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The Senate District 15 and House District 15b Special Election

How I see it

It’s cliche but true, most battles are won or lost before the battle actually takes place. If you haven’t read Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and you’re a politico, you’re doing yourself a disservice. When Sue Ek signed the affidavit 6 months ago about her St. Paul residency, it was the first in a series of mistakes that lead to the massive failure of having no one on the ballot in District 15b.

No matter what anyone says, Sue should have known her residency might be called into question. In the end, it’s the candidate that needs to make sure they live in the district in which they want to run for office. If there’s any question at all, even if you get a decision in your favor in a hearing, you still look like a carpetbagger.

Another mistake was the lack of cooperation between the Kay Ek campaign and the Ochsner campaign. I won’t comment on some of the stuff I noticed, I did notice an effort to separate Ox from the Ek fiasco. That was a mistake. It was based on the wrong assumptions. Special elections are about base turnout. In this election there was 24% voter turnout (Minnesota averages in the high 60s for voter turnout in the general election, after some research I found that this Senate district averages about 75% voter turnout in the general elections). There is about a 6000 voter GOP base in district 15B. You don’t need centrists or moderates to win in an special election like this, you just need to get half your base to vote. Had that been accomplished the election would have been decided by less than 500 votes.

District 15b is a very difficult one for Republicans. In 2002 the Republican only received 38% of the vote, in 2004 it was 36% of the vote. A special election should have been a great opportunity to pick off a DFL seat. But because of the residency problem that opportunity is gone. It wasn’t just the residency problem, it was the way the GOP handled the problem. Feet were dragged, the second campaign (the Kay Ek write-in campaign) took too long to get going, it could have started a week earlier when it became clear the Sue Ek would not be on the ballot.

However, I credit the GOP with having the fortitude to go ahead with the write-in campaign. Ron Carey didn’t shy away from it, he told the DFL that the GOP would give them a fight, and it happened. I wish more candidates facing tough districts would promise and deliver the DFL a fight on their turf. Hearing Ron Carey on the radio gave me confidence in him for 2006.

To repeat what I mentioned earlier, I didn’t like seeing the Ochsner campaign shying away from the Kay Ek campaign. There was a general attitude that being associated with the Ek fiasco was going to hurt Ox. “A house divided cannot stand,” I think Jesus said that first. A better level of cooperation would have helped out both Kay Ek and Ox. The reason I bring this up is because District 15b is such a bad one for the GOP. Ox’s people should have focused on 15a, where there was no House race, to get out the vote. Had there been good cooperation of a well oiled campaign, the Ek people could have done a bang up job getting the GOP base in the tough 15a district, and the Ox people could have been more available to focus on getting GOP voters in the more favorable 15a side.

Ox himself may have made some mistakes. “To thine own self be true,” I think that was Shakespeare. Ox’s lit pieces were noted for the obvious photoshop work done to them. I don’t think it was a big deal, but some of the other pictures were questionable as well. One picture was Ox, his wife, and a child. Ox doesn’t have any kids, the child was his Godchild. I got emails about that picture. There were a number of the standard “family” photos of Ox. Ox is a radio personality, he shouldn’t hide from that, he can’t. The lit pieces just didn’t portray the Ox I know and love.

Also, when I was volunteering for Ox, I noted some intra-campaign animosity. Ox was fortunate to have the GOP Senate Caucus, some other GOP staff, College Republicans, and his own set of campaign volunteers working for him. Yet there was miscommunication between everyone, and sometimes doors were knocked twice in the same day, other problems, personality conflicts, etc. This is another Sun Tzu axiom, you need to know your troops and make sure they’re ready for battle. This is just inexperience.

The radio ads I listened to were great and well done.

The strategy (unlike what Tony says about it) was a good one: The GOP staff decided to bypass moderate voters and focus on the base. Perfect, if Ox gets half the GOP base to vote (about 7,000 voters) he wins by 500 votes. This means Ox needs to call them, they need to be visited, they should get a friendly Christmas greeting, and on election day they need to get a reminder to vote. This obviously didn’t happen.

Moderate voters and centrists are just not going to vote, and even if they do vote they’ll be unreliable. If you look at the numbers, neither candidate needed a single moderate or centrist in this election. The voters are fatigued right now, and I’ve written about this before. Centrist and moderates are disenfranchised with both parties right now, and Gerry Daly noted this when we interviewed him on Race to the Right not too long ago. Moderates aren’t interested in either party, so don’t bother with them, they’re just not going to vote. You can see this in the low approval ratings in polls. Those low approval ratings apply to congress, Bush, the government in general.

You also need to add the fact that a huge percentage of the voters in District 15 had recently voted in the St. Cloud mayoral race. Voter fatigue should have been expected, and it was shown true by the low voter turnout. Trying to get people who are fatigued, disenfranchised and apathetic to vote is a waste of time in a special election. The people who will be willing, if they know about it, are going to be the base. You just need to inspire them to vote and they’ll vote. End of story.

The DFL base is interested in voting. They’re frustrated with the war, with Bush, with their loss in 2004. They’re looking for some payback. Tarryl Clark succeeded in getting half her base to vote for her. It’s easier of the Democrats to do this right now, so the GOP needs to work harder. In fact, this alone may have made this campaign a lost cause for Ox and Ek from the start.

There is a lot the GOP needs to be concerned about in this election. There is also a lot a good news here too. Ron Carey sounded like a leader. Ochsner now has some experience under his belt. That’s the best part about making mistakes, the chance to learn from them.

I’m not going to write about everything I saw. I have some stuff about youth movement, winning psychology, grassroots efforts and precint level organization. I’ll save everyone the bore. There will be plenty of time to discuss election strategy in the next 6 months without the need to heap on Ox. I want to sit down and talk with him in depth about the election. I’m certain I’ll get the chance, too. Hopefully it’s not a chance brought about by him chewing me out over this post. I don’t think he reads my blog anyway (but he should).

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