Rumor of the Day: Dayton to Step Down in 2015

[Note: the following has no basis in fact.  I just made it up.  But it explains a lot.]

Longtime readers will know that I don’t trade in rumors.  But this one was too good to pass up.  It was too good because it explains much of the inexplicable in this season’s election campaign.

Many were surprised when Minnesota’s current governor, Democrat Mark Dayton, decided to run for reelection this year.  In his long public career, Dayton had never run for reelection to any office he had previously held.  At 67, Dayton is the oldest person ever to hold the office in Minnesota.  His ongoing health problems had many wondering whether the multi-millionaire Dayton would choose a comfortable retirement over the rigors of holding high office.

Rumors persisted that Dayton wasn’t really running this time.  Speculation ran that he was waiting for a strategic moment to step aside–paving the way for a hand-picked successor and avoiding a costly intra-party nomination battle.  But the Democrat precinct caucuses, the state convention, the candidate filing date, and the primary election all came and went.  Now we are weeks away from the November election and Dayton is still on the ballot and out on the campaign trail.

So the rumors are shifting to post-election scenarios.  Should Dayton gain reelection for another four-year term (not a sure thing), rumors have him stepping down before completing a second term as governor.

Rumors center on the choice of Dayton’s chief of staff, Tina Flint Smith, as his new Lt. Governor running mate.  Dayton’s critics have pointed to Smith as the real power in the Dayton Administration.

The scenario runs something like this:  Dayton is reelected as Governor, Smith is elected as Lt. Governor.  They muddle through the 2015 legislative session and get a new two-year budget signed into law.  Late summer 2015, when everyone is on vacation, Dayton quietly steps down, making Smith the state’s 41st (and first female) governor. 

The thinking goes that the Democrats want to milk the Dayton name and fortune (and the goodwill surrounding the Dayton family) one last time in 2014.  Once a new Democrat administration is safely entrenched in St. Paul, the new Governor Smith then has three years to establish her own name and campaign machine for a 2018 reelection bid.

It may never happen.  But if it does, you read it here first.