I hate to give the Star Tribune credit, but I think they pulled out some revealing quotations from the four Republican candidates for Governor:
Johnson: “I’m in this to actually change the direction of government.”
Translation: I want to shrink government: not expand, not slow its growth but shrink it.
Interpretation: This shows a broad campaign theme message. It is exactly the sort of thing you want to be doing at this early stage of the game. Changing the direction of government can mean different things to different people and essentially everyone believes that government should be doing things differently on some issue or another.
Thompson: “Is this a task that the private sector could do? If the answer is yes, don’t have government do it.”
Translation: No room to quibble here. It’s a solid litmus test.
Interpretation: Litmus tests are usually terrible campaign messages, and this one most certainly qualifies. How many people want anything that could be done by the private sector to be done only by the private sector? Guaranteed it’s a minority. Most people are looking for a smaller government footprint. There are plenty of examples of industries where private industry works but could work better with limited government involvement or coordination. Guaranteed having this sort of litmus test pushes winnable voters into the liberal column.
Honour: “I think we have to start a conversation about the budget with a conversation about results.”
Translation: Policy should be dictated by evidence-based decision making.
Interpretation: This is a softer version of a litmus test. It’s better than Thompson’s version but it’s filled with the same landmines as most litmus tests. Thankfully most people agree with evidence-based decision making and people disagreeing are usually ideological voters. Such voters tend to not be winnable anyway. It’s a strong play toward swing voters and a continuation of Honour’s strategy to win the primary regardless of who wins the MN GOP endorsement.
Zellers: “I will absolutely fight for jobs and a competitive Minnesota economy. And I won’t settle for whatever the soup de jour is today. We want this but a little bit less. It will be a hard cut.”
Translation: I want what you want and won’t settle for less!
Interpretation: This statement really doesn’t mean anything. Everyone wants to fight for jobs and stand by principles. What I don’t see is a broad campaign message or set of principles. Zellers needs to fix this now. He let the Vikings Stadium Bill go to the floor as the Majority Leader and has said he will not honor the endorsement process of the MN GOP. If Zellers can’t claim fiscal conservatism or respect for the MN GOP political process he’s going to be left out in the cold.
It is still early. The field may not even be set yet. That said it is far better to get messaging correct now than fumble it and have to repair later. These early debates are game-time events with cameras rolling and need to be treated as such. Lacking proper messaging and presentation, even at this early juncture, is not encouraging.