Everybody to the primary in House 3A special


The local DFL will not hold an endorsing convention for the Sept. 29 primary in the House 3A special election to replace the late Rep. David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake). This settles an important question many had about the process spurred by the loss of the popular, moderate DFL lawmaker to cancer last month.

That means Koochiching County Commissioner Rob Ecklund, Cook County businessman Bill Hansen, International Falls businessman Eric Johnson and Ely City Councilor Heidi Omerza will compete for primary votes without any special advantage.

This is the statement released by Senate District 3 chair Paul Fish last night:

The residents of House District 3A lost a true champion with the passing of Rep. David Dill.  The voters of 3A deserve the opportunity to select the DFL candidate who best represents their interests.  Therefore, a DFL endorsing convention for the 3A seat will not be held.  Participation in the September 29th primary is encouraged.

The news most directly affects Hansen, the only announced candidate who had agreed to abide by the endorsement of the party. Hansen, a favorite of many progressive party activists, was also widely favored to win the endorsement.

This goes against a recent precedent. In 2011, a special election was held in House District 5B after Tony Sertich left office to become IRRRB commissioner. In that contest, the DFL held an endorsing convention in Hibbing — again, in a situation where some people wanted one and some didn’t. Carly Melin was endorsed a week before the election and went on to win the race.

In the case of 3A, there appears to have been a major divide between Fish and his allies and progressive activists in the district over whether to hold the convention. I know I’ve heard from a few upset there will be no convention.. In any event, there is no time to change this decision. The race moves forward.

Regarding the primary, I have crunched some numbers that you might find interesting. As I said in my previous post on this race, geography will be one of the central factors in the election. So, where do the votes come from?

In 2014, 18,367 people voted for a candidate in the 3A election between Dill and then-GOP challenger Eric Johnson. (Yes, Johnson switched parties to run as a DFLer this time).

Moving west to east, Koochiching County put 5,292 partisan votes into the race for about 29 percent of the total. This county includes the largest city in the district, International Falls.

The northern and eastern portions of St. Louis County located in 3A produced the most votes, 7,514 votes for about 41 percent. This area includes Cook, Orr, Tower, Ely and the BWCA. This portion also includes Northshore Mining’s Babbitt mine and the most people who would self-identify as “Iron Rangers.”

The North Shore counties of Lake (minus Two Harbors) and Cook offer 2,735 and 2,836 votes, respectively, both at about 15 percent each. Grand Marais is the biggest town here, while Silver Bay contains Northshore’s taconite processing plant.

So Koochiching has 29 percent, St. Louis 41 percent, and the Cook-Lake combo at 30 percent. That should be very informative as to what the winning DFL candidate needs to accomplish.

Just based on geography, you could argue that Omerza has the advantage based on the number of votes available in St. Louis County. But you also have to consider that Ecklund is going to work his union ties and Steelworkers endorsement while Hansen will work his progressive ties. Together, both will lay claim to some of those St. Louis County votes.

Meantime, Johnson is a recent party convert, but could pull some moderate or conservative votes. Plus his name is Johnson, arguably the most common name in the district. (Though Hansen is no slouch in that department). That being said, I don’t yet see how he breaks through.

All I’m prepared to predict is that nobody has a path to 50 percent. In fact, 40 percent from any candidate should be considered a landslide.

If you just index this thing based on geography you could imagine a car race lineup after time trials. Based on the numbers, the race would start with Omerza in the pole position, followed by Hansen, then Ecklund, then Johnson.

The unresolved issues would include how many progressive votes Hansen pulls outside his North Shore base (if enough, he wins), how well Omerza does outside St. Louis county (she really only has to show in order to win), or if union voters line up with Ecklund (he’d need a lot, and Northshore is the Range’s only non-union mine, but if they do, he could win). And, of course, one of these candidates could flop and the race would realign completely.

I might spitball a guess on Election Day, but I wouldn’t dare guess right now.

The winner of the Sept. 29 DFL primary will go on to face Republican Roger Skraba of Ely and independent Kelsey Johnson of rural St. Louis County in the Dec. 8 general election.

Skraba is the former mayor of Ely who has run for the office as a DFLer and Independence Party member in the past. Johnson is an outgoing lobbyist for the Minnesota Grocers’ Association running as a pure independent after receiving more than 500 petition signatures.

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