Like a classical grand opera, the 2018 elections in Minnesota
have three acts.
Act I --- the competitive U.S. house races were recently surveyed
on these pages. It is time to take an updated look at Act II --- the
competitive U.S. senate race.
There are actually two U.S. senate races in this state this cycle
because Al Franken unexpectedly resigned last year. The
Minnesota governor then appointed his lt. governor, Tina Smith,
to fill the seat until this November when a special election would
be held Franken would have run for re-election in 2020).
Senior Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat (DFL), is normally up
for re-election in 2018. This would be her third term. As the most
popular DFL figure in the state, she is not expected to have a
But, as it appears now, Tina Smith is in for a competitive contest
from State Senator Karin Housely, a Republican. The question is,
with two generally unknown statewide candidates, just how
competitive will this race be?
Senator Smith has considerable experience behind-the-scenes in
local and state politics. She not only has been a successful
campaign manager, she has served as chief of staff to a former
Minneapolis mayor and to the current governor, Mark Dayton.
Her election at lt. governor in 2014 was as part of the DFL ticket
overshadowed by Dayton. Like many political staff members,
she works easily with the boss, and fellow staff, but does not
necessarily have an outgoing style of relating to voters. As an
appointee only months before the special election, she needs to
campaign heavily to become better known. Her dilemma is that
she also must appear to be working hard in her new job, including
casting votes that will keep her in Washington, DC most of the
spring and summer. (In 1978, a popular, but appointed, Minnesota
senator missed many votes in order to campaign, and it led to his
surprise defeat at the polls that year.)
If Tina Smith can be characterized as more private and a bit shy,
her likely Republican opponent, Karin Housely, could be described
as ebullient and outgoing. With a background in business and
experience in the state senate, she has local credentials, but a small
resume for national politics. When she announced her candidacy, it
was greeted by some skepticism among several GOP insiders.
Her initial efforts, however, including her recent legislative
efforts on behalf of the state’s elderly, has improved hopes of many
conservatives --- although Senator Smith remains, for now, a slight
favorite in November.
Other factors could affect the outcome of this race, especially if the
final vote is close. The DFL contest just added a challenger, a former
Republican who is very critical of President Trump. But neither he
nor any GOP challenger to Senator Housely is likely to win an
endorsement in June nor a nomination in August. A strong
independent candidate on the left or the right, on the other hand,
could be a factor in November if the race is tight.
The economy and President Trump’s’s popularity in late October
could be bigger factors, as could the relative merits of the two
campaign organizations and their fundraising. Senator Smith has,
so far, raised more money.
With so much at stake for the Trump administration agenda and
the Democratic Party’s hopes for 2020, there will be considerable
outside financial input from both national party campaigns and
national conservative and liberal PACs.
Finally. the Minnesota voters’ historic tendency for ticket-splitting
could be crucial --- with two senate seats up this cycle.
Act II of this electoral Minnesota opera, just as Act I, will also
draw plenty of national media attention for its numerous
possible pick-ups and national impact. But Act III --- a critical
race for governor --- could prove to be the state’s most
significant race of all. More about that soon.
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.