House Speaker Kurt Zellers motioned to the selection of lit pieces atop the desk — some making reference to characters in “Alice in Wonderland” — used against Republican House candidates as perceived evidence of a bankruptcy of ideas afflicting Democrats.
“If your campaign is reduced to the Mad Hatter and Tea Party — you have nothing,” Zellers, a Republican from Maple Grove, said. “You’re absolutely vacant in message.”
Speaking at Republican Party headquarters on Friday, Zellers would “guarantee” Democrats will outspend Republicans this election cycle, but also believes Republicans will retain control of the Minnesota House.
“The number (House Republicans) will be what it is, based on the candidate match-ups,” Zellers said.
In many cases House Republican candidates simply fit their districts better, he argued.
“Picking numbers is a dangerous game,” Zellers said, with a smile, of how many seats Republicans will win.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, among other Democrats, speaks in certain terms of Democrats reclaiming the Senate, lost two years ago in the wave election that broke decades of Democratic control.
Not surprisingly, Republicans losing the Senate has no appeal to Zellers, who views the current political arrangement at the State Capitol as balanced.
“I don’t think that would change how we would work,” Zellers said, saying House Republicans would continue to focus on keeping taxes low, state regulations in check, the state competitive, even if the Senate flips.
“Tom Bakk and I are good friends — I get along with the guy, we talk hunting all the time, and fishing,” Zellers said.
“But I wouldn’t want it to be two-on-one,” he added of Senate Democrats joining forces with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton against the House.
“I think that would be bad disadvantage for us. But I also think it would be bad for the state,” Zellers said.
Zellers minimizes the impact of the proposed photo ID and marriage amendments on the election.
And he also downplays the coattail affect that Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, seemingly poised for a big win over Republican U.S. Senate challenger Rep. Kurt Bills, might offer Democrats.
“If they are coattails, they’re short,” Zellers said.
“She’s (Klobuchar) not someone if she comes out for a candidate, garners support — these (House) races are all at the local level, going to the door,” Zellers said of street-level campaigning.
Zellers spoke of recently campaigning with Republican Rep. King Banaian in St. Cloud and Banaian’s insistence on visiting a home with a partially opened garage door for the sixth time because he was convinced someone was home.
“That’s how our races are won,” Zellers said.
As for the amendments, voters have “departmentalized” them, Zellers argues.
That is, they view the amendments as separate issues — things removed from the business of selecting candidates.
Would House Republicans pursue additional amendments next session if they keep control of the House?
“It think it depends how voters respond to this,” Zellers said of the current amendments. “And it’s also the (House) membership.”
Regardless of whether campaigning in the suburbs, or the cities, or in greater Minnesota, jobs and the economy are forefront in the mind of voters, Zellers said.
“We get blamed that’s all we ever talk about,” he said. “Well, that’s what voters are talking about.”
Voters are not swayed by Democratic campaign barrages about school shifts or homestead credit.
“Ask 99 out of 100 people in Minnesota and they don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” he said of market value credits.
But Democrats also slam Republicans as concocting a state government shutdown of historic length, placing two divisive amendments on the ballot, and achieving nothing else.
But Zellers believes House Republican candidates are unified, pulling together. House Republican caucus member donations to the caucus will exceed all past amounts, he said.
“We’ll surprise a lot of people — let’s put it that way,” Zellers said.
Taking a look at other races, Zellers believes the Republican state congressional delegation will all be re-elected — Bachmann, Cravaack, Kline, and Paulsen.
“I think she’s (Bachmann) going to win again,” he said.
Yes, Bachmann is outspoken, perceived as partisan, Zellers explained.
“(But) she is an excellent campaigner,” he said. “She is phenomenal — trust me, as someone who is the business with her, we complete for the same dollars — she is an unbelievable fund-raiser,” he said. “Which is good for her, bad for some us who are competing with her.”
Zellers styled recent Democratic attacks against 8th Congressional District Rep. Chip Cravaack that question his residency in the district as “a fundamental and fatal flaw” in campaign tactics.