NEW ULM - The Minnesota House and Senate are poised for Democrat takeovers this election, according to state DFL chair Ken Martin.
Martin said Wednesday during his visit to New Ulm that his claim was more than DFL wishful thinking. He cited three factors - division in the Republican Party, public reaction to the GOP leadership and a refocus of Democrats after the 2010 losses. These factors put the six House seats and four Senate seats needed to gain majorities within the DFL's grasp.
The Republican Party of Minnesota is struggling with many issues, ranging from financial difficulties to a scandal involving a party leader.
However, Martin said the factor that will have the most importance in the 2012 election is "the civil war within the Republican Party."
"The DFL has gone through its own internal strife in the past. But, I don't think I've ever seen something this pronounced before," said Martin. "An already fairly right-leaning party is being challenged by people even further to the right. They're tearing themselves apart from the inside."
In his view, this situation has left the Republican Party disorganized and unenthusiastic about the upcoming elections. It gives the DFL a clear, strategic advantage when campaigning.
He pointed to Minnesota's 1st Congressional District race between Mike Parry and Allen Quist to be the Republican challenger to DFL incumbent Rep. Tim Walz as a clear example. He argued that 1st District voters tend to prefer moderates, emphasizing a candidate's ability to help the district over partisan politics.
"You have these two far-right candidates pivoting further right to be the candidate. They're going to have a very hard time turning back towards moderate voters in August," said Martin, "I think Walz has an advantage. The election won't be as close as people think."
Martin suggested that the Republican Party's shift to the right was caused by purging individuals who didn't exactly follow party lines. He also faulted campaign reform of the '80s and '90s with having the unintended consequence of making it harder for lawmakers to get to know each other as individuals.
Democrats will also benefit from an ineffective two years with the Republican-controlled Legislature. He accused the Republican Party, which ran on job creation and tax cuts to gain its majorities, of failing to enact legislation on either.
"The Democrats and [Gov. Mark Dayton] were the ones that brought forward the Vikings stadium bill, the bonding bill and the Governor's jobs bill. The only substantive thing the Republicans passed was two divisive constitutional amendments," said Martin, "In fact, their recklessness with removing the Market Value Credit actually increased taxes for most homeowners and businesses."
Martin said that the DFL is more unified than it has been in years due to the 2010 losses. He said it has consciously not presented any "sacrificial lamb" candidates in any state race. The party hopes its highly focused approach will dominate the disorganized Republicans.
"We made some big mistakes in 2010 by following the conventional wisdom of focusing only on independent voters, not the already-decided DFL and Republicans voters. We should have been targeting our DFL voters too. They were frustrated and unenthusiastic, so they stayed home in big numbers that year," said Martin.
He said his party had waited 20 years for a DFL governor, so it is intent on providing DFL majorities for Mark Dayton to work with.
Martin feels the DFL has good chances at winning one or both of the legislative districts that include Brown County. DFL candidates Ted Suss, who is running for Senate District 16, and James Kanne, who is running for House District 16B, have prior political experience and have emphasized a bipartisan approach.
Martin hopes to eventually turn Brown County more DFL friendly.
"They believed that we shouldn't run in Brown County because it's too Republican to have a chance. But, you can't turn a red county into a purple or blue county unless you try," said Martin.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)