watchdogHey, Watchdogs! Happy New Year from deep within the fortified Watchdog HQ in Anoka County. Harold Hamilton and the entire Watchdog staff wish you and your the very best in 2013.

As we dangle on the edge of the insanely hyped Fiscal Cliff, the staff has put up our collective feet and contemplated the top stories of 2013.

Sadly, 2013 was a tough year for Watchdogs. Obama re-elected. The U.S. Senate in Democrat hands still, thanks to nitwit No Nothing candidates who were more interested in talking like fools about “legitimate” rape instead of focusing on the economy and the mess Barack has made of it.

Yes, the House remained in GOP hands, but we lost Chip Cravaack, a rising star who deserved a better fate. That voters chose Rick Nolan speaks volumes about the 8th District. Will reviving a 1970s era political career help northern Minnesota? We doubt it, although perhaps polyester suits and naugahyde furniture will return to the Capitol and the Iron Range, if those fashions ever left the Range.

Even worse, Republicans in Minnesota got smoked like a Newport cigarette.

After a victorious 2010 (minus Tom Emmer), 2012 saw Republicans lose both the state House and Senate, an outcome almost no one predicted.

We here at the Watchdog are always optimists. We believe in a better future for America and Minnesota.

But for now, we have to acknowledge that 2012 wasn’t a good year for conservatives.

Overall, the loss of the Minnesota legislature is the top story of 2012. For the first time in decades, the DFL will control the legislature and governor’s office.

This state of affairs ought to prompt a good deal of soul searching.

Here’s what we said about the loss of both houses of the legislature back on November 9th:


At the state level, we got killed on a U.S. Senate race, lost a congressional seat, and lost both houses of the legislature as well as two constitutional ballot questions. Other than that, it wasn’t such a bad night.

To start, there is some not-so-bad news about the losses.

First, when you look at the numbers, the legislative losses don’t reflect a rejection or even a rebuke of the Republican-led legislature of the last two years.

While the shift in seats was great, the shift in votes wasn’t so great.

The Watchdog analyzed the aggregate votes for state Senate candidates, excluding Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and two seats without a GOP candidate (districts 19 and 40), all of which we obviously non-competitive. These were 11 excluded races in total.

In the remaining 56 races, DFL candidates received an aggregate vote of 1,201,872 while GOP candidates received 1,139,719, which isn’t significant, especially in a presidential election year where DFL turnout is traditionally higher.

Unfortunately, the news doesn’t get better from there.

A second factor in GOP losses was a poor effort on the part of many otherwise attractive candidates.

While Dave Senjem and Kurt Zellers and staff did a great job recruiting excellent candidates, some clearly didn’t engage in the difficult and arduous work of raising money, knocking doors, and doing all the unglamorous things that make for victory on election night.

Just take a look at campaign finance reports. To be honest, there are some flat-out embarrassing fundraising numbers in there. You can’t win without the proper resources. It’s that simple. It’s a fact that some candidates lost because they didn’t raise enough money and/or didn’t door knock hard enough.

And that’s not anyone’s fault except the candidate’s. The candidate alone is responsible for the effort. The result is influenced by many factors but a strong effort on the part of the candidate is often times a necessary ingredient, especially for Republicans, who have no “gimme” seats.

Which brings us to the amendments. Simply put, the amendments backfired, failing to deliver the turnout punch many had hoped for.

In fact, the amendments went the other way, motivating turnout for the crowd opposed to the amendments.

The Watchdog spoke with a political operative who was involved with a liberal organization working to elect DFLers to the legislature.

This operative was of the strong opinion that the amendments, especially the marriage amendment, increased DFL voter enthusiasm, especially in college areas.

He chalked up the defeat of Rep. King Banian (R-Saint Cloud) to the amendment battle, as well as the legislative losses of both Travis Reimche and Phil Hansen in the Moorhead area.

In addition to firing up college crowds, the gay marriage amendment no doubt helped to contribute to the gender gap the GOP experienced.

Moreover, the campaigns for both these amendments were horribly executed. The people responsible for these campaigns were outraised, outspent, outhustled, outworked, and outthought.

Remember, the forces behind these amendments had the initiative. The ballot questions were selected and passed by the legislature at the time of their choosing.

The ball got fumbled in a big way and many people paid a price for it.

To watch the photo ID amendment drop like a rock in the polls made both the Emmer and Bills campaigns look like Karl Rove masterpieces.

Talk about a need to rethink things. We thought the Emmer campaign was the worst major campaign in party history. And then came the Bills campaign. And then came the photo ID campaign. And the marriage amendment campaign.

Four catastrophic campaigns in back to back cycles.

We’re making it way, way too easy for the Left. This has got to stop.

May these people never work in politics again. Find another line of work.

Finally, folks shouldn’t underestimate the Koch-Brodkorb scandal and its impact on the elections.

This was no garden variety affair. The first female Senate Majority Leader and the first GOP Senate Majority Leader in generations gets caught in a tawdry affair with a senior staffer who is also married.

Sometimes a story line serves as a powerful narrative for a larger argument.

In this case, the story supported a DFL narrative that this new majority couldn’t manage the place. They couldn’t govern. They were disrespecting the institution and sullying the Senate.

The same argument Republicans made against Bill Clinton and what he did in and to the Oval Office.

DFLers pounded the narrative in targeted districts, forcing Republicans as a group to answer and apologize for the acts of two individuals not on the ballot.

All of this leads to the lessons learned.

Lesson number one: When you say that your focused on jobs and the economy, don’t put gay marriage on the ballot the first year in office. Focus on jobs and economy.

Lesson number two: Republicans win on fiscal issues, especially in Minnesota. But focusing on fiscal issues also means reclaiming the mantle of fiscal responsibility. Years of school shifts, tobacco bonds, accelerated sales taxes, and credit facilities to cover cash flow have done much to tarnish the GOP brand with respect to this issue.

Living within your means isn’t just a slogan.

Lesson number three: candidates and the campaigns matter. The GOP has to do a better job selecting candidates and monitoring the campaigns of those same candidates.

2014 will feature Mark Dayton and Al Franken on the ballot. A repeat of the Emmer-Bills debacle won’t cut it. We need to get it right.

Time to get to work, conservatives.