Entenza vying for minority support in gubernatorial campaign


by Bill Salisbury, Pioneer Press


DFL gubernatorial candidate Matt Entenza has spent more than $2 million on television advertising, the conventional way to reach voters.

But Entenza also has pumped several thousand dollars into ads in such news outlets as the Mogadishu Times, an online site for the Minneapolis Somali community; La Mera Buena and Radio Rey, a pair of Spanish-language radio stations; and Twin Cities Hmong and black community newspapers.

"We think the communities of color can make a difference in the (Aug. 10 DFL primary) election," the former St. Paul legislator said last week.

Minnesota is 89 percent white, so the vast majority of primary voters will be Caucasian.

But in what may be a very close race, minority voters could be key to victory.

Entenza's rivals for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party nomination -- former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton and state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the party's endorsed candidate -- also are appealing to minority voters. But Entenza has stepped it up a notch this year.

Not only is he advertising in minority news outlets, but he and running mate Robyne Robinson, the recently retired first black TV news anchor in the Twin Cities, have also campaigned extensively in communities of color, and he has hired several field workers from those communities to set up get-out-the-vote efforts.

To win, Entenza probably has to rely on voters who don't usually turn out for primaries.

Dayton is the best-known candidate in the DFL field, and he can rely on voters who have supported him in the past. As the endorsee, Kelliher can tap the DFL Party's voter lists and organization.

So Entenza is mining for nontraditional voters, looking for what he called "pockets of opportunity" in places other candidates often neglect.

One such area is rural small towns, he said. DFL candidates tend to concentrate on Duluth and the Iron Range in nonmetro Minnesota. But Entenza believes country folk are ripe for picking, so he contends that he's making more campaign stops in small towns than his rivals.

Minorities are another neglected area, he said. Democrats and Republicans often mistakenly assume voter turnouts will be low in those communities, "but I think that's because we haven't done enough outreach," he said. "If you don't reach out, then people aren't going to vote. We're working hard to reach out."

His efforts appear to be paying off. He was recently endorsed by Insight News, a newspaper serving Minneapolis' black community.

Insight News Editor in Chief Al McFarlane said he's supporting Entenza because he has aggressively campaigned in the black community, is sincere and has a strong record on civil and human rights.

"I endorsed him based on the idea that you can't treat black people as an afterthought, and you can't presume that we should always be at the margins and our issues should be addressed after everybody else's," McFarlane said. "I see and hear in Matt Entenza a willingness to say that our issues are important and they're essential to both our community and all of Minnesota."

State Rep. Cy Thao, a St. Paul DFLer and Entenza supporter, said Entenza has made a "more genuine effort" to win over Hmong voters than any previous gubernatorial candidate. He said Entenza has attended more community events, created more personal relationships there than other candidates and has hired field staffers who "know what's going on in the community."

As a result, Thao predicted a large Hmong turnout for Entenza in the primary.

But state Sen. Mee Moua, DFL-St. Paul, said Kelliher and her supporters also are waging an aggressive campaign for Hmong and other voters in her East Side district.

"I have a feeling Margaret will do very well here on the East Side," Moua said.

Unlike Entenza, Kelliher doesn't have a personal fortune to spend on media advertising. But she has a different advantage: the endorsements of the DFL African-American, Asian-Pacific Islander, Latino and Somali caucuses.

"All of them are making calls, knocking on doors and talking to their friends in the community about why Margaret will be the best governor for their communities and the rest of Minnesota," said campaign spokesman Matt Swenson.

Ethnic caucus organizers are usually community leaders, he said. "They carry weight when it comes to a DFL primary."

He said the Kelliher campaign is operating bilingual Hmong, Latino and Somali phone banks.

Most important, Swenson said, Kelliher has made a definite effort to meet with minorities, listen to their concerns and earn their trust.

Dayton appears to be doing the least of the three to court minorities. He has held several meetings and participated in parades and other events in minority neighborhoods, and some of his campaign staffers are working on ethnic outreach. But that isn't the center of his campaign's attention.

"We've really been laser focused on who we know is going to vote and who we know likes Mark," said Katie Tinucci, his deputy campaign manager. In particular, they have targeted senior citizens in the metro area and on the Iron Range who traditionally voted for Dayton.

He is spending all his advertising money on television and has not run any radio, print or Internet ads in minority media or other media.