Battlegrounds emerge in NE Minn. legislative races

Filings have closed for Minnesota’s legislative and congressional races. Here’s a roundup of some of the races in northeastern Minnesota that I’ll be following.

District 3: 
This is the big new district that covers the outskirts of Duluth, the North Shore a vast chunk of northern St. Louis County and Koochiching County (International Falls). State Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) will face Republican Jennifer Havlick of Two Harbors in a rematch of 2010.

In District 3A, Rep. David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake) faces Republican Jim Tuomola of Babbitt in another 2010 rematch. In 3B, Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown) faces GOPer Keith MacDonald of Hermantown. Both of these are rematches. The DFL incumbents are favored in all these races.

District 5:
This new district includes Grand Rapids, Bemidji and Walker and becomes a “Woods and Waters Battleground.” State Sen. John Carlson (R-Bemidji) was paired with State. Sen. Tom Saxhaug (DFL-Grand Rapids) in one of the state’s premiere match-ups. Saxhaug drew an unexpected primary challenger, however, in Bemidji’s Laverne Pederson. He is likely to prevail there for the tougher contest with Carlson.

In 5A, Rep. John Persell (DFL-Bemidji) was paired with Rep. Larry Howes (R-Walker). This will be a close race, with the index slightly favoring Persell but with Howes as an extremely tough opponent. In 5B, my friend Rep. Tom Anzelc (DFL-Balsam) was paired with Rep. Carolyn McElfatrick (R-Deer River). This is a pure toss-up. No primaries in the District 5 house races. Districts 5, 5A and 5B will be heavily targeted by both parties.

District 6:
This is the “Range” district now. State Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) drew a Republican opponent in Brandon Anderson, also of Chisholm. Anderson has a Facebook page. Tomassoni is heavily favored here.

In 6A, freshman Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) has a challenge from GOPer Roger Weber of Nashwauk Township. Weber is likely to invoke charges of union corruption as a member of the group of retired miners whose pensions were robbed in the bankruptcy and sale of National Steel. Still, the district index heavily favors the DFL.

The big race here is 6B, where Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Pike Township) has retired. Three DFLers, Jason Metsa, Lorrie Janatopoulos and Dave Meyer, have filed. There were no surprises at the end of filing, so a contentious primary battle — especially between Metsa and Janatopoulos — awaits the eastern Iron Range this summer. In an interesting twist TWO Republicans filed for this seat, Dan Darbo of Hoyt Lakes and Jesse Colangelo of Eveleth. This will be the first Republican legislative primary on the Iron Range in recent memory. Nevertheless, the fall index heavily favors the eventual DFL primary winner.

District 7:
This is Duluth. State Sen. Roger Reinert, a DFLer, will face Republican Tyler Verry. In 7B, State Rep. Kerry Gauthier faces Travis Silvers in a 2010 rematch. In 7A, Rep. Tom Huntley drew a DFL primary challenge from Brandon Clokey, but is likely headed to a general election against Republican Therese Bower. The DFL incumbents are all heavily favored here.

District 9:
The district is dominated by Little Falls and the south end of the Central Lakes area. Incumbent Sen. Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) moved to this district to run again. He faces former DFL Sen. Al Doty. Gazelka is favored here, but it could get closer.

In 9A, Mark Anderson (R-Lake Shore) faces Don Niles (DFL-Wadena). In 9B, Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls) faces Adrian Welle (DFL-Piersz). Both districts favor the Republicans.

District  10:
This Crow Wing and Aitkin County district features incumbent former Sen. Carrie Ruud (R-Breezy Point) and a DFL primary between Taylor Stevenson of Baxter and Anne Marcotte of Hill City. This could be a competitive race.

In 10A, Rep. John Ward (DFL-Baxter) faces a tough challenge from GOPer Chris Kellet of Brainerd. District 10B is an open seat featuring Republican Dale Lueck of Aitkin and two DFLers, Joe Radinovich of Crosby and David Schaaf of McGregor. Radinovich has been running longer and has the DFL endorsement, but I don’t know much more than that. This will be a competitive race, pitting the GOP precincts of Aitkin County against the DFL lean of the Cuyuna Range.

District 11:
This is Carlton and Pine counties and other nearby precincts. Incumbent Sen. Tony Lourey (DFL-Kerrick) faces GOP challenger Bill Saumer of Pine City. Lourey is favored here but it could be close.

District 11A is an open seat with a lot of variables. There will be a DFL primary between endorsed union organizer Mike Sundin and Cloquet Mayor Bruce Algren. This could be a very competitive contest. Meantime, Cory Pylkka of Carlton has filed for the Independence Party. Pat Omen of Barnum has filed as an independent. GOPer Jim Putnam of Scanlon awaits the DFL primary winner as well. The district probably favors the DFL, but there remain unique challenges with the primary and two third party candidates.

Down in 11B, DFLer Nathan Johnson is in a primary with former Rep. Tim Faust (DFL-Mora). There is a Republican primary between Ben Weiner of Finylason and Pine County Commissioner Mitch Pangerl of Pine City. Tom Ladwig Jr. of Brook Park has filed for the Independence Party. This district is probably a tossup.

Like the MN-8 Congressional race, which includes most of these districts, these races are much more competitive than they were 20 years ago when most were DFL strongholds. The Range still favors DFLers but the Range vote totals are smaller. The new District 5 is a bellwether for the GOP/DFL battle for the House and Senate, though just as important are some of the open seats south of Highway 2. The outcome of these northeastern races will greatly influence who holds the majority in St. Paul after November’s election.


  1. Thanks for the recap. One correction: In SD10, Ruud is not the incumbent. SD10 is an open seat created by redistricting. Ruud is the former SD4 Senator who was defeated by Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji in 2008. Olson was subsequently defeated in 2010 by Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.