The mega-state of “Minnewisowa” (Minnesota, Wisconsin
and Iowa), includes states that had voted for Barack Obama
in 2008 and 2012, but in 2016 Donald Trump carried Iowa
and Wisconsin, and even traditionally Democratic Minnesota
was in doubt until late on election night when it became
known that Hillary Clinton had won the Gopher State, but
only by a few thousand votes.
Minnesota is a state which then had two Democratic (called
Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party or DFL in Minnesota)
U.S. senators, the governor, five out of eight members of the
U.S. house, and control of the state senate.
But historically, Minnesota rides a political roller coaster.
During the 19th and early 20th century it voted reliably GOP.
Post-World War I populists then dominated state government,
and, after the DFL was created in 1944, the state began sending
liberal DFLers to Washington, climaxing with the careers of
Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, both of whom became
vice president and then their party’s nominee for president.
But in 1978, the conservatives won a statewide upset, electing
two GOP senators and the governor. By the early 1990s,
Minnesota had turned to the DFL again, and then GOP again,
and now after the first decade of the 21st century, the DFL
holds statewide elected offices one more time.
2016 brought still another reverse, with the GOP keeping
control of the state house and retaking the state senate. Most
revealing was the closeness of the presidential race. The
much-heralded DFL GOTV organization almost came up short
in delivering the votes for Hillary Clinton (who had lost the
state to Bernie Sanders in the primary/caucus season).
Donald Trump’s strong showing in Minnesota came in the
state’s rural and blue collar exurban areas which responded to
his antiestablishment message, and in the usual DFL
stronghold on northeastern Range area where the vote was as
much anti-Clinton as it was pro-Trump.
This chronic political confusion leads Minnesota into its next
statewide and congressional mid-term elections in 2018.
The race for governor is heavily populated, especially on
the liberal DFL side with at least five major announced
candidates who want to succeed DFL Governor Mark
Dayton who is retiring after two terms. At least one more
major DFL candidate is still expected to enter the race.
On the Republican side, there are fewer major candidates, but
that could change because at least one ‘household name”
conservative figure is reportedly considering the race. The 2016
results and the state’s history of changing gubernatorial parties
after two terms gives conservatives some reason for optimism.
In the southeastern MN-1 district, incumbent DFL Congressman
Tim Walz has decided to leave Congress to run for governor.
Walz’s last two re-elections were very close, and in 2018 the
open seat will likely go to Republican Jim Hagedorn who so
far has no serious GOP primary competition. Nor has a
strong DFL replacement for Walz yet appeared.
Walz, a former school teacher, is not very well-known in the
rest of the state, but is a strong campaigner. He will face
numerous liberal figures for the gubernatorial nomination.
This large field which also includes State Representative Erin
Murphy, State Auditor Rebecca Otto, former State Speaker of
the House Paul Thissen, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and
State Representative Tina Liebling, probably means there will
be no DFL party endorsement. Even if there were, there would
likely be a bitter primary contest.
The Republicans likewise now have no frontrunner. A major
potential candidate is current Speaker of the House Kurt
Daudt, but he might not run. Formally in the race are 2014
gubernatorial nominee Jeff Johnson, State Representative
Matt Dean, and former state GOP chair Keith Downey. Other
state legislators and two prominent businessmen say they are
also seriously considering the race. Most of the candidates
are not very well-known statewide although Mr. Johnson was
the party’s gubernatorial nominee in the last cycle. Mr.
Downey has been endorsed by former Senator Rudy Boschwitz,
the much-respected and still active party elder statesman.
One candidate who might clear the GOP field at this point is
former Governor (and 2012 presidential candidate) Tim
Pawlenty who has been a highly paid industry association
executive in Washington, DC. but is known to miss politics.
Pawlenty won two terms as governor in St. Paul with a
plurality in three-party races. The third party then is no
longer considered a major Minnesota party. Mr. Pawlenty has
maintained his residence in the state. With the now fluid GOP
field, the former governor is likely to delay his decision until
later this year.
While Minnesota has an unusual number of competitive
congressional races, including at least one likely GOP pick-up,
some races could be affected by President Trump’s standing
in 2018. Republican Congressman Erik Paulsen represents a
suburban swing district, but he did not endorse Mr. Trump in 2016
and won re-election by a wide margin even though Hillary Clinton
carried the district. First-term GOP Congressman Jason Lewis in
the Second District could be vulnerable next year. He represents a
swing exurban district. GOP Congressman Tom Emmer (MN-6)
and DFL Congressman Collin Peterson (MN-7) both seem to be
holding safe seats for next year, although “blue dog” Peterson
represents a very rural and conservative district that will likely go
Republican when he retires. In MN-8, Republican Stewart Mills,
who twice came close to defeating Mr. Nolan, can easily wait until
the end of the year before deciding if he wants run for the third
time. A local GOP county commissioner (from the DFL stronghold
in the district), Peter Stauber, has already announced he is running.
DFL U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar is running for a third term in
2018, but is not expected to have a serious opponent.
Republicans control both the state house and senate. No state
senators face election in 2018, and the GOP margin in the state
house indicates they will likely, but not certainly, keep their
Minnesota has a national reputation for being a dependably
liberal “blue’ state. Donald Trump’s candidacy challenged
that assumption last year. As the president is also doing in
rural regions across the nation, polls indicate he is holding that
support seven months in office and despite many controversies.
How Mr. Trump will influence voters in next year’s election,
however, is unknown at this time, but in the perennial
vagaries of Minnesota politics, he might not matter quite so
much in an election in which he is not on the ballot.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.