Candidates for Sabo's seat prepare for May endorsements
When U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo announced his plans to retire after 28 years in Congress, few political experts were surprised at the flood of candidates who quickly filled the race.
“There have been people sitting on the sidelines waiting for this for a long time. This has been kind of cocktail party conversation and parlor game conversation for a long time,” said Larry Jacobs, a University of Minnesota political science professor. “And I think the reason is obvious. There aren't many Congressional seats in Minnesota and in terms of a safe Democratic seat, there is none more desirable.”
Now with the endorsing conventions just around the corner - both the Minnesota DFL and GOP will hold their 5th Congressional District convention May 6 - the large pool of candidates are preparing to impress delegates.
And in what is one of the most Democratic Congressional districts in the country, all eyes will be on which candidate the DFL chooses to endorse. If the individual who wins the DFL endorsement is able to stave off primary challenges from within the party, they will almost certainly run away with the race, said Jason Roberts, a University of Minnesota assistant political science professor.
Both Jacobs and Roberts said a Republican candidate has virtually no chance at winning Sabo's seat.
“This one is going to be a cut-and-dried seat,” Roberts said. “Whoever wins the Democratic primary is going to win this going away.”
The 5th Congressional District seat has the potential to provide a DFL candidate with a very long career provided they can keep the party and their constituents happy.
Sabo, 68, was first elected to Congress in 1978 and has served 14 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
But filling Sabo's shoes will be no small task for whoever wins the race. His position as a senior member on the House Appropriations Committee brings an estimated $85 million to Minnesota for specific projects and in defense contracts, Jacobs said.
“It's a loss for Minnesota in a really very basic bread and butter sort of way,” Jacobs said. “The other thing is he's very well-known in Washington and very widely respected - certainly among Democrats, but also among Republicans. So Minnesota's also losing that kind of voice.”
The state will also lose its last active link to the Hubert Humphrey-Walter Mondale legacy, Jacobs said.
“Congressman Sabo kind of fit the District like a snug glove,” Jacobs said. “And I know there's a sense that for whoever wins the race it's kind of like a lifetime appointment, but that's a little premature.”
And with 11 Democratic candidates in the race as of the Southwest Journal's press deadline, the DFL delegates have their work cut out for them. In addition to the sheer number of candidates, another factor that complicated the race is that Sabo didn't announce his retirement until after caucuses. This forced many of the 16 people who have announced their candidacy so far - there are also four Republican candidates and one Green Party candidate - to make a decision and pull their campaign together fairly quickly.
“Many of them would have started their campaign and been in it even longer had they known before caucus night, because caucus night is a great way to get your volunteers out there already and show a great support,” said David Weinlick, director of party affairs for the Minnesota DFL Party.
Jacobs said the announcement's timing was clearly an effort by Sabo to give candidate Mike Erlandson, his chief of staff and former chairman of the DFL, an advantage in the race. But he said Sabo's support doesn't necessarily guarantee anything for Erlandson.
And other candidates are beginning to garner support as well. The first caucus to weigh in on the candidates, Stonewall DFL, overwhelmingly voted to endorse Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman. Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison received the endorsement of the Minnesota Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) Political Action Committee.
Jacobs said he doesn't think this race will be over until the primary. While some candidates - such as Dorfman - have said they will abide by the party's endorsement, others - such as Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Chair Jon Olson - have said they will stay in the race through the primary regardless of who is endorsed. Roberts said whether candidates choose to abide by the endorsement is largely decided by their political ambitions.
“If you're a person wanting to win some kind of office later on, bucking the party can really get you in trouble,” he said. “If you really want the Congress seat or bust, then you really don't have a lot of reason to stick to that endorsement.”
And with a number of DFL candidates pushing progressive platforms, the race might ultimately come down to style over substance. Other factors such as age - Sabo has said he envisions someone younger taking over his seat and Councilmember Gary Schiff said his youth gives him an advantage - versus experience will likely weigh on the minds of delegates.
Jacobs said he sees a number of strong candidates in the race so far.
“I think it's going to be a good race,” he said.
Click here to download the first set of candidates and their invormation.
Click here to download the second set of candidates and their invormation.