mnpACT! Governor Speaker Series Observations Part 1 – Matt Entenza

I attended the mnpACT! meeting Friday night in Burnsville.  The meeting was part of the ongoing candidate for governor forums mnpACT! is sponsoring.  Matt Entenza and Tom Bakk both spoke.  Since they are two different candidates, I am going to give them a little respect, and do two different posts about the meeting.  This first one will be about Matt Entenza, and later in the week I will post my observations about Tom Bakk.

I am not going to reinvent the wheel when it comes to talking about the meeting.  There is an excellent synopsis of what Entenza and Bakk talked about at the meeting posted by Dave Mindeman at mnpACT!.  I am going to give you a couple observations I made about the candidates during the presentations.

So is Matt Entenza the power player in this race so many people make him out to be?  Maybe he is.  Maybe he isn’t.  If you asked me during the presentation, I would have said no.  If you asked me after the meeting, I would say yes, BUT, he needs to add something.

I have to start out by saying I love Matt Entenza’s story.  I can relate to it, and I admire what he has done during his life, both personally and professionally.  However, I found myself at this meeting hung up on how he was presenting the story.  There is a lot to admire, but the presentation style did not make me connect with him.  I know “connect” is a vague word I have used before when talking about Matt Entenza.  In this instance, it felt like the story lacked passion, and it deserves passion.  It was presented in a low tone, and in a less expressive manner.  It was actually a little dull.

I found out afterwards, that the presentation style was a conscious response to a GOP videographer tracking his appearances. There was a gentleman in the back of the room who set up a camera to film the event.   DFLers have learned the hard way over the years that the GOP shamelessly uses video footage taken out of context to use in commercials that make DFL candidates look bad.  Entenza tactically modulates his voice and purposely avoids making exaggerated gestures when GOP trackers are observing, or in the case of this GOP tracker who seemed to be napping in the back, video recording.

It may seem a bit silly, but it was pointed out by Bridget Cusick, how we can all recall the “Angry Al” commercial footage used in the last senatorial campaign.  That footage was actually footage of a story Al was telling about Paul Wellstone cheering on his son at a cross country meet.  Do they have any shame? 

Hearing that explanation, made me have one of those “Ohhh! That explains it!” moments about previous presentations I’ve seen. 

There have been a few times I have seen him where I questioned whether his candidacy was just a life plan he’s following rather than a passion.  You know, his presentations were just “matter-of-fact,” not necessarily inspiring or even appealing.  While I understand his intentions with the tracker, is he possible missing out on gaining supporters he might attract with a little more expression?  I don’t know.  Maybe there are others who have seen him at events who think I am nuts.  Maybe I have just been at the wrong presentations.  Or maybe I have preconceived notions I have not been able to overcome.

What I think I know is I am probably not the only one with that perception.  My suggestion is to stick a little humor about the GOP tracker into his presentation.  Joke about how as a Norwegian, it isn’t hard to be monotone and expressionless.  In fact it is expected. (pause for chuckling)  But with that video tracker in the back, he might have to act more like a Swede.  (pause for a big laugh)  No big arm gestures or smiles, we know what happened to funny Al Franken at the hands of the GOP.  He became “Angry Al” because he raised his voice a little during a passionate presentation.  Thank goodness for Matt’s Norwegian ancestors setting the example.  It won’t be hard for him.  (pause for chuckle) Then he should talk in a monotone manner for a couple seconds, with his hands firmly at his side slowly reverting to a little sarcastic tone asking for somebody to point out if he gets too excited about how much Tim Pawlenty has hurt the state and starts using his hands when he speaks.  (pause for laugh) Or God forbid raises his voice above a whisper. (continued chuckles)  Then he should honestly say, unfortunately, we have learned we need to be careful during presentations because some people in the GOP are very open to using unethical campaign tactics.

Who would question that?  Even FOX News does it. It isn’t just Tony Sutton and Michael Brodkorb.

In all honesty, I can’t imagine Matt Entenza being anything other than a great governor.  I think the biggest challenge he has is making sure DFLers believe he can win Independents.  And that means making sure he doesn’t get labeled as a rich, bleeding-heart, elitist liberal by the GOP.  His life background needs to be prominent in the public eye way before he gets an endorsement or wins a primary.  That way when the GOP tries to label him, it won’t stick.  People need to know success was not handed to him.  He worked hard.  And thanks to support from his family, community, and this state he became a success. 

Candidates need to run like they expect the endorsement, or the primary win.  They need to anticipate what shameful tactics the GOP will sink to make a preemptive strike, rather than try and defend a label or buzzword applied to them.  I think Mike Hatch did it, and he barely lost despite high negatives even within the DFL.  Matt Entenza seems to have the resources to do that according to people who say they know that stuff.  If that happens and he starts acting like THE candidate, rather than a candidate, I think a lot of undecided DFLers who are hoping for that assertive – can’t lose candidate, will line up behind him.

Later in the week, I will post a my observations of Tom Bakk’s presentation.  And reserve the date so you don’t miss the final meeting in the mnpACT! Governor Candidate Series on the evening of Friday December 11, when Margaret Anderson Kelliher and R.T. Rybak make appearances in Burnsville.  Check mnpACT! for event information.