The lonely Republican

"Bob Carney Jr. spent just $5,000 on a campaign to become the Republican nominee for governor. He had no staff and no volunteers. No political experience. He lives in a GOP wasteland where, as he puts it, the only Republicans are buried in Lakewood Cemetery, a few blocks down the road from the home where he was raised and now owns.

Yet the 56-year-old independent businessman, documentary maker and inventor wrangled nearly 10,000 votes from GOP-endorsed Tom Emmer in the Aug. 10 Republican primary, representing nearly 8 percent of the Republican vote.

“ That’s 50 cents a vote,” Carney said with as smile during an interview at his home two days after the primary.

Perhaps more astonishing is that Carney, a candidate for mayor of Minneapolis last year, got only 829 of his 9,851 votes in Hennepin County, skimming about 5 percent of the county vote.

He instead hauled in impressive vote totals — as high as 17 percent — in rural places like Swift County, Cook County, Itasca County, Winona and Roseau, even though he never campaigned in most of those areas, never ran an ad in their local papers or on their local TV stations and he didn’t get to speak to their delegates at the Republican state convention.

Carney, who wears bow ties and big, black-rimmed glasses, spent nearly every day of the 2010 legislative session inside the state Capitol chatting with anyone who would listen. He e-mail blasted more than 400,000 Minnesotans. He wrote a few editorials in the Star Tribune and was mentioned in a few of the paper’s articles.

His message?

“ A lot of what’s going in the Republican Party is a kind of insanity and the party needs help,” he said. “There’s a lot of moderates and progressives that have lost their political home to foreclosure to a national regime that’s just kind of come in and taken over the party. And we need to take that home back.”

Carney bills himself as a “moderate progressive Republican.” He proposed raising taxes by $3 billion in Minnesota. He supports strong banking reform. He’s been critical of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s misuse of his executive power.

Mostly, though, he thinks Emmer is an extreme right-winger and would be a disaster of a governor.

So impassioned was Carney that a few days before the primary he pledged that if he won, he would give up his seat to one on a list of six popular GOP leaders — Norm Coleman, Al Quie, Jim Ramstad, Marty Seifert, David Senjem, and Steve Sviggum  — candidates that he felt would make reasonable governors. He called it a referendum on Emmer.

Carleton College political science Professor Steven Schier said the primary election results reveal that Emmer is not exciting his base of Republican support, especially among Greater Minnesota voters.

Emmer received only 108,000 total votes in the primary, far short of what Pawlenty garnered in 2002 and 2006 (173,000 and 148,000, respectively).

The lack of votes for Emmer could be due to moderate Republicans’ dissatisfaction with one of the most conservative Republican candidates in Minnesota history, Schier said.

“ [Carney] is a relatively lonely voice in the state Republican Party now,” Schier said. “This is a party that used to nominate moderates and moderate conservatives routinely. And now their voice is restricted to sort of a gadfly that can’t raise money and has to buttonhole people in the Capitol.”

Emmer’s campaign office did not return a phone message seeking comment.

When Carney talks about the people who shaped his moderate Republican ideology, he invokes former Gov. Al Quie and former U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad.

Carney gets misty-eyed when he re-tells a story from when Quie was governor and he called DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe to his office for no reason other than to tell him he loved him.

“ You don’t see that much anymore,” Carney said.

Emmer, to Carney, is a complete departure from Quie and Ramstad.  

“ He’s temperamental. He’s totally different” Carney said. “He’s just unsuited. He’s just a very belligerent bully.”

Carney has made a three-part, Michael Moore-style documentary about Emmer, titled “Tom and Me.” In it, he confronts Emmer at campaign stops and tries to ask the candidate questions. Emmer ignores.

He did so at the now infamous Emmer campaign stop at Eagle Street Grille in St. Paul. That’s where Emmer made comments about restaurant servers earning more than $100,000 a year.

Carney has made that topic a vocal point of his campaign. He made a 5-gallon tip bucket that he brought to parades. He collected $2 in it, the only campaign contribution he received. The rest of the money came from his own pockets.

Carney said he is contemplating running as a write-in candidate in the general election. Schier said Carney might be able to skim a few votes from Emmer. If it’s a close race, those votes could be crucial.

“ What I want to do,” Carney said, “is reinvigorate and organize moderates and progressives who are Republicans and who are thinking along the same lines I am thinking in terms of applying progressive principals to economics and cutting spending, figuring out how to get the public sector and the private sector compensation back in balance.”"

Southwest Journal, a Minneapolis neighborhood newspaper, September 10, 2010

Link to Bob Carney's Commentary article in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune on December 6, 2010