So, who's likely to strike first? And who's likely to be the person attacked?
The conventional wisdom is that Mark Dayton is leading right now. He would seem to be the person to attack. Both the endorsed candidate (Margaret Anderson Kelliher) and the unwanted candidate (Matt Entenza) will need to make a decision. Entenza, who has shown every willingness to throw an elbow in his career, certainly has the money to flood the airwaves with anti-Dayton ads in the next 3 weeks. The challenge Entenza faces is simple -- he has very little goodwill within the party and if he attacks Dayton too vociferously, the attacks will then be available for the Emmer campaign if Entenza falls short, which still seems likely.
Dayton, who has even more money than Entenza, would likely feel compelled to return fire against Entenza. While it would be the proper response, it would stall whatever momentum he currently has.
Meanwhile, Kelliher sits with her endorsement and little else. She's not likely to be attacked by the other two candidates and because her campaign has so little money, she can't really afford to play on television beyond the gauzy introductory ads she's run thus far. Meanwhile, her campaign has problems of its own, including the highly embarrassing failure to get the endorsement of NOW, which went to Entenza instead. She really has to do something to get the attention of the voters beyond the DFL foot soldiers who support the endorsed candidate above all else. The problem is this -- historically there have not been enough DFL foot soldiers to elect an endorsed candidate. Paradoxically, it might be in her best interest to do nothing.
So what's going to happen? Here's my guess:
- Look for Entenza to run ads that obliquely attack Dayton, while simultaneously turning his underlings loose with whatever oppo his campaign has managed to get on Brave Sir Mark.
- Dayton's team will try to stay above the fray, but Dayton's thin skin will cause him to respond to Entenza, most likely in an overwhelming way that will not only defeat Entenza, but that could also end Entenza's political career entirely.
- Kelliher will largely sit things out and hope that the DFL field organization can get enough voters to the polls in August to eke out a victory over her wounded rivals. If Kelliher wants to study an election scenario that supports this approach, she ought to look at the 1992 Illinois Senate primary.