MOORHEAD, Minn. — When Minnesota Senate DFLers ousted Iron Ranger Tom Bakk from party leadership last week, replacing him with suburban Sen. Susan Kent as minority leader, it was a move based on a potential short-term sugar rush. As for the long-term strategy? Not so much.
Which might tell us all we need to know about Minnesota Democrats and how they see their future.
Urban and suburban is outweighing rural, pretty much the same as what's happening nationally. Seems an odd strategy considering the "F" in DFL stands for "Farmer," but it might be borne of reality. All one needs to do is look at the state's Seventh Congressional District, which includes Moorhead and a wide swath of western Minnesota from Canada to nearly Iowa, to see a red glow as bright as a Make America Great Again cap.
Rural Minnesota, like rural America as a whole, doesn't want much to do with Democrats these days. The move from Bakk to Kent seems to indicate the reverse is true, too.
Bakk, from the small town of Cook north of Duluth, was in DFL leadership for 10 years. He's a throwback union Democrat from the heyday of the Iron Range, a moderate guy who could be gruff and irascible and cantankerous. Bakk was also a consistent voice for rural Minnesota in St. Paul.
Kent is more progressive, which matters in DFL politics these days, but more importantly holds a suburban Twin Cities address. She's from Woodbury, defeating an incumbent Republican in 2012 and barely winning re-election in the Donald Trump wave year of 2016. Impressive, no doubt.
How Kent views rural Minnesota is largely unknown, but her appointment at the top of the Senate DFL minority tips the party's hand on how it views politics in 2020.
The DFL believes its future is in the suburbs. Again, it's part of a larger Democratic trend in the Trump era. Suburban voters rejected Trump's toxicity in the 2018 midterms, pushing Democrats to majorities in the Minnesota and U.S. houses of representatives.
The DFL is doubling down that the strategy will work again two years later, that emphasizing issues like education and infrastructure (and rejecting Republicans' fixation on immigration and divisive social issues, not to mention their cult-like worship of Trump) will again allow them to win the suburbs. It might be the best political road map, and it might work.
A question DFLers need to ask, though: When, or perhaps if, politics again return to something near normal, will suburbs stick with Democrats long-term? History says no. If the suburban swing to the DFL is strictly anti-Trump, and you've all but abandoned rural Minnesota, what's your next play?
Maybe the short-term is so harrowing that Democrats don't have time to think about the long-term.
Either way, the downside for rural Minnesota is that its voice is further diminished at the Capitol. Same goes for the handful of DFL politicians who continue to represent non-metro areas. Whatever Democrats thought of Bakk, he understood issues unique to outstate Minnesota and was an advocate for them and rural members of his DFL caucus.