Sunday, January 15, 2006

Watch Out for Doran

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:13 AM |  

DFL gubernatorial candidate Kelly Doran was the inaugural guest on “The Patriot Insider,“ a new program on AM 1280 “The Patriot” hosted by Pioneer Press Associate Opinion Page Editor Mark Yost (with appropriate sidekick duties performed by yours truly).

Doran is someone Republicans ought to watch. If he can make it out of the always contentious Democrat nomination battles, Doran just could be a guy that can give Gov. Tim Pawlenty a run for his money -- or your money as is perhaps more appropriate.

First impressions first. Like Pawlenty, in person, Doran has the clean cut fresh and fit look of a TV anchorman. In the tale of the tape, he’s a more commanding stage presence than the governor, but not quite as polished; but that’s only a matter of time and practice. Like Pawlenty, he moves easily between banter and seriousness. Coming out of the construction industry, he’s a man’s man, but also a guy that will distract “Desperate Housewives” from the labors of the pool boy. Unlike his Democrat rivals, Mike Hatch and Steve Kelley, you’d want to have a beer with this guy.

History-wise, he’s got the credentials of the always popular political outsider and only Becky Lourey can rival him in the sympathy vote category. Not a “career politician,“ as the head of Robert Muir Company, he grew the construction company from several million in revenue to nearly $100 million since 1991. He makes a big point of being the first builder in the state to enter a multi-year union labor agreement with the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council, which gives him his DFL “union label.” He stresses his ability to bring people together to accomplish big projects.

Doran was raised by a single mother, which motivated him to become involved in in many community organizations including Caring Tree, an early childhood education organization. He attended public schools, has a Twin Cities football championship on his resume, worked his way through college, and with his wife Maria, an attorney, has a Brady Bunch “blended” family. In short, he’s got a background that will resonate with a large part of the population that are outside of and weary of the holier-than-thou interpretation of "family values."

As an outsider, he’s running a “centrist” campaign, calls himself a "moderate." His campaign slogan is “More Principle, Less Politics,” but when pushed, which I did on The Patriot Insider, the slogan comes down to Doran’s cherry-picking popular but binary positions from both the right and the left and packaging them as a move to the middle. Where necessary, he’s staking out compromise positions, not necessarily consensus positions. Essentially, he’s running a third party campaign under the DFL banner. (His Chief of Staff is John Wodele. Coincidence? I think not.)

Two problems with that approach. The first is, when you’re relatively unknown, you have to make news, and that usually means being a little outrageous -- or simply being Jesse Ventura -- which is pretty much the same thing. I didn’t get a sense of the outrageous from Doran. In addition, being outrageous means potentially making the “big gaffe” that can kill an unknown candidate. It’s wait and see if Doran trys to make a big splash early or waits to ride out of the hills and shoot the wounded after Hatch and Kelley slash at their opponents as is their styles.

The second, more subtle problem with the Doran approach is that ‘more principle” necessarily means “more partisanship,” which is what he says he opposes. For example, he regards the Taxpayers League of Minnesota's “No New Taxes” pledge as politics, not principle, when it fact is a very solid reflection of the principle of limiting government. It's very much a principle, just one that Doran doesn’t agree with. Like most politicians, he’s fallen in love with a slogan and hasn’t given it all that much philosophical thought. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time on the program to drive down to what actually are the principles of the Doran campaign beyond the cliche “putting people first,” nor to gain a real understanding of his distinction between “principle” and “policy.”

Nonetheless, whether something is a principle or a policy is, I admit, a somewhat wonkish discussion, and “More Principle, Less Politics” has a ring to. At least in the early stages of the campaign, Doran is coming out of the gate strong -- he’s doing the retail politics necessary to build name recognition, he has one of the most complete campaign press packages I’ve seen and an informative and useful web site, and if nothing else he understands enough about marketing to break out of the clutter of red, white, and blue signage with a distinctive red, black and yellow combination that is already screaming for attention on billboards around the city.

A note to Republicans, I’d keep an eye on this guy.

Update: From Minnesota Democrats Exposed at the DFL Candidate Forum
Kelly Doran came up to me and gave me his card and said I should call him if I ever need information about the campaign. It was a classy move.
I repeat -- this guy bears watching.

Category: Local Politics, 2006 Elections, The Patriot