Massachusetts Senate vote recalls events of 1994

ST. PAUL -- Rick Stafford remembers 1994, when Republicans kicked Democrats out of congressional control, and with Tuesday's Massachusetts GOP upset he sees some similarities this year.

Something very familiar about this
Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayon, a candidate for Minnesota governor, right, said during a campaign event Wednesday that a Republican upset in the Massachusetts Senate election shows that voters are looking for politicians who will make progress. He was surrounded by friends and families as he made his comments. Tribune photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Rick Stafford remembers 1994, when Republicans kicked Democrats out of congressional control, and with Tuesday's Massachusetts GOP upset he sees some similarities this year.

Bill Clinton was the new, and popular, president and Democrats thought they were flying high in 1994. Newt Gingrich and company spoiled that in taking control of the U.S. House. Republicans hope, and some predict, that is what will happen in this November's elections.

Stafford does not predict a repeat of 1994, but he and other Minnesota Democratic leaders say there are lessons to be learned.

"Democrats have not learned yet from the Republicans about how to behave after you win," said Stafford, a Minnesota member of the Democratic National Committee who was state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party chairman in 1994. "We run (in campaigns) on about making people's lives better ... then we grouse about it when we don't get 100 percent and we fight amongst ourselves. And we get disheartened and we say we are not accomplishing anything."

Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, a DFL governor candidate, also looked at the Tuesday vote: "I don't think it is about partisanship; I think it is about results. Those who are given the opportunity to lead need to lead and do so successfully. If they don't, the public is going to speak out and go in another direction."


The leader of Minnesota's Republican Party actually agreed with Dayton.

"People are just sick and tired of things not getting done," Chairman Tony Sutton said.

The U.S. Senate victory of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts, normally a very Democratic state, could slice either way in Minnesota. Top politicians, when they stepped away from mere rhetoric, said the Massachusetts vote combined with other Republican victories since Democrat Barack Obama took the presidency a year ago Wednesday could help either side. For Democrats, the GOP victories could serve as a wake-up call. For Republicans, the relatively minor wins could inspire them to donate more time and money to their candidates.

Reaction came from all quarters after Brown's win.

From Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, thought to be preparing a 2012 run against Obama, came: "The Republican win in Massachusetts was like a cannon shot across the country."

Jeff Blodgett, who runs a progressive candidate training program patterned after the late Sen. Paul Wellstone's style, wrote a blog urging candidates to run good campaigns.

"Quality candidates running quality campaigns still matters the most," Blodgett wrote. "It's easy to overanalyze this election in a national context, but one must first look at the disparity in the quality of the campaigns that were run. We must never, ever take anything for granted in this volatile political environment we find ourselves in."

Blodgett said that voters do not always relate to candidates.


He mentioned "the bank bailout or the government-speak we used to debate for health care reform" as reasons the conservative movement is gaining steam.

Sutton predicted Republican victories this fall, but urged his party not to take things for granted. "We have to make sure, if we are to be the beneficiaries of this politically, that we deliver."

From a practical, political point of view, Stafford said that the Tuesday vote was less about Obama and more about who voted. "I think what you will see on closer analyses is that Democrats just didn't turn out."

Tuesday was a wake-up call for Democrats, Stafford said. "There is a message to us, a challenge to us, but I think we will come up with the right solutions."

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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