Nolan wins MN-8 straw poll; implications abound

Rick Santorum’s massive win in the Minnesota Republican caucuses is dominating headlines this morning, but we should also take note of the nonbinding MN-8 DFL straw poll held in Democratic caucuses last night.

With incomplete returns and unclear origins of the reporting precincts, early results from the MN-8 DFL show Rick Nolan with a large lead in the straw poll. I would expect, barring an unusual revelation, he will be named the winner of the straw poll sometime this morning. The most recent results were posted at 1 a.m. over at the MN Progressive Project. Those results show Nolan over 50 percent.

Jeff Anderson is in second, somewhere in the high 20s or near 30 percent (I don’t know enough about the vote totals and their origins to report them as fact). Clark trails in third with just under 10 percent, running more or less even with “undecided.”

Nolan absolutely dominated the southern and western portions of the 8th, especially the areas he once represented in Congress when those areas were in his old district.

Anderson gets to claim some success, however, in that he performed very well in the traditional DFL corridor leading from Duluth up north to the Range. In parts of the Range he crushed Nolan and Clark.

As a nonbinding straw poll, these figures won’t determine the delegate allocation that will ultimately decide the DFL endorsement. They do indicate the general thinking of the people who will serve as delegates at local unit conventions in a couple months.

These results, if they hold, produce the following situations for each of the candidates:

Rick Nolan
Nolan can claim a big win, one that he absolutely had to have. But he should take comfort in that he delivered such a dominant win. He remains the front runner for the DFL endorsement, which he alone has agreed to honor.

Jeff Anderson
Anderson’s support on the Range and Duluth shows he has strong support in areas that deliver most of the DFL votes in a primary. He has two options. The most likely is that he competes honestly for the endorsement but proceeds to a DFL primary banking on support from those areas. The other option he has is to try to knock Nolan out by using that primary election “electability” argument to snatch the endorsement during the complicated endorsement process at local conventions. He could gamble by agreeing to honor the endorsement that he would create a unified coalition to move forward to a primary with an endorsed candidate, should a primary occur.

Tarryl Clark
Clark’s troubles with 8th district regulars was apparent last night. Her weakness in the poll is solely related to her move from the 6th district to the 8th for this run. She does, however, have the most money by far and support from national groups that could keep that money flowing. Her strategy now, should she choose to continue (and she almost certainly will) would be entirely focused on the primary.

Clark has an outside chance of winning a three-way primary, should Anderson and an endorsed Nolan end up in one, simply by splitting the coalitions that rejected her last night and turning out people predisposed to support her. Her risk, however, is the “Entenza Problem.” In 2010, the well-funded Matt Entenza went into a DFL governor primary with the endorsed Margaret Anderson Keliher and Mark Dayton and lost badly, despite a professional campaign and big spending.

Clark needs a plan to somehow change the dynamic of this race, and it must involve reassuring people about her decision to run in a district that she’s not originally from. I expect she now waits for the redistricting maps in two weeks to see if the new district is more or less favorable to her to make a decision about all that.

For that reason it would be politically wise for Anderson and Nolan’s supporters to coalesce somehow. But because both are declaring some version of “victory” this morning that appears unlikely until we get to the Eighth District convention later this spring.

It would appear that one of the MN-8 DFL candidates would have to make a bold impact on the endorsement race to change the likelihood of a three-way primary that any of them could theoretically win.


  1. Nolan is not going to win based on the portions of the district he represented 30 years ago.

    For one thing, the district he represented was mostly the southwest corner of Minnesota. Only Mille Lac county is in the current 8th.

    For another that was over 30 years ago. There aren’t that many voters from that era still around.

    I think Nolan has benefited to some extent from confusion about both his district and the benefits of his experience. At our caucus some people seemed to be under the impression that Nolan would have seniority from his prior service. It doesn’t work that way. And experience works both ways, he has a record for someone to run against. I wonder how a liberal Democratic voting record from the 70’s will play in today’s political environment in the 8th district.

    I don’t know if Clark can overcome her carpetbagger label. Its not going to happen on the Range, but it may be a different story in other parts of the district. With less than a third of the votes coming from the Range and Duluth (in the general election at least), it may be less of an issue than we think.

    Entenza was not running against under-financed campaigns. I think the question for both Anderson and Nolan is whether they can raise the money both to win a primary and a general election campaign that is going to see huge amounts of outside money spent. The Republican primaries give us a preview of the kind of money that will be flowing during the general election.

    I don’t really know which candidate is better. Nolan was a good guy when he was in Congress. Anderson is a Ranger and knows the northern part of the district. Clark has the modern campaign experience. I am skeptical that either Nolan or Anderson will have the financial resources to take on an endorsed candidate and Clark. I doubt Clark can win the DFL endorsement.

  2. Good post and good comment by Ross Williams. There are a few seniority benefits to Nolan’s previous service, but nothing really consequential for the 8th district. I’ve seen that seniority argument a lot, too.

    The bottom line for Anderson is that he needs to raise some money if he wants to compete in a primary without the endorsement (or, for that matter, with the endorsement.) The high risk/high reward play is to declare that he’ll abide by the endorsement and go for it full bore. In fact, that might be his only play.

  3. Anderson’s strength in the traditional heart of the district will only increase in two weeks when the lines are redrawn and Nolan loses even more of his support from last night.

    In the end, it will come down to these two candidates and the question of would voters rather have a progressive voice that is 35, or one that is 70. Both are great candidates, but one won’t require the voters to start the seniority clock over again in two to four years.

  4. Actually I was wrong about seniority. The Senate doesn’t really recognize previous service except as a tie-breaker, but the House does. Nolan will get credit for one less term than he served:

  5. All I can say is Republicans throughout the 8th District are asking very politely that their DFL brethren nominate Clark. Please…

  6. David,

    I wouldn’t mind Clark, but I’d much rather face Anderson. Nolan is the one I think would be the toughest to beat. I don’t really think that the attacks on Oberstar for not spending enough time here really played all that big of a role in him losing. It just happened to be the perfect candidate in the perfect year. As long as Chip keeps himself visible the next nine months, I don’t think that his family living in New Hampshire is going to play all that big of a role either.

    The reason I think Nolan would be toughest to beat is he’s the only candidate that would be able to dig into where Cravaack did well in 2010. Anderson would get destroyed worse than Oberstar in the southern parts of the district and Brainerd. And it’s not so much the gay issue as it is the fact that he’ll be seen as an ultra lefty. While Nolan won’t beat Chip in those parts of the district, he won’t get killed either. While Anderson may be able to beat Chip on the Range, I see the margin being close. Nolan would do well on the Range and it wouldn’t be particularly close. In a matchup between Cravaack and Anderson, I see Chip winning by 10 points. Against Clark, I think Cravaack would win by about five. Against Nolan, I think Cravaack would win by 2-3 points.

    Bt then again, it’s still very possible that Cravaack and Nolan won’t even be in the 8th district when the lines are announced on Feb 21.

  7. Nolan absolutely is the most dangerous candidate and you nail the reason precisely. Here in Crow Wing County there was a huge swing from Oberstar to Cravaack and if he could cut into that it might be enough. I’m amazed the DFL is even toying with anyone else.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.