Tuesday, April 24, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Minnesota Puzzle

As the 2018 national mid-term election head into its formative
primary season, the sheer range and variety of competitive
races in Minnesota signal this state will be one of the
most-watched and most-discussed political battlegrounds
this cycle in the nation.

Other states, of course, have individual bellwether and colorful
contests, but Minnesota has, as they say, the whole package ---
several close congressional races, an unexpectedly unpredictable
U.S. senate race, and an all-important contest for governor.

In spite of narratives recently that have presumed “waves” for
both parties in the wake of President Trump’s first two years
in office, the electorate this year, especially that large chunk of
voters who decide their votes late in the campaign season, is
seemingly very volatile and unsettled.

Examining the fascinating and large number of competitive
Minnesota U.S. house races indicates how much results in
November remain a puzzle and undecided.

Starting at the Canadian border, Minnesota has two
congressional districts. the 7th on the northwest and the 8th
on the northeast. Although MN-7 is very conservative and
voted heavily for Donald Trump in 2016, the house seat, held by
a Democrat (in this state called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor
Party or DFL) Collin Peterson. Republicans repeatedly fail to
come up with a serious opponent to Peterson who is one of
the most conservative Democrats in Congress (and one of the
very few pro-lifers in his party holding office). But Minnesota
is likely to lose one of its eight house seats after the 2020
census, and MN-7 and MN-8 are likely in some form to be
combined. Peterson probably will retire then.

The 8th district, which includes the Range, has historically
provided the DFL with large margins in statewide races.
DFL incumbent Congressman Rick Nolan, after two close
re-elections, has retired. In 2016, this district was won by
Donald Trump by 16 points. (Mr. Trump shocked political
observers by almost carrying the state.) This year, the GOP
has an energetic likely nominee, Pete Stauber, while the
DFL failed to endorse a candidate and will face a bitter
August primary. Environmental and mining issues also
favor the Republican here, and MN-8 is probably the most
promising GOP house seat pick-up in the nation.

Conservatives have high hopes to pickup another DFL seat
on the state’s southern border. The incumbent DFLer in
MN-1 has retired to run for governor. The GOP has
endorsed early frontrunner Jim Hagedorn (son of a former
congressman here), but State Senator Carla Nelson (whose
base is in the district’s largest city Rochester) has said she
will go to the August primary. The endorsement helps
Hagedorn, as does the support of prominent GOP leaders,
but he now will have to spend critical resources in the
primary. The DFL-endorsee Dan Feehan will not have this
problem --- his opponents have withdrawn. Feehan also
appears to be the strongest candidate his party could put
up. The district still is conservative, but until the primary
is settled, this race goes from “Lean Republican” to

DFLers have high hopes of picking up the seat now held by
GOP incumbent Congressman Jason Lewis in MN-2. A
former talk show host, Lewis barely won his first term in
2016 against DFLer Angie Craig. She will be his opponent
again in 2018. Lewis impressed most Republicans in his
first term, but the district is even divided between the two
major parties, and this race is a “Toss-Up.”

Just as DFLer Collin Peterson won re-election in a district
carried heavily by Donald Trump, 3rd District GOP
Congressman Erik Paulsen easily defeated his DFL
opponent in a district carried strongly by Hillary Clinton.
With a self-funding and personable (but first-time) candidate,
Dean Phillips, the DFL would like to pick up this suburban
Minneapolis seat, but Peterson is a hard-working incumbent
who fits the district and will be hard to beat. Still “Lean

Five of Minnesota’s eight U.S. house seats are technically in
play, and three now could actually change hands. Three other
seats are considered no-contest. GOP Congressman Tom
Emmer in MN-6, DFL Congresswoman Betty McCollum in
MN-4, and DFL Congressman Keith Ellison in MN-5, are each
expected to win re-election by large margins.

Congressman Ellison, however, is also the controversial and
openly radical vice chairman of the national Democratic Party.
Unpopular with conservatives in outstate Minnesota, he could
become a secondary issue in some of the 2018 statewide races,
including the special U.S. senate election caused by the
resignation of Al Franken last year.

Those other races, the U.S. senate race and the governor’s race,
will have to wait for another column, but like the competitive
U.S. house races discussed above, they are puzzling --- and
with uncertain outcomes.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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