Post-primary analysis shows how Radinovich won MN-8

GRAPHIC: Chris Saunders for (click to view full size)

This week DFL voters nominated Joe Radinovich to face Republican Pete Stauber and independent Skip Sandman in the Nov. 6 general election.

Though I covered the basics in my Tuesday night live blog, I’ve got a few more thoughts on the Aug. 14 primary election before we swing into general election mode (and perhaps take a brief break from political writing).

If you’re rather listen to something, check out my segment from the Wednesday morning show on Northern Community Radio.

Here is the final tally on the MN-8 DFL primary:

Joe Radinovich; 30,388; 44%
Michelle D. Lee; 18,938; 28%
Jason Metsa; 9,009; 13%
Kirsten Kennedy; 8,064; 12%
Soren Sorensen; 2,396; 3%

A clean win for Radinovich who carried all but two counties. Lee carried Cook and her home county of Carlton. In both those places, Radinovich finished second. It’s not just that Radinovich won big in his home region, but that he didn’t get blown out in any of the district’s counties. That was key to winning a district as geographically large and politically diverse as the Eighth.

A lesson for all future candidates, especially progressives. I understand the argument against big money in politics. I share that argument’s key sentiments. But you’ve got to have *some* money, enough to run some ads and reach the voters you don’t see in person. Your message must resonate beyond your personal echo chamber, no matter how noble or well-meaning that echo chamber may be.

Meantime, it’s astounding how President Trump has adopted this race as his personal bellwether. He’s already tweeted support for Stauber in a personal message, just days after tweeting a pre-primary message. It only goes to serve my original theory. Stauber will receive a total of the vote identical to the president’s approval rating. They’re attached at the hip, for better or worse.

Radinovich has to figure out how to keep progressives in the fold when they have a viable protest option in environmental activist Skip Sandman for the general. Sandman will get votes. If he gets more than 5 percent, however, Radinovich’s path to victory in a close race becomes steep indeed.

Jason Metsa certainly spent the most per vote on the DFL side. I’m not sure what his strategy was, but it fell flat.

Jason Metsa; $259,345 ($28.79 per vote)
Joe Radinovich; $332,906 raised pre-primary ($10.96 per vote)
Michelle Lee; $57,084 ($3.01 per vote)
Kirsten Hagen Kennedy; $2,427 ($0.30 per vote)

For reference, in 2012, when Rick Nolan won the last competitive DFL primary, he spent $17.16 per vote. But he beat a candidate who had spent $62.66 per vote. Money isn’t everything. Somewhere in all this you’ll find campaign efficiency and message, which are just as important.

I broke down the race on KBJR as well.


  1. Thanks for the great analysis.

    Three points:

    First, even if Kennedy and Sorensen had not been in the race, Lee would not have beaten Radinovich even capturing all of their votes. She still would have lost by just over 1000 votes. If Metsa had not been in, presumably most of his votes would have gone to Joe R. Joe won on his own, not because of interference from the large field.

    Second, Kennedy must have convinced an incredibly large share of the people she actually came in contact with to vote for her, since aside from her web site, all she had going was shoe leather and personal voter contact. Thirty cents per vote!! Most of that must be for gasoline!! I am certain that DFL planners are trying to figure out how to use her in the future.

    Third, you are dead right on the progressives and environmental activists. The question they will have to mull over is just how much they want to pay — in terms of ongoing environmental damage by Trump, Stauber, and their Washington cohort, and in terms of low income people and their children tossed over the side on health care, housing, and other issues, and in terms of persecution of immigrants, asylum seekers, and their children — in order to make the point that they are angry at Radinovich and the establishment Democrats.

  2. Just one other reference of interest, on the topic of “some money.”

    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the successful progressive insurgent candidate for the congressional district in the Bronx and Queens in New York, spent over $190,000 on her “shoestring” primary campaign. She was trying to reach roughly the same number of voters as the candidates in CD8, but in a district that you can walk across in a morning, and with much more opportunity to address large groups of voters in a single setting. She used internet (her video ad became viral,) signage, banners, billboards, and t-shirts, as well as some radio advertizing. She was outspent by a factor of ten, but still spent a bunch of money.

    As you said, you have to be able to spend some money, even if you are completely cut off from sources from unions, corporations, interest groups, and so on. People have to somehow know who you are and what you stand for.

  3. Joe won because he worked hard. He comes from a long line of hard workers. He will apply that same work ethic and integrity in D.C. Bank on it!!!

