Post Election Impressions: Rybak Helped Himself

It wasn't surprising to hear that Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak isn't closing the door on a potential bid for the U.S. Senate against Norm Coleman in 2008. Hizzoner has been everywhere during this election cycle, plying his fabled energy with enough charm and calculation that his chances at higher office appear slightly less doomed than they did a few months ago.

How? By doing loyal scut work for both Mike Hatch and Keith Ellison, a pair of unconventional pols who represent two very disparate wings of the DFL. Hatch punted the metro area in favor of an outstate strategy. It turned out to be a mistake, as Hutchinson stole many good, gettable votes from him around here, but RT, more prominently than any other Minneapolis DFL-ers, worked hard for him. The only calls my South Minneapolis household got on behalf of Hatch the week before the election were from the nurses (always huge for Hatch and my wife is an RN), Clean Water Action (on behalf of Hatch and all Democrats)...and a taped message from RT specifically on behalf of Hatch, with a reason, the LGA cuts, attached. Bottom line, if I was a totally apathetic South Mpls. voter, RT Rybak gave more longer and more good reasons to vote for Hatch than did anybody else.

I was reporting on the Ellison campaign not long after its nadir, after the blogs and newspaper stories had begun to permeate, putting Ellison in, if not a death spiral, a sense that maybe he could finish among the top two with Junge and make it to the primary. During that period of time, Rybak again loomed large. Indeed, at that large fundraising bash put on by Sam and Sylvia Kaplan this summer, the hosts were followed in their introductory speeches by RT, just back from his vacation, in his jogging shorts and a sweaty t-shirt among the swanky, glibly comparing Ellison to Johan Santana. Walter Mondale's little pitch after that was totally perfunctory by comparison--important that he was there and that he spoke, but that's all. And we know about Sabo, cold lefse to the bitter end. But back to Rybak, a hot dish if there ever was one. There is nothing a politician remembers more than when someone stays next to them when they are down. And you can bet Ellison speaks well of Rybak, when other "nice" politicians like Gail Dorfman and Mark Andrew were fleeing as fast as they could.

Finally, at Ellison primary night victory party at the Blue Nile, one of the evening's many highlights came when Rybak gave a brief but very moving and laudatory speech about the woman he defeated for Mayor, Sharon Sayles Belton, and demanded she get up on the stage and speak. This bit of high drama accomplished two things: Dissuaded people from noticing that Ellison was (naturally) much later than he had led people to believe fifteen minutes earlier; and filled that time by walking the talk on one of Ellison's classic campaign themes--"love our differences, we're all in this together"--in an interesting and compelling way.

Does Rybak stand much of a chance statewide against Norm Coleman? I wouldn't bet my mortgage on it--and that's assuming he gets by Al Franken and Mike Cirisi, two other pols without a lot of clout beyond the metro area. The point here isn't that Rybak could win or should win his party's nod to get into an ex-Mayor thrown-down with Norm. It merely acknowledges that Rybak earned plaudits and respect the old fashioned way from two opposite sides of the DFL.

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