I continue to write about Minnesota politics not only
because I live there, but also because it provides such an
interesting variety of political characters and electoral
In its early days, it was reliably Republican. Between the
world wars. it went in at populist direction. After W.W. II
it became a liberal bastion led by Hubert Humphrey, and
later Walter Mondale, each of whom were elected U.S. vice
president and subsequently were unsuccessful Democratic
In 1978, Republicans staged a surprise comeback winning
the governorship and two U.S senate seats.
Since that time, the state has gone back and forth between
the “red’ and the “blue.”
Then in 1998, centrist populist Jesse Ventura won an upset
race for governor as an independent.
After Ventura retired in 2002, the Republicans won back a
U.S. senate seat and the governorship. A few years later,
the Democrats (here called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor
or DFL) hold both U.S. senate seats and the governorship.
In recent years, the DFL and GOP have divided the eight
U.S. house seats, with the DFL usually having a slight edge.
In presidential elections since 1976, the state has voted for
the Democratic nominee. This enhanced Minnesota’s
national image as a blue state, but in 2016, state voters
almost gave the state’s electors to Donald Trump in a very
close election in which outstate Minnesotans voted heavily
for the surprise GOP candidate.
Today, the state seems evenly divided. The GOP controls
the legislature. There is a DFL governor who is retiring at
the low point of his popularity. DFL senior Senator Amy
Klobuchar seems headed for re-election, but the sudden
and controversial resignation of DFL junior Senator Al
Franken has put a second senate election on the 2018
The incumbent 1st district DFL Congressman Tim Walz
is retiring from Congress to run for governor. He is widely
considered the early favorite in a large DFL field. The race
almost certainly will go to an August primary. Walz’s house
seat might well be one of the few GOP pick-ups nationally.
The DFL’s best hopes for a pick up are in the 2nd district
where a first-term Republican is running for re-election. He
barely won in this swing district in 2016 when a third party
liberal candidate diluted the DFL vote. Both the 3rd district
(Republican incumbent), and the 8th district (DFL
incumbent) could become competitive. Interestingly, Hillary
Clinton carried the 3rd by a clear margin, and Donald
Trump carried the 8th district by a big margin.
If there is a wave election, either party could make
dramatic changes in this state. So far, the Minnesota
electorate is severely divided along rural-urban lines, with
President Trump, polls indicate, holding on to his outstate
base that almost swept him to victory here in 2016.
Appointed DFL Senator Tina Smith has been an experienced
behind-the-scenes organizer, but this will be her first real
test as a candidate. Other DFLers wanted the appointment,
but the governor clearly wanted to reward his trusted aide.
A primary contest is not likely, but might be a problem for
Mrs. Smith if a prominent liberal decided to run against her.
On the GOP side, the big recent news was the decision by
former GOP governor and presidential candidate Tim
Pawlenty. not to run for the suddenly available Franken
seat. Mr. Pawlenty had been strongly urged to do so by
prominent Republicans in the state and Washington, DC.
Already in the race is Karin Housely, a two-term state
senator, former TV producer, and married to a hockey
legend, Former Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann has
expressed interest in the race, but she remains too
controversial to be competitive in November. The GOP’s
strongest candidate likely would be Tom Emmer, the 6th
district congressman, who after barely losing the
governorship in 2010, has made an impressive comeback
in Congress. He now has a safe seat, and many think he
will pass on the senate contest, but many consider that he
would be the most formidable opponent to Senator Smith
Nor has GOP heavyweight Tim Pawlenty removed himself
for the 2018 campaign. The senate option only appeared
unexpectedly and briefly, but Pawlenty has been mulling
over another run for governor for some time, and should he
run, would quickly be the favorite for his party nomination
and the strongest Republican in November against
whomever the DFL nominates. Unlike a U.S. senate race,
Pawlenty would not have to worry about raising twenty-plus
million dollars for the campaign. Since none of the already
announced GOP gubernatorial candidates have “taken off”
in their campaigns, the much better-known former governor
can wait until March or April to announce his intentions.
After eight years of a very liberal DFL governor, state
conservatives might be eager to choose a likely winner as
their standard-bearer in 2018, especially if his victory would
almost certainly insure that Republicans would continue to
control the state legislature.
Without a strong top-of-the-ticket figure in November, the
Republican prospects dim significantly. The DFL has long
had the superior GOTV organization, and the GOP default
in the liberal Twin Cities (and thus over-dependence on their
majorities outstate) would then seem to give the “blue” party
the advantage in 2018, even if there is a “red” wave elsewhere
in the nation.
Voters in Minnesota are more complicated than stereotypical
labels. They like to split their tickets, and they like to do the
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.