegates and then departed with his entourage, who went out of their way not to speak with me. Those types actually go far in Minnesota republican politics. Where do you think the current generation came from?
After Mike walked away, I thought: why have they been keeping this guy under wraps? He may not be a natural candidate but he struck me as eminently coachable and everyone running for office can benefit from proper coaching, especially one who has never run before. He could be good retail but that was never why he was picked in the first instance.
Elect the selected. ™ Jack and Annette need to deliver. No, you don't get a cut of the proceeds.
At any rate, McFadden showed for the republican CD 7 senatorial forum, held in Willmar on Friday evening, the night before its convention on Saturday. He had previously said he would not be attending, hence doing the right thing came as a surprise. You'd think this would be a natural inflection point for self reflection as to how his campaign had been programmed to date but you would be wrong.
The first question to the candidates was whether they would abide by the party endorsement. Apparently the buzz was literal in the room when McFadden said he would not. I'm not sure why this news is just reaching fellow republicans in CD 7 but there you have it; the assembled republicans were not amused. Twin Cities Metro Republicans™ twist themselves into incoherent knots attempting to make the case that the party establishment should wholly fall in behind the candidate who never once considered abiding by its imprimatur, while excoriating, for example, anyone who would do the same in the race to replace Michele Bachmann. None of them are looking particularly principled.
It must be said, though, they don't seem to mind!
CD 3 republicans also had their convention last Saturday and all the senate candidates showed up to appeal to them. State Sen. Julianne Ortman won the straw poll with over 40% of the vote. She's won every one of them to date. The anger this elicits from the old boys' network is barely concealed; at every turn they prove my case but without knowing it. Please, do continue.
I could be wrong but I think I understand the McFadden team's calculus: metrics such as straw polls are beside the point because winning a primary requires a different strategy altogether.
It can. It might. It doesn't have to.
I thought McFadden would have won that straw poll in a romp because CD 3 is filled with the types who enjoy not thinking for themselves as a sign of their political savvy. That he came in a distant second should sound warning bells to the newly self-aware borg but perhaps they haven't quite gotten the hang of things yet. It should pay attention because the results may foreshadow something ominous:
Is McFadden losing the primary by degrees even before the endorsing convention is a thing of the past?
Can carpet bombing hapless republican primary voters with direct mail pieces, likely to be as unsubstantial as the campaign run thus far, or pestering television viewers with ads cut from the same "green shirt" video, do the trick? Remember, that's the sophisticated thinking: money is pretty much everything in the race to compete against Franken.
To disagree with that premise isn't to say that money is unimportant, although that's frequently the response I get from "tell me what to do" republicans activists and pundits when the point is made.
Yet despite, not because of, all the money raised and spent to date, with promises of oceans more in the general election, the dogfood is not being eaten. If they don't eat it in the 3rd CD you might want to ask yourself if there's a larger problem with your overall strategy. The lazy assumption, widely shared I must disappointingly confess, is McFadden wins the primary easily over Dahlberg or Ortman because Minnesota republican primary voters are simply amoeba who respond predictably to changes in their petri dish.
Maybe he will but where's the evidence that remote forms of contact with voters will get them to support the guy whose team made it a point never to let them get to know in the first place? Who most of the time refused to let him show up and then crowed with self-congratulation when they did last weekend? Genius never looked so dense.
In my estimation, Minnesota republicans want an authentic fighter who will champion their values and policy positions but in a way that is inclusive and welcoming. None of them think it will be easy to defeat Franken but all of them think it's quite possible. I agree.
In order to do so, however, they have to have some connection with the candidate who is asking for their support. Tomorrow is the beginning of April, an awfully late date for those in charge of McFadden's campaign to realize the human element is always central in any race.
Team McFadden might be waking up just in time to catch the end of their own movie.