Minnesota Political Caucus Process Kicks Off

republican democrat red blue state 315 304

republican democrat red blue state 315 304

Most states elect their political candidates entirely through a primary election, most visibly during presidential election years. The populous states of California, New York, Texas and Florida seemed to dominate news coverage when Hillary Clinton took on Barack Obama for the 2008 Democratic Nomination, and other big primary states were the focus for Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney that same year.

Minnesota, however, elects grassroots delegates from each political party through a precinct caucus process. On February 4, Republicans and Democrats will gather separately at local schools and community centers across the state to discuss issues, candidates for office and choose party leaders. Local caucuses select delegates to the next political stage of the process — county and district conventions — where a select few people vote on candidates and platform issues, before even fewer convene at state party conventions in late spring. For the Republicans, roughly 2000 delegates will meet at their state convention to “endorse” statewide candidates for governor, U.S. Senate, and other state offices.

Historically, the endorsement can be important for unlocking crucial party fundraising and organizing tools. However, in 2010, the DFL Party endorsed Margaret Kelliher, who was eventually defeated in the state’s DFL primary election by Mark Dayton’s overwhelming wealth. He would become governor later that fall. This year, several Republican candidates for governor and U.S. Senate have indicated their intention to run in the primary election next summer, despite the decision of the delegates at their state convention in May.

Only the best and most savvy political operatives are talented enough to maneuver the complicated caucus process and land a coveted delegate spot at one of the state party conventions. Often, the most organized delegates or prepared attendees at local caucus meetings can end up being elected by their peers to move on. Less commonly, an extreme belief or statement can convince others to support a delegate’s path to the top.

Many people argue over the validity of the state party endorsement process in Minnesota. Some say it encourages fringe activists to control the ultimate destiny of the state’s candidates. Others say it is a valuable grassroots process that brings together local citizens of similar political beliefs. In recent years, many Tea Party members have used the caucus process as a way to share their discontent with the current political situation in Washington, aiming mostly at incumbent Republicans or others they see as moderates in disguise – whom they call RINOs (Republicans in Name Only).

This year’s endorsement process, beginning with local meetings on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 4, will be quite active and competitive. With an unpopular governor, an unpopular U.S. Senator (Al Franken) and an unpopular Democratic president, interest among independents and conservatives for new leaders is growing. Republicans will have to decide whether to endorse strong candidates with bipartisan appeal that can defeat sitting Democrats or to choose the most far-right, fringe candidates possible. Democrats must decide whether they are happy with the far-left course on which their leaders have taken them on. These decisions will greatly affect the general election campaigns and results in late 2014.