Phifer, Radinovich hold best cards for DFL endorsement

Leah Phifer

This weekend Leah Phifer expanded her delegate lead for the DFL endorsement for Congress in Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District. Phifer, a former homeland security analyst from Isanti County, drew a large number of named and uncommitted delegates in Duluth while carrying Lake and Cook county conventions as well.

Phifer’s chief rival for the endorsement, former State Rep. Joe Radinovich, carried his home convention in Crow Wing County and outpaced Phifer in Aitkin County. However, Radinovich remains solidly in second place.

Phifer’s biggest victory was in the district’s largest city of Duluth. There Phifer won seven named delegates out of 23, with many uncommitted delegates also pledging support to her campaign. She’ll have about half the Duluth delegates come April 14, at least on the first ballot.

Phifer’s native Lake County gave her 2.5 out of 3 delegates. She took all of Cook County’s three delegates.

In Crow Wing County I have conflicting campaign reports. Radinovich certainly won there, netting anywhere from three to seven delegates over Phifer depending on who you talk to. Radinovich needed a lot of delegates there and it sounds like he did well.

No other candidate drew a named delegate from this weekend’s conventions. State Rep. Jason Metsa may have found a few uncommitted votes in Duluth, as did Radinovich. Retired TV journalist Michelle Lee probably has one delegate in Duluth.

Both Metsa and Lee have been gearing for a run in the primary election next August rather than honoring the April 14 party endorsement process. North Branch Mayor Kirsten Kennedy remains on the stump, vowing to honor the endorsement, but hasn’t built a significant base of convention delegates.

It now appears that Phifer will have no problem breaking 40 percent on the first ballot. Sixty percent is needed for an endorsement to be conferred, however, and that’s where this gets tricky.

If Phifer can get to 50 percent on the first ballot, that means she has enough delegates to ensure that convention rules provide for multiple ballots. That will allow delegates to switch support as they realize their candidate can’t win endorsement. This is the normal way that conventions run. Given the inevitability of a primary election, however, there could well be efforts to upend the tradition of endorsing a candidate.

Joe Radinovich

So the next question is whether Radinovich breaks 40 percent. He’s close, but probably not quite there. With 40 percent, Radinovich can block an endorsement for as long as his support holds out.

Things can change as the night grows long. No one worth their MN-8 salt can avoid mentioning the 1974 DFL convention showdown between Tony Perpich and Jim Oberstar that lasted more than thirty ballots. (Fewer seem to remember that Oberstar lost that battle, only winning after a primary challenge).

That leaves Metsa’s delegates in the mix. Metsa, sitting in a distant third, has no chance for endorsement. So either his delegates become independent actors or he tries to hold them together toward some strategic end. The best outcome for Metsa is no endorsement. But as I’ve written before, delegates hate no endorsement as an outcome. That’s why Radinovich has a better than average chance of reeling in several Metsa delegates. If he does, he and Phifer enter a final showdown for the endorsement.

Will Phifer bleed support to Radinovich? Will Radinovich’s supporters tip toward Phifer? Which is more likely? What if we’re just a few points away from an endorsement? What will happen then?

Much of this will come down to some very old fashioned politicking. Speeches and floor game. About 160 egos, including some gargantuan superdelegate egos, will need to be sated.

If Phifer is endorsed, DFLers likely get a Phifer vs. Metsa vs. Lee primary. If Radinovich is endorsed, it’s Radinovich vs. Metsa vs. Lee. No endorsement? Four or five candidates rush ahead into an unpredictable primary where the best funded candidate probably ends up winning. Maybe someone has a change of heart between April 14 and the summer filing period.

But in terms of the April 14 DFL convention, it’s Phifer, Radinovich or no endorsement. Nothing else is plausible.

The convuluted race already drew the attention of Politico this weekend. But the stern tut-tutting of national political watchers won’t change much. This thing has to play out all the way.

Republican Pete Stauber and Independent Ray “Skip” Sandman await the winner. Minnesota’s Eighth will likely become another scorched earth Congressional race one of the nation’s most expensive, most volatile districts.



  1. Kelly Dahl says

    Metasa told me the night before the OU3 convention that he would honor the endorsement if there is one. I was a delegate to the convention. I expected him to be truthful so I would like him to confirm it publically.

  2. The most interesting take away from the Politico story is that it only focused on Phifer and Mesta….so why Metsa? He has almost no support thus far. He should have been invisible. Looks a lot like some powerful folks have their thumbs on the scale. Seems obvious that the multi national mining companies want either Stauber or Metsa, either way they win. I’ve said it before, if the perception coming out of the convention is that the fix is in then the DFL in NE Minnesota is in trouble.

