By Tom Steward | Watchdog Minnesota Bureau
HBO host Bill Maher wasn’t on the ballot in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District this week, but then neither was President Obama. Right?
The “Real Time” talking head inserted himself into the race as surely as the chief executive, targeting the suburban Twin Cities seat held by GOP Congressman John Kline for his much ballyhooed “flip-a-district” national campaign.
“John Kline, he’s one of those silent threats you never see coming,” said Maher in making the announcement weeks ago in Washington. “Ebola, ISIS, John Kline.”
When the votes were added up though, the race was over early, a blow-out. Six-term congressman Kline doubled his margin of victory over challenger Mike Obermueller in a rematch from 2012. The former Marine One pilot thumped Obermueller by 18 percent in 2014, compared to about 8 percent in the last election cycle.
So was it a referendum on Maher, Obama, Obermueller — or all of the above?
“The more Minnesotans learned about Bill Maher, the more outraged and offended they were, which could be why he canceled radio interviews in the Twin Cities this week,” said Kline spokesman Troy Young. “His effort, if you can call it that, to flip this district fizzled and it was telling even Berkeley students petitioned to keep Maher and his offensive and disgusting views off their campus.”
Maher didn’t respond to a Watchdog Minnesota Bureau Twitter inquiry for his reaction to his flip-a-district campaign loss. “Well, I guess we picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue. And flipping Republicans. Enjoy it John Kline, at least people are on to you now,” Maher posted on his website following the results.
“If Maher really had wanted to have a political impact he should have picked a district where enough people actually watch his show to make a difference and where there was a serious change to upend the incumbent,” said David Schultz, a Hamline University political science professor and analyst. “The reality is that the flip a district idea was more ratings stunt that real politics.”
The cable TV personality made one Minnesota appearance, holding a town hall-style meeting on friendly turf, flanked by fans in Northfield, a college town in Kline’s district. Toward the end of the campaign, Maher started lowering expectations, telling the New York Times days ago it would be nice to “make it way closer than it’s ever been.”
Still, the HBO funnyman launched his own last minute GOTV effort this week on social media with a drumbeat of negative tweets with the hashtag #FLIPKLINE.
“Pls RT until all of Minnesota’s 2nd hears us! Tomorrow is the day to #FLIPKLINE,” tweeted Maher on Monday.
“Hey college students of, if I can remember to vote tomorrow with all the weed I’ve smoked, then so can you,” said the satirist’s first Election Day tweet favorited by 1,100 followers.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if a flash mob could change history? One that shows up at the voting booth? Come on MN#2, now’s the moment,” popped up next on @billmaher’s feed.
For his closing argument to Minnesota voters, Maher linked to an Eva Longoria video endorsing his campaign against Kline in a promo for her documentary “Food Chains.”
“And speaking of food chains, I can’t think of any person lower on the food chain than a guy who would take money from coal companies and then deny man-made climate change. On Tuesday, flip John Kline. Go to flipadistrict.com!”
While Obermueller welcomed the national spotlight, political pros panned Maher’s chances from the start.
“He picked the wrong guy,” stated the Washington Post’s The Fix.
How did the Obermueller campaign view Maher’s involvement in the end?
“We knew that this election was never going to be about Bill Maher. While the initial attention and fundraising boost was a positive, nobody was making a decision based on whether they liked Maher,” said campaign spokesman Kevin George in an email. “It wasn’t a distraction, but over the course of the campaign as a whole, it’s difficult to characterize it as anything more than a blip.”