  4. Sharla Gardner says

    With all due respect, Aaron Brown – and I do appreciate your analysis and insights, $57,000. should be enough to run a three month primary campaign. It’s a respectable amount of money. As Michelle said in her election night speech — as did Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in different ways, we cannot get the money out of politics with more money. The voters are going to have to wise up and go with candidates who don’t take PAC money, directly or indirectly. And candidates are going to have to run campaigns that way. The amount of WASTED money in political campaigns is sickening. Consultants charging a $2 to $5K per month to provide donor lists for candidates, for federal compliance when all you need is an ability to read and relate to the FEC worker, paid by our tax dollars, assigned to the campaign — and these workers are very helpful – they WANT the campaign to be in compliance. The Lee campaign was flooded with phone calls from consultants who wanted her to hire them — and their recommended consultants. It’s a racket. AND, you can be sure those folks don’t EVER want to see an end to Citizens United. It’s far too profitable for them. Working on a federal campaign really opened my eyes.

    • $57K is just a little more than what a campaign spends on a competitive legislative race these days. It’s not enough for district-wide TV or internet buys. Is that right? As an advocate of campaign finance reform I’d agree that no, it’s not. But when you’re trying to defeat power and money, you need to defeat power and money. If you can’t raise the money, then you need some other means of getting name ID up and people motivated to vote. Saying “He has all the money” has not worked in any case that I’ve seen. In fact, despite the fact that Radinovich had the most money and most outside support by far, the total he and his allies spent was still a lot less than others have spent in recent memory. I empathize with your comment completely. And you’re right, it is a racket — one where a lot of people get paid and make a living off of it being this way. In my experience, that’s the biggest challenge in reform: dislodging established systems.

    • Let me reiterate, the spending by Ocasio-Cortez was over $190,000 in a district where no travel is needed and where there are constant crowds of people to approach. Just walking on the street in the district put her in contact with more voters than any event in CD8, but she still spent $190,000.

      That does not make it right, but does show what is necessary to succeed, even in a grass roots campaign.

  5. Erin Ningen says

    You haven’t taken into account the effect of the massive money Progress Tomorrow Inc poured into this race. 5 or 6 glossy mailers flooded the district in the final week plus a social media buy of $30,000. In mid-August the only folks paying close attention to DFL politics are party activists. This media saturation likely had a huge impact. The record turnout suggests that there may have been significant crossover voting which would indicate Joe is the candidate the Republicans preferred to face. His win is far from a mandate. Now the super PAC money appears to be invested against Radinovich. He had best get about the business of coalition building or he doesn’t stand a chance in November.

    • I think that there was very little crossover of Republicans in this primary because of the very competitive and emotionally charged race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Republicans were strongly motivated to vote in that election, and Minnesota electoral rules prevent selective crossover, requiring votes for one or the other party slate.

      Numbers of voters reflect, IMO and that of most observers, high enthusiasm that has accompanied the Trump presidency, both among supporters feeling for the first time their ideas are being reflected by a president and among opponents who find him the most alarming president in history. The fact that statewide the DFL turnout was almost twice the GOP suggests that those alarmed outnumber those enthused. In CD8, the turnout was actually less lopsided, with the DFL just drawing 140% of the GOP turnout, again suggesting that crossover was almost non-existant in CD8.

      I agree that Radinovich does have to work to bring DFL leaning voters who oppose non-ferrous mining and who support economic policies that are more left wing into his coalition. However, those voters have to think very seriously about the fact that a third party vote or an election boycott would support the election of candidates who have tightly embraced Trump and his policies. Even in environmental issues, that means they would offer support for ending fuel economy requirements, emission requirements for power plants and vehicles, ending efforts to develop renewable green energy, ending protections of endangered species and of national monuments and other lands, and generally reversing forty-five years of progress on the environment. A vote for Radinovich opposes those changes, while voting behavior that enhances the chances of wins by close Trump allies embraces a return to rivers that catch fire and air that is unhealthy to breath, as well as ignoring the whole scientific case on global warming. That is before you even consider policies on taxation of the wealthy and of businesses, health care, housing, immigration, asylum, women’s rights and health, education, minority rights, nutrition, and foreign policy.

      If you paid any attention to either Radinovich or Stauber, or indeed to Walz and Johnson or Smith and Housely, you certainly know that there is a massive difference between the candidates on all progressive issues. The choice of whether it is worth electing a Trump surrogate in order to punish DFL candidates for their stances on non-ferrous mining, destroying the lives of large numbers of people in the process, is one each individual will have to consider for themselves.

    • That spending influenced the race, no doubt. But the mailers weren’t that great, even Radinovich said so. They provided name identification in a low name ID pool of candidates, though, and that was enough. This is where having enough money to put out a similar buy becomes important OR some other means of getting your name in front of voters. Hey, I don’t like it. I’ve been an advocate for campaign finance reform for 20 years, going back to my newspaper editorial days. I think we should have a limited campaign window and public financing that provides equal access for candidates. But saying that doesn’t do much. You’ve got to win elections to do that. The people who spend money on SuperPACs won’t just roll over and die because I asked them to.

  6. David Gray says

    Speaking for myself I had zero emotional investment in the GOP governor’s race. I’d have happily voted for either candidate over the DFL alternatives.

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