What to watch for in Minnesota’s August primary

By Kevion Ellis

As our calendars turn to August, we usually think of back-to-school season and the start of the State Fair. This year is different. So many of our usual summer “constants” won’t occur, but in the political world, the show goes on.

As a recent Minnesota transplant, I’m excited to vote in my first primary here this year. Minnesota’s primary election is set for August 11 and voting is already underway. According to the Secretary of State’s office, more than 350,000 Minnesotans have requested absentee ballots, choosing to vote by mail rather than in person.

When the results arrive, here’s what we will be watching:

1. Key DFL primaries
The battle between red and blue is well-publicized and closely examined. But watching the intraparty battles can often give us political junkies a little better insight on what’s driving the politics of the moment, and what it might mean for the governing road ahead.

In May, we saw several well-established Minnesota DFL legislators lose their party endorsements to more progressive candidates. This has been a growing trend in DFL politics for the last several election cycles and is especially pronounced in the metro area. Over time, this has pushed the DFL legislative agenda in ways that haven’t produced electoral success in state races outside of the metro area.

We will specifically be watching the outcomes in these races: Senate District 62 (south Minneapolis, Senator Jeff Hayden); Senate District 07 (Duluth, Senator Erik Simonson); and House District 59B (downtown/north Minneapolis, Representative Ray Dehn).

Bucking this trend is the very visible battle between 5th District U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and challenger Antone Melton-Meaux. Melton-Meaux outraised Omar six-fold last quarter and has a significant cash-on-hand advantage. Melton-Meaux has criticized Omar’s congressional work as being too extreme. While Omar is currently polling ahead of Melton-Meaux, we will be watching this race for any “down ballot” effects.

2. Challenges to Republican leaders
The intraparty bickering isn’t limited exclusively to the DFL Party. Republicans face challenges from within their party as well. This primary season we see a concerted effort to take out House and Senate Republican leaders.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (East Gull Lake), House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (Crown) and House Deputy Minority Leader Anne Neu (North Branch) all face primary challengers. There is a coordinated effort by factions within the Republican Party to criticize these leaders for cutting deals and not standing stronger against Governor Walz, particularly as it relates to Walz’s flexing of executive powers.

While we expect these three leaders to easily win their primaries, some suggest that these challenges are affecting the leaders’ negotiating flexibility in this summer’s special sessions.

3. Voter turnout
Minnesota generally ranks among the highest in the country for voter turnout in general elections (with the most recent 2016 and 2018 elections being the highest). But the COVID-19 pandemic certainly has voters thinking twice about heading to a physical ballot box.

Absentee ballots are rolling into the Secretary of State’s office at 20 times the rate they did at this time in 2016 and 2018. And, the state is hoping to assist local communities in ramping up safety precautions at its 3,000 polling centers. However, efforts to recruit the needed 30,000 election judges are slow, and it’s not clear whether Minnesotans who typically show up in person will fully embrace a mailed ballot or early voting process.

Primary voter turnout will give political candidates a good sense of how they should approach the remaining months of their campaigns. Low voter turnout often harms Democrats in statewide offices. With a hotly contested presidential race and Minnesota having been a 2016 battleground for Clinton/Trump, I suspect those voter turnout numbers will influence how campaign dollars are spent between now and November.

News outlets are struggling. What does this mean for business?

By Chris Duffy

I spent the first five years of my professional life as a television reporter, and I am astounded by how much the journalism industry has changed since I ventured into public relations 12 years ago. This was largely apparent pre-COVID-19, but the changes in the media industry since March have been colossal – and not in a good way.

At a time when information is more essential than ever, the industry responsible for providing such information is struggling. Let’s start with some truths:

• Demand for news is up. When the news is heavy, people want it more. What’s heavier than a pandemic paired with a renewed fight for racial justice and a contentious November election?

• Advertising across traditional U.S. news outlets is plummeting. It is estimated that ad revenue for traditional media outlets will be down 25-35% this year.

• Media outlets are cutting staff, consolidating and even closing. Advertising revenue accounts for approximately 70% of the funding for most newspapers. Nearly a dozen Minnesota newspapers have closed since the onset of COVID-19. Minnesota Public Radio recently announced it was laying off more than two dozen employees. Expect this trend to continue.

Instead of stepping on my soapbox* and urging people to support journalism by subscribing to news outlets and taking out ads (both of which are important), I’m going to take the “what does this mean for business” approach.

1. Media relations is taking on a new definition
Although its credibility has taken a hit over the past few years, news media is still the most credible form of communication according to the American public. However, as newsrooms shrink and newsworthy stories grow, getting a story placed in the media is becoming more challenging. There are simply not enough reporters to cover the onslaught of story ideas that flow into a newsroom each day. Media relations experts need to work even harder to get the attention of journalists for proactive story ideas and refrain from flooding their inboxes with irrelevant pitches. They also need to sharpen their reactive media skills as hard news becomes more dominant and feature stories fall by the wayside.

2. Relationships are key
In a time where in-person human connection is lacking, having personal relationships with members of the media is key. It’s a major advantage when a reporter recognizes your name in their inbox as a trusted source who offers strong story ideas.

3. Storytelling should be multi-faceted
If you’re only using one tool in your communications toolbox, you’re probably not getting the results you’re hoping for. Consider all the communications tools available and execute as many as appropriate. This includes media relations, paid media, digital communications, social media, video, podcasting and much more.

4. Businesses that pay attention will be most successful
The media landscape will continue to change rapidly. To be successful, businesses must react to and adjust their communications strategies accordingly. The strategies that got businesses attention five years ago are not as viable today, and they certainly won’t be as effective five years from now. Companies need to continually assess their strategies and invest in their owned media channels and communications methods.

5. Tone is more important than ever
With everything going on in the world, the public is expecting an incredibly high amount of transparency and authenticity from organizations and their leaders. Your tone and voice are just as important as what you have to say. Make sure your messages reflect your organizational values and the best version of your brand’s personality.

While the media industry – along with much of the nation – is in crisis, businesses can position themselves for success by building relationships with the reporters that matter most, developing a well-rounded approach to their communications efforts, and paying attention to the constantly-moving target of how people communicate.

*Back on the soapbox: Journalists are an essential part of our communities. Over the past few months, I’ve been inspired by and grateful for the work they continue to do to keep us informed during a pandemic, document social change and hold officials accountable. Thank you! 

Goff Public offering pro bono services to organizations working to achieve racial equity

Over many years, Goff Public has been honored to help address racial disparities in our community through a variety of client and pro bono work and involvement in civic organizations. But we know that much more must be done to achieve a just and equal society, so we are dedicating our experience, talent and hard work where it can count.

We are currently offering some of our communications and government relations services at no cost to local nonprofits and advocacy organizations that are working to achieve racial equity within our community. Whether it is advocating for legislation at the state Capitol, developing communications strategies or pitching stories to news outlets – we want to support organizations that are striving for constructive change, building relationships, and sharing resources and perspectives to help educate the community.

Organizations that are interested in our pro bono services can fill out the form below by August 21.


Pro bono services from Goff Public

Questions? Please contact Jennifer Hellman at jennifer@goffpublic.com or 612-202-3468.