Urbanites Campaigning Up North: What Does It Mean?

It’s not even July yet and already I’ve interviewed two candidates in the 2018 election for governor as they campaigned through Brainerd.

So far, it’s been two Democrats — Erin Murphy and Paul Thissen — zero Republicans.

I’m kind of surprised the two came at all, because electioneering these days is less and less about picking up swing voters and moderates, and more about who motivates the biggest portion of their partisan base out to vote.  The Brainerd area itself is staunchly Republican — Crow Wing County voted 62.18 percent for Trump, more than twice that of Clinton’s 30.64 percent total.  Our area has consistently served as  8th Congressional District candidate Stewart Mills III’s base, including last year, when he took 58.92 percent of the Crow Wing County vote compared to Rick Nolan’s 40.88 percent.

Both DFL candidates I interviewed served in House of Representatives leadership, which arguably makes them better suited to bridge gaps between points of view — think of all the factions and egos within one party a leader has to make coexist in order to get things done. Murphy has spent every legislative biennium in some sort of legislative leadership role, except her freshman term and the current term. Thissen was speaker of the House during the 2013-2014 legislative biennium, and did several terms as minority leader before and after that. Murphy was majority leader during the same time period.

Both have backgrounds tied closely with the Twin Cities: Murphy with St. Paul, and Thissen with Minneapolis.

I asked both Murphy and Thissen how their urban essence would fare amid rural Minnesota voters, who will most likely be more inclined to vote for the Republican candidate.

Are the two hopelessly tilting at windmills by coming out here to God’s country? Not if they have anything to say about it. Here’s an excerpt from my April article on Murphy:

Asked whether her urban background would pose a liability for her when trying to attract rural voters during the governor’s race, Murphy pointed out she had a small-town background early in her life. Her hometown of Columbus, Wis., has about 5,000 people in it. But more importantly, she said, her work as a nurse had given her the chance to engage with people from all over the state.

Asked what specific issues she felt impacted rural Minnesota, Murphy named the workforce shortage, an economically depressed Iron Range, education and health care.

From my interview with Thissen a few days ago:

He posited that he’s uncommonly qualified to understand the happenings in far-flung corners of the state. Aside from U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, it’s likely no leader has traveled the state more thoroughly in the past decade, he said.

Asked what he thought of the idea that there’s a political divide between rural and Twin Cities voters, Thissen acknowledged there’s some truth to it, although that truth is exploited by politicians.

“There is a lot of connective tissue that brings Minnesotans together,” he said. “But, depending on where you live, what the heritage of the community is, what the economics of the community are, all of those things actually affect how you view the world, and how public policy needs to be applied.”

Maybe the two will change enough minds to prove that swing voters are still important. Maybe they’ll motivate enough of the liberals scattered in the rural cities to make a difference.

All of this DFL activity brings up the question of where the heck the Republican gubernatorial candidates are. I know they exist, because I’ve seen their campaign ads. Do they feel the Brainerd area is a lock for them?  If they ever make it up here, I’ll ask them.

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