Star Tribune makes no sense and endorses Tom Horner

After telegraphing the move for months, the Star Tribune's editorial board has weighed in on the governor's race, plastering the front page of its Sunday Opinion section with an endorsement for Tom Horner.

Endorsing the candidate still polling a distant third place in his Independence Party campaign for governor seems like a strange move for a paper struggling to convince readers of its relevance.

The editorial board had to explain why voting for Horner isn't throwing your ballot away:

"Some say they're worried about supporting a third-party candidate who's trailing in the polls. They fear contributing to the election of the candidate they favor least."

But the Strib thinks those concerns are for gray-faced cowards who have let the horse-race calculus overshadow their idealism:

"Think about the obligation citizens bear to vote their consciences. And don't let fear cause you to vote for a candidate you consider to be the second-best choice."

Who knew the Star Tribune was such a bastion of heady civic idealism? Not anyone who's read the paper's coverage of Ralph Nader's presidential campaigns, which employed a diametrically opposite rationale.

"Nader seems determined to keep hurting his natural allies," a hand-wringing editorial from 2008 complained. By running on a third party ticket, Nader "weakens the surviving slate by fracturing its base of voters."

In his first two campaigns, Nader was running against such lack-luster milquetoast Democrats that only party loyalists could generate much enthusiasm. Strangely enough, the worst thing the Strib can find to say about Dayton is that "his capacity to rally support for his ideas outside DFL ranks is in doubt."

And then there's the inconvenient truth that by the Strib's own admission, Horner has some serious conflict-of-interest issues with his refusal to disclose the clients of his consulting firm.

Horner got paid to lobby for a new Vikings stadium, and as a candidate has outdone his opponents in pushing the plan forward. And that deal, were it ever to go forward, could bring the Star Tribune big money when the paper's nearby property is bought up for the project.

Of course, you don't need a conspiracy to explain the Strib's move. Unlike a nod to one of the major-party candidates, which would alienate a sizeable chunk of the paper's readership, a Horner endorsement is the inoffensive choice, sure to be forgotten in a few weeks when Horner loses. Not a particularly relevant endorsement, but a safe one.

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