Night falls on a Syrian rebel-controlled area (
by Tony Petrangelo
Sep 7, 2013, 11:00 AM

Minnesota’s Congressional Delegation, Syria and 2014

[Editors Note: typically I do a Weekly Wrap™ on the weekends. This week I got about 600 words into the first item about the Syria vote and thought to myself (and here’s where the editor’s note goes even more meta), “self, you should just make this it’s own stand-alone post.” So that’s what this is. There may or may not be a Wrap™ tomorrow.]

For those keeping score at home, 1) where do I get the Syria war score cards all the cool kids have and 2) here’s the latest on Minnesota’s delegation:

Legislator Syria Position
Al Franken Yes
Amy Klobuchar Leaning yes
Tim Walz Leaning no
John Kline Yes
Erik Paulsen No
Betty McCollum Yes
Keith Ellison Yes
Michele Bachmann No
Collin Peterson No
Rick Nolan No

To be clear, this is how they are saying they will vote on the current resolution. Some, like Rick Nolan, will likely not change their vote no matter the resolution’s language, but others could certainly shift their position if the bill changes significantly.

It’s not that often that such immediate matters of war and peace come up for big votes in the congress. The last time it happened, the 2003 Iraq vote, the ramifications were vast. A person could make a rather compelling case that it wasn’t Barack Obama who beat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 2008, but rather it was Clinton’s vote in favor if the use of force authorization against Iraq.

The big difference between this vote and the one on Iraq (and this is entirely because of Iraq) is that this time voting against intervention is seen as the safe vote. In 2003, the conventional wisdom was that the safe vote was in favor of the resolution.

And while the scale of this possible intervention seems to be more narrow, the optics of the vote don’t appear to be a whole lot different. So it’s worth looking at who is saying they are doing what and what that might mean.

I’m not going to try and make a case that anyone is taking the position they are taking for electoral reasons, but regardless of why they took such a position, that position will likely have electoral implications and that’s what I want to explore a bit.

The Senators

First off, Amy Klobuchar won’t run for Senate again until 2018, if she in fact does run again. So this vote will likely be firmly in the rear-view mirror by then. The more immediate concern for Amy Klobuchar is her possible Presidential aspirations for 2016.

To what degree she’s just testing the waters and to what degree she is seriously considering a bid are a little uncertain to me. I don’t know she how she would get any oxygen (pun?) in a race that includes Hillary Clinton. More likely, and probably like a lot of Democrats, she is waiting to see what Hillary will do.

I haven’t written much, if at all, about Klobuchar’s recent Presidential water toe-dipping excursions, suffice it to say she’s been going around to many of the places that aspiring Presidential contenders go and doing many of the things that aspiring Presidential contenders do.

This vote may be the defining vote of the Democratic Presidential nomination contest in 2016, as Iraq was in 2008. Or it may not. Amy Klobuchar has historically been rather careful with her positions on issues and this decision may be her most important one yet, from an aspiring President perspective that is.

Al Franken has the more pressing issue of getting re-elected to the Senate in 2014 and he seems to be rather firmly in the bomb Syria camp.

Al Franken has maintained what are for the modern political era, some pretty good approval ratings, currently sitting at about +16 approval minus disapproval. The fallout from whatever ends up happening with Syria is likely to have an effect.

It may or may not be worth noting that as far as I can tell, only one of Senator Franken’s possible opponents has let his position be known.

(Although I guess you have to be Jim’s friend on Facebook to see said Facebook post. Hey Jim, there are these things on Facebook called “Pages,” where anyone can see all your campaign stuff. Use one of those.)

Looking at the campaign websites, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages for both Julianne Ortman and Mike McFadden reveals no discussion of Syria. At all. They are both way too preoccupied with Obamacare to be distracted by things like possibly going to war in the middle east it seems.

The Representatives

Michele Bachmann is on the no side, but she’s not running in 2014 and since this post is about electoral implications, this is thankfully the only sentence I will write about her.

Another Republican in opposition is Erik Paulsen who represents a (not really) swingy suburban district and wins by healthy margins. There may be some Representatives who would be hurt by a no vote, Erik Paulsen is not one of them.

Rick Nolan and Collin Peterson, two Democrats in swingyish out-state districts came out early in opposition to bombing Syria. And their fellow Democrat in a swingyish out-state district, Tim Walz, seems skeptical of supporting a strike. While all three won by healthy margins in 2012, they will likely be targets in 2014. Rick Nolan because he’s a freshman, Tim Walz and Collin Peterson because of their districts.

But if the reaction of the constituents at Tim Walz’s recent town-hall is any indication of what voters in congressional districts seven and eight think, these three will have helped to insulate themselves from any potential fallout from a strike by voting no.

On the yes side are the two Democrats who represent the Twin Cities, Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum. Neither of these two are in any general election jeopardy, but it’s certainly conceivable that one or both could face a serious primary challenge for supporting a bombing campaign. If President Obama has any hope whatsoever of getting this thing passed though, these are the types of Democrats he needs to be voting on his side, Democrats from safe districts.

All of which leaves us with Representative John Kline, a Republican in a newly swingy district who is supporting a military strike. John Kline is going to be one of the Democrats top targets nationally in 2014 and certainly the top target in Minnesota. Look at this graph and you can see why. In his old district John Kline would easily get over 200,000 votes in a Presidential cycle, last year he got less then 194,000.

And this vote puts him at even more risk, not only in the general election, but in a possible primary election. While his opponent, David Gerson, got less than 15% in the 2012 primary election, it was the first time John Kline had faced a primary since he got elected to the congress in 2002.

John Kline isn’t only a target of the Democrats, with this vote he may become even more of a target for local Republicans.


Minnesota’s two Senators would seem to have the most riding on the outcome of not only the Syria vote but any subsequent military action, with Representative John Kline also potentially at risk.

Of course in 2003 many congress people likely thought they were doing the safe thing by voting to authorize the use of force in Iraq. It turned out that was the play that cost at least one of them her shot at the Presidency. It’s certainly possible this vote turns out the same way, where what we all think is the safe position, a no vote, turns into an albatross.

What if we don’t do anything and it turns out that Assad’s crimes were much worse than we had previously thought, or that he subsequently escalates his use of chemical weapons and we end up bombing them anyway. Under this scenario, it may be those who voted for intervention now who are vindicated, just as those who voted against the Iraq war in 2003 were later vindicated.

The point is that we don’t really know what’s going to happen in Syria and, in hindsight, what the right call will have been to make, but there’s no doubt it will have implications on 2014 and beyond.

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