Lack of statewide political experience and (proportional) decline of Minneapolis’ statewide population base present two challenges for the Mayor

While last month’s Rasmussen poll showing a plurality of likely DFL primary voters equally split between Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and former U.S. Senator Mark Dayton (with most DFL candidates not even listed in the question wording), the path to the Governor’s mansion for Rybak is certainly not a traditional one.

As reported by Smart Politics in October, only three of Minnesota’s 38 governors have only held local governmental positions before becoming governor: Jesse Ventura (Mayor of Brooklyn Park), Harold Stassen (Dakota County District Attorney), and Floyd Olson (Hennepin County Attorney).

Three other governors had no prior governmental experience at any level – Harold LeVander, Orville Freeman, and Stephen Miller.

However, the overwhelming majority of Gopher State governors (79 percent, 30 of 38) held some prior state governmental post before becoming governor.

Rybak’s lack of state or federal governmental political experience leads some analysts to speculate that the Minneapolis mayor might have some difficulty appealing to outstate voters. Rybak himself features “rural economy” as one of his six key campaign issues on his campaign website, as perhaps an early start to buck his image as simply a “big city politician.”

The Ventura precedent – the only other governor of the Gopher State whose prior governmental experience was just mayoral – is easily dismissed by Rybak detractors as a special case due to Ventura’s celebrity as a wrestler and actor.

However, Rybak’s Twin Cities roots per se will not make him unelectable. Far from it – more governors have launched their political careers from Minneapolis (7) than any other city in the Gopher State: Arne Carlson, Orville Freeman, Luther Youngdahl, Floyd Olson, J.A.O. Preus, David Clough, and John Pillsbury.

An additional 12 governors launched their political careers in St. Paul or what is now the greater metro region. Of course, most of these 19 governors from the greater Twin Cities region also had prior state governmental experience.

Another potential problem facing Rybak is that while the greater metro population (where Rybak is most well-known) continues to constitute a larger and larger percentage of the state’s population base, its rate of increase is slowing down while Rybak’s home base of Minneapolis is actually shrinking as a percentage of the Gopher State population.

In 1980, the population of Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, and Washington Counties (1.98 million) was less than half of Minnesota as a whole (48.7 percent).

By 1990, these counties accounted for 52.3 percent of the state’s population, but then only rose to 53.7 percent in 2000 and 53.8 percent in 2008 according to the U.S. Census Bureau population estimates.

But while the greater metro region population has increasingly comprised a larger percentage of the state population, the populations of Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis are each comprising smaller amounts.

In 1990, the population of Hennepin County (0.94 million) totaled 23.1 percent of the total state population. That amount dropped to 22.7 percent in 2000 and 21.9 percent in 2008.

(The population of neighboring Ramsey County has also dropped – from 11.3 percent of the state population in 1980 to 11.1 percent in 1990, 10.4 percent in 2000, and 9.6 percent in 2008).

The population of the City of Minneapolis as a percentage of the state population has also been on the decline – from 9.1 percent in 1980, to 8.4 percent in 1990, to 7.8 percent in 2000, to 7.5 percent in 2008. In short, Rybak’s high popularity in Minnesota’s largest city is counting for less and less in a statewide race as each year goes by.

Of course, should Rybak receive the DFL nomination (and/or win the primary), his big-city roots or lack of state governmental experience may each play less of a factor than the party label beside his name.

If the economic situation and two wars over which the Democratic Party is presiding in Washington D.C. do not inspire confidence in the electorate in the coming months, the Democratic tag may be too much to overcome for whomever the DFL sees fit to run on the general election ballot.

Percent of Minnesota Population by Region, 1980-2008

2008 est.
Hennepin County

* Includes Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, and Washington Counties. All data compiled by Smart Politics from U.S. Census Bureau, except 2008 Minneapolis population data from the Metropolitan Council’s 2008 Population Estimates.

