Monday, September 13, 2010

Tom Horner: Just Another Spoiler or Viable Candidate?

This Sunday's Star Tribune had two very interesting articles that pose larger questions about exactly what role Tom Horner will play in the upcoming election and the viability of a third party candidate in the state of Minnesota.

The first looks at the fact that some in the business community, a community that usually loyally lines up behind Republican candidates, have been showing support for Horner. Reasons cited include the fact that Tom Horner works in PR and has good relationships with many businesses, the fact that he used to work in the GOP, and most pointedly, the fact that unlike Tom Emmer, he has released a comprehensive budget plan. Some business owners quoted in the article state that that is what a good CEO would do and they can't throw their support behind Emmer without those details.

Obviously this is no done deal. Emmer still holds a 100% rating on voting with the interests of the National Federation of Independent Businesses. And regardless of how much people may like Tom Horner and his plans there is always that lingering fear that a vote for a third party candidate will actually help to elect the candidate you prefer least. Horner himself alluded to that fear during the MPR State Fair debate in his closing statements when he said that "bold leadership starts with bold voters." So when it comes to that issue, the question is whether they like Horner more than they fear Mark Dayton and his plans. That is likely to factor into many people's votes. It always has when consideration of a third party is in play. It's the nature of a "two party system."

In other years and in other states this may not be much of a concern. But there are valid reasons that this is garnering so much attention this election. The first is that recent Minnesota history includes the election of Jesse Ventura. His unexpected and narrow victory on the gubernatorial ticket in 1998 in many ways changed how we view third party candidates. While they still don't usually gain a very large portion of support, they are definitely not overlooked.

The other reason is that this year seems to be the year of third party candidates. Due to the growing discontent with legislative deadlock, the rise of the Tea Party, and the ease of reaching out to voters with less funds via social networking and other online options, third party candidates are getting buzz all over the country. Smart Politics recently reported that their analysis shows that third party candidates are on track to have their strongest showing in the past 75 years since the Great Depression. Many, including Horner, are polling in the double digits. If they can maintain their current level of support they are sure to have a strong showing at the polls.

The second Star Tribune article that caught my eye was in the opinion pages. Although they are not yet ready to make an endorsement, the section featured a front page editorial about why Tom Horner deserves a closer look and the Minnesota gubernatorial race should be considered a true three candidate race.

The Emmer camp claims they have no concerns about Horner gaining supporters that would have usually been theirs. (Not that it would be good campaign strategy to admit if they did.) "Spoiler" candidates from third parties have generally been viewed as a vote that helped the Republicans win. Many third party platforms focus on the environment, social services, and other issues that are generally considered more liberal and thus seen as taking some of their votes. That has shifted with the surge of Libertarian and Tea Party movements. This year has many wondering if Horner would play out as a spoiler for the Repulicans. The Star Tribune article about the business vote points to the fact that this is already happening on a small scale. But can it grow to the point that it will not only erase any chances of an Emmer victory but see Tom Horner walk away with one? Large questions still linger about that. But regardless of how it plays out, it's adding a very interesting dynamic to the Governor's race.

**Update: This morning former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson announced his endorsement of Tom Horner.

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