    Interesting that the 74 convention went 30 ballots…says much about the integrity of the process back then. As for my salt creds..I was stuffing mailboxes for Tony Perpich.

    • I think you’re reading a bit much into the article. It was done based on telephone interviews over a single day. I know quite a few people who were called, including my wife, who told the reporter she didn’t have much to say but referred them to Joan Peterson, who did get quoted. The people who turned up in the article reflect who the reporter was able to reach on short notice, and who were willing to stick their necks out to say something on the record that had some appeal to the readers. Metsa probably was available on the phone and gave a tight quote.

      The main point is that they were looking for a district where Dems were having trouble as a balance to the hundreds of stories written detailing the disarray for the GOP around the country.

      • I talked to someone else who was contacted by the reporter for the article too. She said the reporter was trying to get a number to reach Stauber. Apparently, since Stauber is not quoted, they were not successful, and had to get quotes from other GOPers. They most likely had the same trouble with some of the DFL candidates.

  3. Matt Steele says

    How does Phifer plan to get any money or campaign help from the metro with her deportationist background? That’s going to be a huge liability if she’s the DFLer heading into the general election.

  4. deportationist? Wow cool new word. Metro? where is that? and why is it pertinent?

    • Like it or not, a large share of the money spent in CD8 elections comes from outside the district. For DFLers, the biggest source is the Twin Cities, while for the GOP out of state sources are the largest.

      The national GOP is fully committed to the CD8 race, and will be donating large amounts to Stauber and supporting his campaign with “independent” organization money as well. The DFL candidate is going to need a lot of money to counter. This is especially true since a significant part of the district is in the Twin Cities media market, where ads cost a fortune. Both sides will also be spending heavily on web advertising. Last time out, in 2016, total spending for the seat was calculated at near $30 million. The individual campaigns spent $5 million to $7 million each. There will be more money this time.

      Phifer will need to raise money to win if she is the candidate, and some of that needs to come from the Twin Cities. Right now, some people connected with the party and with the immigration reform movement have been raising issues of concern about Phifer’s role in ICE and about the Minnesota Post editorial she wrote praising ICE — something I am sure she wishes she had back at the moment. She has gotten a lot of negative word of mouth, blog, and some small press on the topic.

      However, if she is the DFL candidate, I do not believe that DFL deep pockets will deny donations to Phifer and hand the race to Stauber. I expect that she is going to have to eat some crow in the process in walking back the op-ed, but I expect she will make peace with immigration activists. She is already doing a lot to lay down positions on immigration that are consistent with the agenda of activists. Last night at the forum in Duluth, she cut into the time of one of her own answers on another topic to specifically point out that Stauber’s argument in support of the Wall was foolish, and that it would have absolutely no impact on drug trafficking or on criminals entering the country. Since over 95% of opioid smuggling is done concealed on 18 wheel trucks entering the country legally, and since criminals come in via either being concealed on the same trucks, by boat or small plane, or by using forged documents to arrive by commercial airplane, she was of course right. I took this to be both her own legitimate idea as well as a nice effort to propel herself to the foreground among the DFL candidates on the issue.

      I expect that whoever the DFL candidate is, the prospect of losing the seat in an election that has, at this point, a good chance of flipping control of the House and some chance of flipping the Senate will cause the vast majority of DFL activists, whether they are union members and supporters, immigration activists, environmental activists, or others, to close ranks to support the candidate and oppose a GOP candidate who is not losing much time in laying down positions that support hard core GOP positions that will badly hurt all of those activist positions much worse than any disagreement within the DFL.

  5. Interesting coverage, thank you, Aaron. Do you plan to/are you willing to publish a complete count of named delegates? That would be useful. Lots of assumptions regarding uncommitted delegates, and I’d be interested to see more information or attributed quotes supporting the idea that Joe R is “close to 40%.” Obviously each campaign has their own assertions regarding uncommitted delegates, but I’ve been in Little Falls, North Branch, and Duluth and if there’s significant delegate support for Joe R there, it is extremely underground.

  6. Bill Hansen says

    You wrote in an earlier post, “Phifer’s campaign generates enthusiasm that continues to surprise longtime DFL insiders.” That enthusiasm was obvious when the candidates spoke in Duluth. No one is a perfect candidate, but Leah Phifer is close. She has the broadest geographical reach, deep family roots in both the mining and service industries, real world national security experience, a masters degree in public policy from the Humphrey School, proven organizing skills (ask Rick Nolan), is fluent in Spanish and has worked incredibly hard since deciding to run. Not that gender is a qualification for office, but she is a strong, future focused woman in this “Year of the Woman.” She has also been the candidate who talks the most frequently and convincingly about uniting the DFL. All of these attributes, along with being a great listener, have convinced me that she is the dream candidate for a DFL victory in November.

