Northern Minnesota’s role in shaping the legislature

Earlier today I shared my final thoughts on the MN-8 race heading into Election Day. Right now I’m going to share some ideas about legislative races in northern Minnesota.

Conventional wisdom is that the DFL has “a good chance” to take back the Senate and “a chance” to take back the House. I haven’t seen any race-by-race polling to indicate the reasons for this. I suppose the issue is that the DFL is playing defense on more House seats while making a gambit to take several open or reconfigured Republican seats. It’s more cut-and-dry in the Senate. They would need to have a clean, consistent win across several races to take the House.

My gut, however, tells me the DFL will either take both houses or none at all. And I’d lean, ever so gently, toward predicting that the DFL will win this one. Here’s why.

More after the jump.

President Obama, after slipping some last week, is doing better again. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is a sure bet to win her re-election bid. The only question is whether she breaks the state record for victory margin in a Senate race. The DFL leads the generic legislative ballot polling by about 8 points. This all combines to create a tailwind for the down-ballot races.

The DFL could take the House and Senate with a major surge in the suburbs. I know less about the specific races there, but it’s possible to imagine DFL resurgence in Eagan and similar places due to the nature of the issues raised in the campaign. Constitutional amendment voting there will be more favorable to Democrats than it is up north.

Speaking of up north, I’ll be watching some of the close races up here — both for my blog and personal reasons. Senate District 5 is the oddity of the cycle, featuring six incumbents vying for a Senate seat and two House seats.

I live here, in the “Iron Range” portion of SD5, a very small part of the larger composition of a pure swing seat. If the DFL sweeps here I’d bet heavily on DFL control of the houses. That’s a real possibility, but a split is probably most likely. A Republican sweep is not unthinkable. Because I know most of the candidates and am running one of the campaigns, I’ll not make a firm prediction because it’d be inherently biased. I know this district, though, and will be watching closely tomorrow night.

Other seats to look out for in the north: Joe Radinovich (DFL) vs. Dale Lueck (R) in the open District 10B, including the Cuyuna Iron Range portion of Crow Wing County and Aitkin County. Radinovich is a youthful voice from the Crow Wing region; Lueck is a Aitkin County Commissioner. Radinovich’s votes come from his home area, while Lueck’s county is a Republican stronghold. My gut tells me this is Lueck’s to lose, but a Radinovich win is possible. If he does win, that would greatly improve the chances of a DFL House.

We are fairly confident that Mike Sundin will win the open House seat in Carlton County. That’s a +1 for the DFL there. Northwestern Minnesota features the GOP’s best chances to take away DFL House and Senate seats, while DFLers are trying to battle back in the borderland seats around Red Lake. These areas act a little differently than the state as a whole, so should be considered separately from any statewide trends.

Northern Minnesota is more socially conservative than its voting patterns, so the Marriage Amendment will probably carry up here. This could potentially boost GOP hopes in the region. At the same time, Minnesota Ojibwa tribes are deeply upset about the Voter ID amendment, which would create barriers for many tribal members to vote. They’ve registered record numbers of new voters on the Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth reservations. Any district including these voters could receive unexpected DFL votes (this could, for instance, affect the SD5 and HD5A races significantly).

This area won’t win or lose the legislature on its own, but the party that wins the majority of the northern seats is poised to win the legislature, pure and simple. If Republicans do exceedingly well up here it could provide a firewall if President Obama, Sen. Klobuchar and the Vote No movements drive DFL success elsewhere.

Redistricting has greatly reduced the representation of northern Minnesota. But in this one election, because of the competitive nature of the legislative showdown, we maintain a significant role in shaping state politics.

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