It might have made for a fun parlor game back in the late ’80s. “What set of circumstances would cause a Republican candidate for governor to use ‘We are All Iron Rangers,’ as a slogan?” One must admit the smart money then and perhaps even recently would have been on “horrific natural disaster.” The Iron Range has long been a bastion of Democratic votes, persistently impervious to Republican anti-tax, pro-business arguments that have at times worked in other parts of the state.
But this day has come, and the skies above Terra Mesabi are calm and clear (if the weather be a bit brisk). Yesterday, I ran across this tweet from former House Speaker and GOP candidate for governor Kurt Zellers:
— Kurt Zellers (@KurtZellersMN) February 24, 2014
So, now that this day has come, just how did it come about?
Well, it’s just good politics. In the short run, auguring for mining-related Iron Range votes is a good endorsement and primary strategy. The MN-8 GOP spent a long time in the wilderness, but the upset win of former Rep. Chip Cravaack in 2010 (short-lived though it might have been) did prove there are votes available in this area, including in GOP primaries. In the long run, the mighty DFL Iron Range/MN-8 coalition simply isn’t preparing for a world in which its environmental and pro-mining wings learn to get along. They still could, but they aren’t now. That is an open invitation for Republican organizing on the Range.
Most likely, the GOP candidate for governor will exploit Iron Range divisions over mining to extract a few more votes than they might have received otherwise. Tom Emmer tried a similar operation in 2010 (though he started late, not nearly as early as this year’s GOP crop). Republicans will, however, (just like the DFL) be disappointed by the fact that while the political situation on the Range might be volatile, there just aren’t as many raw votes to collect. Our Range city populations have grown too small, and the area around the Range is influenced by myriad factors not related to mining.
If Republicans succeed in making the Mesabi Range more like the Cuyuna Range, a swing voting region, at best they have iced 10,000 net votes for the DFL. Not nothing. But a five-percent swing in just one metro suburb would make up for that, or a 0.5 percent swing in the top ten suburbs. So really, the people who should be worried about the Zellers ad aren’t necessarily just in Mark Dayton’s campaign, but in Rick Nolan’s and area DFL legislators’ campaigns. Dayton might be able to lose a few votes on the Range and still win, but that’s not true of Nolan.
That’s why this effort by Zellers to win over Range votes might actually be more focused on winning early Republican votes in the Eighth District. It’s no coincidence that Stewart Mills, the presumptive GOP nominee for Congress, appears in the picture.
So if way back in the ’80s you had “Feb. 24, 2014” in the pool for “When Republicans tweet “We are All Iron Rangers,” congratulations. You not only won the bet, but you correctly predicted the existence of Twitter. I’m not sure which of those is more surprising.
POSTSCRIPT: To be clear, Republican or Democratic-Farmer-Labor party governance will not the be the dominant factor in whether new mining actually happens or not. The biggest factor is whether private financing materializes. The second biggest factor is the legal process that will occur near the end of the permitting process, much of that surrounding the financial assurances given by the companies.
The rest of the mining politics debate is just kids arguing on a school bus. No matter who wins, the driver drives her weary way. Maybe we Iron Rangers could stand to focus on building our communities, rather than the 21st Century gladiator spectacle of partisan politics.