The Boys and Girls of November

Summer                                                         New (Most Heat) Moon

The boys and girls of November have begun to pick up steam, as have those who swirl around them. Polls get taken, then scrutinized. Messages tested. Mail pieces and literature designed. Voter and district targets identified. Photographs collect in files, ready for use. Ad buys begin to mount up. $300,000, I learned today, will keep a major candidate on TV and radio in the Twin Cities media market. For a week.

Elections, which seem to happen only on election day, are underway all year long. As a person outside the political realm, you may count yourself knowledgeable if you keep up with pundits and tv news. You notice mail pieces and you might talk to a campaign worker, sure, but these seemingly isolated encounters make sense only in light of the day you go to the poll.

Months before the election the professionals and hardy amateurs are already at work. In fact, for some people, the next election starts the day after election day. Or even before.

An example of the not obvious, but crucial strategic and tactical thinking that goes into campaigns is made clear by a look at Minnesota’s 8th district. The 8th seems to the casual observer to be a northern and isolated Congressional district with elections that only matter to the iron range and cities like Duluth, Virginia, Brainerd and Grand Rapids. But elections in one area matter not only to their immediate area, but to others in a complex layering that makes electoral politics very challenging.

The key layering in Minnesota happens in the eighth Congressional district where the iron range and its strong labor constituency tilts Democratic, but often in a way that is not compatible with the politics of state wide candidates like governors and senators. That conflict is strong this year with iron range miners and their families standing behind the Polymet Mining proposal while downstate environmentalists and those environmentalists who live north fight against it.

This is important not just because of the fate of the Polymet mine, but because of its effect on Rick Nolan’s chances in the 8th and its direct impact on Mark Dayton and Al Franken as they run statewide elections. A strong 8th Democratic vote is often necessary to counter the strong southern and suburban gains piled up by Republican candidates. If the 8th splits its tickets, then it can be hard for state wide Democratic candidates to win.

Look for the races to become increasingly evident after July 4th. And, if you’re annoyed by them, the pros would say, good. You’ve probably been reached the golden 7th time it takes for a message to stick.

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