What to watch: MN House 6B DFL/GOP primaries

I’ve already written about the implications in the House 6B legislative race here on northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. Some big changes are in store for this post-industrial industrial/mining/woodsy region regardless of the outcome.

I’ll be watching the DFL and GOP primaries in 6B along with the MN-8 DFL primary on Tuesday night. Meantime, I’m going to share the paths to victory that each candidate hopes to find on Aug. 14. I talked about this race on KAXE yesterday and did an MPR interview on the topic which will be posted at some point.

Lorrie Janatopoulos is a seasoned community leader who’s worked in DFL politics her entire adult life. That’s how I met her when I was a politically active youth. In the interest of full disclosure, though I have chosen not to endorse in this race (I don’t live in this district and I’m trying to cover it fairly) I am very proud of my friend Lorrie. She’s a colorful, strong, whip-smart Range woman and she’d be a fascinating addition to the Range legislative delegation and House of Representatives.

I rather enjoyed her radio ads, which feature the distinct tones of the Iron Range accent. The first is a subtle effort to demonstrate her independence and fighting spirit.

The second is a rather clever way to help people remember how to pronounce her extremely Greek last name.

Reality is, however, that Lorrie faces a very strong headwind on Tuesday in the form of an extremely well-organized opponent.

Jason Metsa is a labor organizer, political organizer and scion of a well-known and respected Iron Range family. I know Jason and consider him a friend as well. As I told Politics in Minnesota a couple weeks ago, Metsa is probably the superior politician in this race. He’s edged Janatopoulos in campaign spending and organization. His parade and public event presences have been slightly larger, particularly in the age-old Range tradition of yard signs. We know from his experiences running campaigns in the past that he knows a great deal about direct mail and voter contacts and that he’s probably working off the best list available.

The central question for Metsa is whether he can turn his wide range of political skills into actual support in this odd primary. Keep in mind that so much attention has been paid to the very rare DFL primary in the congressional race that the 6B battle has been much quieter than it otherwise would have been. Metsa has a lot of advantages. His campaign and coalition largely resembles the ones that propelled Tony Sertich to victory in 2000 and Carly Melin in 2011 on the other side of the Range. His messaging is very similar to what Sertich and Melin used to great effect in their first races.

Construction worker Dave Meyer is the underdog in this race. He’s put together a shoestring campaign and is trying to present himself as an outside alternative to the two DFL front-runners. He did not file a report with the State Campaign Finance Board. I don’t expect a strong showing from Meyer, but he could take some votes in the east Range cities of Biwabik, Aurora and Hoyt Lakes, diminishing their impact on the race.

Interesting facts?
Metsa raised about $11,300; Janatopoulos raised about $10,000. They have a similar amount on hand after the late July reporting deadline, about $2,000, but Metsa reports about $6,000 in unpaid debt. In other words, the two have raised a similar amount but Metsa has spent more. Also, for all the hubbub about “age” in this race, Janatopolous, 55, electronically filed for the state campaign finance board while Metsa, 32, paper filed, which actually requires a special variance to even do anymore. Perhaps age really is just a number.

Jesse Colangelo is the Republican-endorsed candidate in the first GOP primary on the Range in the taconite era. He’s running as a pro-union, Christian conservative, which is a really interesting combination, probably the best “profile” a Republican could have with any hopes of winning a Range legislative election. He is new to politics, but if party backers help propel him to the primary win he could be a wildcard to watch in the general election.

I have yet to meet or interact with Mr. Darbo, but in reading his profile information in the DNT I see he is quite active in the east Range community, having served on the Mesabi East school board for 12 years, volunteering in the community and active in local business. On paper, he makes a pretty compelling candidate as well. What he does not seem to have is much campaign organization.

What to watch
About a quarter of the vote in 6B is in the city of Virginia, much of the rest is in Eveleth, Gilbert and Mt. Iron. Aurora, Biwabik and Hoyt Lakes also contain a notable block of votes. This isn’t a tiny district, but much of the land outside of these towns is in lightly populated townships. Some of those townships will report first, but a few poll watchers comparing Virginia, Eveleth and possibly Aurora could probably call this race early.

For both the DFL and GOP races I don’t expect a late night. Because this is such a tightly-knit district I don’t expect a lot of variability town to town. A trend line will be established around 9:30 p.m. and that will probably be the ballgame.

Metsa needs and expects a big performance in his hometown of Virginia. Janatopoulos needs a very strong showing in Eveleth, where she’s lived, and the surrounding areas. She would be well served to keep the southern townships in her column. If Janatopoulos keeps it close in Virginia and wins Eveleth that’s a signal that she could win. If Metsa sweeps the Quad Cities (including Virginia, Eveleth, Gilbert and Mt. Iron) its all over right there.

I don’t know exactly how the two Republicans are campaigning in their race. Turnout in the GOP primary will be much lower than in the DFL primary, so it’s possible Colangelo and Darbo are working off of lists and trying to make direct contact with likely GOP voters. The lack of any Republican primaries to compare this to makes this a particularly difficult election to predict, but I would say the most likely outcome is probably a Colangelo win, unless there is some movement afoot in East Range GOP circles that I am unaware of.

The Duluth News Tribune ran a solid piece profiling the 6B race earlier this week, including a very informative questionnaire on each of the five candidates. Metsa writes poetry? Who knew!

I’ll have a post with what to watch in the MN-8 DFL primary on Monday morning.

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