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  1. Minnesota Central on December 8, 2009 at 8:25 am

    IF the Rasmussen poll had any real creditability, wouldn’t the key finding be that the man who won the MN-GOP straw poll only got 11% ? As stated, the poll listed four names and asked for a preference … two listed were declared candidates who have been active on the stump (including one who had a booth at the State Fair) and two undeclared politicians (both polled better than declared candidate Tom Emmer who got 1%.) So did the 50% of the people that responded to Norm Coleman’s name really think that he should get in the race, or were they just responding to a familiar name ? Does this show that Marty Seifert really has a name recognition problem … or do Republicans really want Norm ? But with 26% of the respondents stating that they have no opinion, should this poll just be ignored … except for name recognition ? And if its value is name recognition then Mayor Rybak would seemed to have performed quite well unless you have access to the polling data that suggests that Rybak’s supporters were aligned to the metro area and that he was rejected by out-state respondents.

    For Rybak, should the question be : How does he play in Rochester versas the metro area ?
    Using your population approach, Rochester’s population trend is up.
    1970 it was 53,733
    1980 it was 57,890
    1990 it was 70,745
    2000 it was 85,806
    2008 it is estimated at 102,437

    Using Olmsted County data ( its easier to get than Rochester data but should be representative of the city), in 1998 when Ventura won large counties such as Hennipin, Dakota, Anoka, Ramsey, and Washington, he lost Olmsted to Coleman. The numbers were : Ventura 13,710 Coleman 19,480 DFL 12,205

    In 2002, the IP fared better in Olmsted County and barely beat the MN-GOP candidate. IP Penny got 20,904 while Pawlenty got 20,889 with the DFL lagging at 10,458.

    In 2006, the MN-GOP returned to win the gubernatorial contest but the DFL also performed better. IP Hutchinson got only 3,036 while Pawlenty got 30,874 and the DFL picked up 21,883. In the same election, DFL Klobuchar with 30,102 votes bested MN-GOP candidate Kennedy by just over 6,000 but the real story was in the First Congressional District contest. In Gil Gutknecht’s home county, the incumbent MN-GOP lost to political novice Tim Walz … Gutkencht 27,134 Walz 28,982.
    Considering that Pawlenty won the state by 21,108 votes, Olmstead County was critical.

    Considering the population growth and an inconsistent voting pattern, Rochester is the one to watch. Will the experience of a being a Minneapolis Mayor or a State Representative from Marshall matter to the voters of Rochester ?
    In 2010, it may matter less about political experience than who the other candidates are (will the IP get a big impact candidate) and who can get the voters to turn-out.

  2. tujay on December 8, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    Folks, when are you going to stop saying Outstate Minnesota? It is Greater Minnesota! This is 1 reason why metro candidates and campaigns don’t do well. It is too close to “out of the state.”

  3. Holly Cairns on December 10, 2009 at 7:44 am

    (cross commented on my blog, maybe it’s time for me to list last comments in the sidebar…)

    To run the most effective campaign, IMO, Rybak might:

    1. Voice that he’s visiting rural areas and listening to rural concerns..

    It’d be good for candidates to send comm team members ahead of a rural visit so they can interact in that scene before the candidate gets there. Visit three farms, talk with others downtown, ask about the schools. There’ll be differing opinions so they can’t be sure they understand the community, but the effort will go a long way (especially if they talk about it). Maybe they already do that…

    The declining population issue is a concern for some areas, I’ve heard. I’ve seen legislators address the issue of how to keep the youth in the area (jobs, future, community feeling, specific plans to address that issue). Big city school funding vs. rural school funding has been an issue, too. Schools are struggling, and people are worried.

    And as to “Greater Minnesota”: In my mind, that’s appropriate if we are discussing “most” or “a lot of” Minnesota.

    And I agree tujay, “outstate” is offensive. Rural is the term I understand, and I am proud to live in rural Minnesota.

  4. Steve Brandt on December 15, 2009 at 9:47 am

    Technically, one could add Municipal Judge
    Luther Youngdahl to the list of governors who have had local government experience, in his case in Minneapolis.

    And tujay, I refuse to use Greater Minnesota because it implies that I live in Lesser Minnesota. Just because “outstate” sounds close to “out of state” doesn;t mean they are synonymous. Otherwise, we’d never use the term niggardly as a term for parsimony.

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