State legislative candidates selected for assistance by former senatorial candidate Pete Hegseth’s “Minnesota PAC” (MNPAC) slightly outperformed those selected by former gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer’s “A Stronger Minnesota” on election night. Where all four of Emmer’s PAC selections fell short, two of Hegseth’s twelve candidates were able to claim victory. Yet for conservatives, there may have been a more concerning aspect to Hegseth’s choices.
In a September 10th e-mail to Minnesota Republican delegates announcing his MNPAC, Hegseth asked for money and time to help out six candidates he had chosen for the House and six for the Senate. For the House, it was Deb Kiel (1B), Carolyn McElfatrick (5B), Ben Wiener (11B), King Banaian (14B), Dan Kaiser (24B), and Russ Bertsch (42A). For the Senate, the candidates were Steve Nordhagen (SD1), John Pederson (SD14), Ben Kruse (SD36), Pam Wolf (SD37), Daivd Gaither (SD44) and Ted Lillie (SD53). The only two to win on Tuesday were Deb Kiel and John Pederson.
An October 4th e-mail to delegates from A Stronger Minnesota soon followed Hegseth’s with an announcement that Tom Emmer had joined the PAC. The group selected four candidates for the Minnesota House to assist. They were Chris Kellett (10A), Melissa Valeriano (25B), Andrew Reinhardt (36B), and Mandy Benz (37A). All four lost.
As many Republicans remember, Hegseth ran an intense campaign for the party’s 2012 senatorial nomination against Rep. Kurt Bills. Many establishment Republicans were supportive of Hegseth; the co-chair of Romney’s Minnesota campaign, Anne Neu, served as his campaign manager. One loud complaint those establishment folks made during the campaign was that they were afraid that neither conservative members of the party nor Ron Paul supporters would support Hegseth if he won the nomination.
One April 18th e-mail from Ms. Neu said that Ron Paul supporters were not supporting some (unspecified) legislative candidates. The e-mail stated, “This is not what the Republican Party is about,” and went to on to suggest that this description included Kurt Bills, saying, “It appears that Kurt Bills was hand-picked by the Ron Paul establishment to be the face of the movement in MN."
After the party endorsed Kurt Bills during an endorsing convention that saw Hegseth come in third with fifteen percent of the vote, many in Hegseth’s camp refused to support Bills. In the Republican primary, Bills lost to a nameless candidate in the first and seventh congressional districts of Minnesota. He did, of course, win the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth.
The contrast between Bills’ supporters and his non-supporters was clear in my House district, 11B, which encompasses Pine & Kanabec counties. Pine County, which has a more conservative Republican Party, gave Bills 44 percent of the vote to 40 percent for the second-place finisher. Kanabec County, which has a more liberal Republican Party, voted Bills down, giving him 34 percent of the vote to 48 percent for the other candidate.
I thought it was especially unusual to see my district’s Republican House candidate, Ben Wiener, on Facebook stating that former Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone had been a better Senator than Kurt Bills had the potential to become. One article he linked to on Daily Kos made the statement, “Wellstone, unlike Bills, actually knew some things.... Perhaps Bills is actually providing a service by exposing the nutty philosophy taking over the GOP before it's being pushed by a candidate with a chance to win.”
Do you remember that Hegseth’s PAC chose the 11B House candidate as one to support? Pondering this in retrospect prompted me to look at some additional numbers.
In spite of winning Pine County, Bills lost the election in my House district due to Kanabec County – and potentially due to the district’s Republican House candidate. Bills received 39 percent of the vote in the district to his opponent’s 44 percent.
Looking at the other five House districts selected by Hegseth’s PAC, Bills lost the primary election in two more of them. In incumbent Rep. Carolyn McElfatrick’s district 5B, Bills received 39 percent of the vote to 44 percent for his challenger. In incumbent Rep. Deb Kiel’s district 1B, Bills received 37 percent of the vote to his opponent’s 47 percent. Out of all Hegseth’s choices for House, Bills lost in three of the districts and won in three in the primary.
In contrast, Bills won the primary election in three of the districts represented by House candidates selected by Emmer’s PAC. He tied in one district. That was especially notable in one of the districts.
In Melissa Valeriano’s 25B, he won 49 percent of the vote to 37 percent for his opponent. That district falls in the first congressional district, where Bills actually lost by 26 votes out of 17,000 cast. Valeriano, who was a very conservative candidate, seems to have had a strong positive impact on Bills’ candidacy in her district.
In Chris Kellett’s 10A, Bills tied his opponent with 42 percent of the vote. That margin was identical to his margin in the encompassing eighth congressional district. On average, Bills over performed in state House districts represented by candidates selected by Emmer’s PAC.
A lot of questions come to my mind. Did a lot of MNPAC’s candidates criticize Kurt Bills, or, for that matter, the conservative movement as a whole? Could it have damaged their prospects and the prospects of other Republicans?
If that was the case, it was an extension of a national problem within the Republican Party. One side sees the path to electoral success as one defined by an adherence to the ideas of limited government. The other believes in displacing conservatives with people who are more concerned with just simply winning for its own sake. Ironically, the latter group would rather lose than work with conservatives to win. In a majority of cases, they unfortunately got their wish last Tuesday evening.