    • After watching the whole group of candidates at St. Scholastica on Sunday, I came away convinced that all three women are better candidates than the four men. The candidate who surprised me was Kennedy, who emerged, in my mind and the minds of everyone I talked with who was not already committed to a candidate, as the “winner” of the evening, at least partly because the was coming from being the most unknown of the seven candidates and did so well. Michelle Lee has very strong stage presence, and a natural tendency to tie her points to stories about people, but did spend a bit too much time looking at her notes. If the forum had been on radio, she might have won, but perhaps Phifer might have come out on top, because she used a very mannered delivery with over the top body language and facial expressions that undermined her to some extent. The interesting thing about that is that the other time I saw her, at a meet and greet, she spoke for an hour and a half to a crowd of about 40-50 people with a very relaxed and comfortable manner and none of the mannerisms. I assume that it was due to nerves, or perhaps she is more comfortable speaking standing than sitting. Perhaps she and her handlers, including Bill, can work through that with practice. I expect Lee will improve with practice too. Kennedy would have a hard time improving, but I suspect she is unlikely to get all that much support, unless she has unknown deep pockets for a primary run. People who see her are going to like her, but in a wholesale, not retail, environment most of the voters are going to be saying “who” when they see her name. I have had trouble remembering her being in the race myself sometimes.

      Phifer did have the second best moment of the evening when she took on Stauber directly with a correction of an obvious error by him, as I noted above. The best moment was reserved for Skip Sandman in his opening of his response to the question on immigration. Sandman took a deep sigh, then said, “Immigration. Wow!” The audience broke up.

  7. Bonnie Lokenvitz says

    Is it too late to talk about the candidates position on guns? Candidate Radinovich in 2014 got a ‘B’ rating from the “Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliances”.
    Does he (like Walz) now take a new position?

    • David Gray says

      Probably not until he wants statewide office.

    • There was a gun question on Sunday.

      Stauber was a clear cut down the line NRA person, whose main points about gun safety were directed toward improvement of the instant background check by getting better information into the data base and interventions in mental illness. Those were also seconded by all the DFLers, of course. Stauber will undoubtedly be the NRA endorsee in the race, and probably a beneficiary of NRA money and third party ads.

      Sandman was a little confusing on the question. He did not seem to have thought about it all that much, and engaged it with his usual amused and philosophic style with quite a bit of rambling. He did call for banning of assault weapons and of high capacity magazines.

      The DFLers all had very similar answers: universal background checks on all sales, ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines, raise the age for purchase of firearms to 21, refuse to take NRA money, reject arming teachers, increase mental health spending. All of them, as I recall, indicated that they were gun owners (Lee has mentioned taking gun training and owning both long guns and pistols, Phifer shoots sporting clays and has the obligatory DFL candidate picture with a gun on her web site. Kennedy is the divorced wife of a career military man (after having 5 kids) and said she had extensive personal experience with guns, but also said that in her native Norway they have very strict gun laws and much lower death rates from guns, although they do have the unfortunate distinction of having had the worst mass shooting in history, wiping out 68 kids in one incident, something that would take a couple of months for US shooters to catch up to.)

      Anyhow, almost all of the statements by members of both parties are what I would describe as “generic” for their parties — Nolan would have certainly said exactly the same stuff, and Stauber is channeling the mainstream of his party and cable news. This may represent some change for some of the candidates (Radinovich, based on your information.) Joan Peterson of Protect Minnesota probably has information parsing the details of the DFL candidates positions, if you want to contact someone about it.

  8. Is there a video of the forum?

  9. Never mind. I see AB put up new post with video link.

  10. The news of the Steelworkers endorsement of Metsa is not really a surprise, but must be a disappointment to Radinovich nonetheless. If the rest of the major unions and the AFL-CIO itself follow suit, that could be very bad for Radinovich, since his plan seems to be to gather support from the mainstream DFL against the insurgent women. If the unions all go with Metsa, that would be a serious problem for that tactic, since they are the biggest players in the mainstream DFL in CD8.

    Speaking of mainstream versus insurgents, one thing that apparently happened in SD7 in Duluth is that the Our Revolution people took over all the major party officer positions. I for one think that is a good thing, since it will bring in new blood and will give the Our Revolution folks a stake in creating a true coalition party, since the city elections in Duluth in 2017 showed they do not have the strength on their own to win general elections, even in bright blue Duluth. A friend of mine commented that a large number of the people who are now the “mainstream” DFL came into the party as insurgents over the war issue in 1968 and 1972, and it may be time for a new group of insurgents to freshen up the party.

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