Thursday, January 30, 2014

Ramping up

With the calendar having flipped to 2014 four weeks ago, it was a given that political campaigns would begin to ramp up.

As such, one of the Republican candidates for Minnesota governor has announced his running mate.

Republican Dave Thompson's selection of a running mate starts a parade of political pairings in Minnesota's race for governor.

Thompson on Thursday announced that Michelle Benson, a fellow state senator, joined his ticket. He says she's a skilled legislator of impeccable character who has a philosophy similar to him. .

Thompson is one of seven Republicans in the field. Democratic Gov.Mark Dayton is also choosing a new No. 2 because Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon has ruled out a second term. .

Thompson's campaign hinges on securing the GOP's convention endorsement, a process that starts with Tuesday's caucuses. The early pick of Benson gives him another campaigner. Thompson is a state senator from Lakeville. .

Benson was first elected in 2010 and lives in Ham Lake with her husband and three children.


I know Benson personally and consider her a friend, so I am quite biased when I say this is an excellent selection (Full disclosure: The fetching Mrs. Carlson currently volunteers for Benson as “project manager” of her Senate campaign). Benson has received much notoriety lately for her stringent efforts in pursuing an amicable solution to the state’s health insurance exchange, MNSure. In fact, Thompson has already stated that Benson would be a key figure in developing health care policy in his administration.

Benson was elected as a state Senator in 2010 after first receiving her Senate District’s GOP endorsement over then incumbent senator Debbie Johnson in February that year. She then prevailed in the general election that November. Two months after being sworn in for her first term, Benson gave birth to daughter Claire in March 2011. However, since the legislative session was already underway, she was back to work within a week which accentuated her pledge to tirelessly represent her constituents. I’ll never forget her attending a GOP Senate caucus presser and making a statement while cradling her weeks old little girl.

After redistricting took place in early 2012, Benson was drawn into SD31 which paired her with another GOP incumbent senator, Mike Jungbauer. However, Benson would prevail in that district’s endorsement battle as well, meaning she has the distinction of ousting two different sitting senators at separate endorsing conventions (Despite that, she frowned upon the nickname "Black Widow”). Benson easily won reelection to the MN Senate in November 2012.

Many political observers such as myself often conveyed that Benson had a bright future in the political spectrum if indeed those were her aspirations. In fact, when Congresswoman Michele Bachmann announced last summer that she would not seek reelection for her U.S. House seat in 2014, Michelle Benson was one name offered up as a possible candidate for that office. After some consideration, Benson declined the opportunity.

Many have wondered about the timing of this announcement given that the MN GOP convention is still four months away. Since Thompson is one of only two candidates (Jeff Johnson being the other) who have made a public pledge to abide by the Republican Party endorsement, a strong running mate like Benson galvanizes his vision for this race. As such, he’s hoping to send that message to GOP delegates who will decide whom to endorse come the last weekend in May. If Thompson is not endorsed, he’s out of the race. Therefore it doesn't make sense in holding anything back, given his fundraising numbers haven’t been at the level his campaign had anticipated.

While I’m not planning on making any public endorsements of any candidates for MN statewide offices (specifically Governor and U.S. Senate), it’s hard for me to remain neutral now that there’s a personal connection to the Thompson campaign. However, I will be curious what the next move will be among the other GOP gubernatorial candidates in light of this announcement.

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