By J. Patrick Coolican, Minnesota Reformer
Gov. Tim Walz will be in Indiana tonight, keynoting the state Democratic Party’s “Hoosier Hospitality Dinner.”
I expect a joke about Big 10 basketball, before a speech hopped up on Diet Mountain Dew that will rally heartland Dems hoping to turn a red state purple.
In March, he was at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Miami Beach with fancy people from the National Security Council and J.P. Morgan, talking about climate change just after he signed a bill mandating carbon-free energy by 2040.
Some weeks later, he spoke at the national convention of the International Union of Operating Engineers, a lunch bucket and hard hat crowd if there ever was one — again in south Florida.
He doesn’t actually think….?
No, he’s not running for president. He is raising his national profile, however, and with it, Minnesota’s.
I talked to DFL operatives with ties to Walz about why he’s raising his national profile, and the short answer is that there’s plenty of good reasons to do it, and no real downside.
Walz and his team are trying to do a few things:
“That’s the job of a governor — to promote Minnesota and recruit people to move here,” said Jeff Blodgett, a DFL operative.
who advised Sens. Paul Wellstone and Al Franken as they navigated national political interest.
At near full employment and a bevy of construction projects financed during the recent legislative session, we’re badly in need of skilled tradespeople.
So, at the operating engineers convention, he sold Minnesota’s commitment to collective bargaining rights and resulting high wages.
He can also sell Minnesota to America as a refuge from the bonkers — to borrow a word local Republicans are using about Minnesota — politics of red states, which are busy outlawing abortion and gender-affirming care.
A Walz theme during this national outreach is freedom. The pitch is that Midwesterners cherish minding their own damned business when it comes to their neighbors’ health care or what they do in their own homes (e.g., smoke pot and read banned books if that’s your thing).
Consider Walz’s appeal at a rally-the-troops dinner like he’s doing in Indiana tonight: He can show them a glimmer of light at the end of the cherry red tunnel, especially if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee.
To be sure, for some Minnesotans, the novelty of Walz may have worn off.
And even if you admire Walz’s leadership, he’s governed through some of Minnesota’s worst moments, from police killings to riots and the pandemic. That means we may — unconsciously even — associate him with some of the toughest years in recent Minnesota history.
But to Democrats in other states, Walz must seem like a unicorn. He can win over a crowd at FarmFest, and at the National Congress of American Indians. He’s a marksman who signed gun control legislation. He was a command sergeant major in the National Guard, and an early supporter of gay rights. He represented a Republican-leaning district for a dozen years. He didn’t go to fancy schools, but he spent time in China. He was a football coach who knows the language of progressivism, and a geography teacher whose students under his tutelage predicted the Rwanda genocide.
Many of us know him as the guy who speaks in at-times incoherent word salads sprinkled with occasional factual errors.
But for a crowd that’s never seen him, he’s high energy, and the verbal klutziness just gives him more regular-guy-at-the-bar appeal.
And, he signed into law a bevy of progressive legislation despite narrow legislative majorities.
(To be sure: The credit here belongs to Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, as Walz’s office is quick to note.)
“Walz specifically and Democratic governors more broadly are great messengers about what Democratic governance looks like and how it’s making a difference in people’s lives,” said Noam Lee, the former executive director of the Democratic Governors Association.
The big prize, of course, is President Joe Biden’s reelection. The White House probably likes Walz as a surrogate in the Midwest and Florida, both for the contrast with Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Gov. Mike Pence, but also because he can link Biden’s agenda to what’s happening on the ground.
The Legislature took steps this session to leverage all the federal spending at our disposal for infrastructure and climate change mitigation, for instance.
“Biden has gotten things done, but his accomplishments need explaining,” Blodgett said.
Walz can do that, especially with apathetic base voters like young people.
Earning tokens with the White House is good for Minnesota, and good for Walz.
In the case of politics, it really is about the friends you make along the way — and the favors they owe you.
The Walz crowd doesn’t talk about it, but Walz isn’t likely to run for a third term, and he’s not yet 60.
So, what’s next? A Biden cabinet position seems possible, perhaps at the Department of Veterans Affairs, or Education or Agriculture.
Or maybe Biden falls ill and Vice President Kamala Harris becomes president, and she needs a Midwestern white guy to balance her ticket.
Stranger things have happened.
And there’s another presidential election in 2028.
Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.