After the dust has settled, it now appears that four of the six GOP representatives who decided to side with the DFL and implement the gigantic $6.6 billion dollar tax increase over Governor Pawlenty's veto will have to pursue re-election without the endorsement of their party. Two of the luminaries who made the decision to undercut their governor and party are from SD41, Ron Erhardt in 41A and Neil Peterson in 41B. Both were defeated soundly at their BPOU on Saturday, with Erhardt losing big to Keith Downey, and Peterson losing the endorsement to Jan Schneider.
The news was too fresh for the local media have much more than news coverage in today's editions, but clearly the tone is that the unthinking mossbacks are in charge of the GOP. In the St. Paul Pioneer Press, reporters Bill Salisbury and Dennis Lien tell their readers that "Conservative Republicans detest tax increases. That's the main reason party activists disciplined the three wayward lawmakers."
Conservative Repubicans do detest tax increases, so I suppose that's true, as far as it goes. The problem is that sort of surface-level analysis doesn't go very far at all. One thing has been quite clear in 2008. The BPOUs have been getting much larger participation in this cycle than they typically do, and terming those attending these events as "party activists" is misleading at best. There is clearly enormous interest in this election cycle and many of the people who have been attending the caucuses and BPOUs are newcomers to the process. I would argue that those attending these BPOUs are far more representative of the voters in a district than they have been in the past. Party activists and party regulars are a pretty small subset of the overall population, but it's not really plausible to argue that a cabal of party hacks are controlling things. First-time delegates and newcomers to the process cannot be party hacks.
Erhardt scoffed at the verdict delivered by his BPOU, telling Laurie Blake of the Star Tribune "I can't let 123 people decide my fate. They don't represent the district." What Erhardt doesn't mention is that he took endorsements in his district in the past from much smaller delegations. Whether Erhardt chooses to acknoweldge it or not, those 123 people do represent the Republican Party in his district. And without support from the party, he will not win re-election. The DFL is not going to thank him for his vote and not field an opponent. Erhardt will still have to explain why his election is preferable to electing a full-fledged DFLer. Voters have consistently demonstrated that when a liberal Republican runs against a DFLer, there's not much reason to prefer the liberal Republican. Erhardt may want to believe that his political enemies within the party are simply persecuting him for his Profile in Courage moment. As Erhardt campaigns for the primaries, he may quickly get disabused of this notion. He may have thought that the Chamber of Commerce would provide political cover for him, but he's alone now.
Cross-posted at True North