Polls open in House 3A special election DFL primary

3A DFL candidates 2015

Polls are open until 8 p.m. in today’s Minnesota House District 3A special election DFL primary.

It’s been a fascinating campaign, full of inky barbs and clashes between Northern Minnesota political factions. Going into today’s election, Ecklund and Hansen have emerged as frontrunners, but with the potential for low turnout and the general unpredictability of this vast, rural electorate, no result can be considered certain.

Rob Ecklund

Rob Ecklund

Rob Ecklund: Starting out I said that Ecklund would need to unite labor and pro-mining forces to overcome his disadvantage outside his native Koochiching County.

Ecklund did that.

With scads of union endorsements and support from many legislators, including the family of the late Rep. Dave Dill, Ecklund positioned himself as the establishment choice — always a safe place in today’s “Iron Range” DFL.

Ecklund exceeded my expectations as a retail candidate, though could have been more deft in articulating his pro-mining position at times. It seemed like he started out with a balanced, inclusive approach and then got whipped up by the fervor of the campaign. It’s a good example of the political culture in this region, how the mining debate seems to demand purity.

Bill Hansen

Bill Hansen

Bill Hansen: I have a soft spot for people who take principled stands up against overwhelming opposition. Agree with his position on nonferrous mining or not, Hansen was not afraid to take relentless attacks from the region’s political insiders and largest newspaper. Hansen so frightened the establishment that they cancelled a scheduled endorsing convention when it looked like he would win. When insiders openly predicted Hansen would win the primary, a lobbyist who traveled in the same circles as Range lawmakers petitioned for access to the general election ballot as a pure independent. And despite all of that Hansen could still win.

Hansen’s biggest challenge was to show that he was not just a candidate who was skeptical about nonferrous mining proposals, but that he had other ideas too. I’d say he achieved a mixed result there. Anyone who listened to the forums or read his writing would have seen Hansen’s depth on pubic policy and DFL issues. But I’m not sure how much of that will influence the outcome. Hansen came to this election with a built-in constituency: environmental voters, progressives and economic diversification backers in all four counties. If you are looking for a candidate capable of discussing a Northeastern Minnesota economy not reliant on commodities, Hansen makes a compelling case. He has an inside track in Cook and Lake counties, and will have at least some support in Range towns like Ely.

All that being said, Hansen made a critical error in this race that will cost him votes. Politics lives on sound bites, not spellwinders. In a long explanation of his mining position that he posted on YouTube for his campaign website Hansen gave fuel to his opposition. In context, this batch of clumsily worded comments on nonferrous mining might be defended, but in the hands of the pro-mining press on the Iron Range they were easily twisted and took Hansen from being my prohibitive favorite to being hurled into a tossup with Ecklund. Progressives usually win elections in this region only when labor is on their side. Right now, Hansen has a huge task of bringing labor back into his fold should he prevail today.

Heidi Omerza

Heidi Omerza

Heidi Omerza: Omerza came across as smart, prepared and capable in candidate forums. However, she suffered from the problem of being a great “on paper” candidate, but one that failed to generate widespread support in practice. She didn’t raise much money and didn’t put much media into the field. She needs a big win in Ely and throughout St. Louis County to compete, but it feels like Hansen and Ecklund are going to pull away the votes she’d need to be near the top.

Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson: Johnson, last year’s GOP nominee for this seat, managed to find a way to talk to DFLers in the forums. He was articulate but probably a little over-the-top at times. He ended up serving as the official “Hansen hammer” in some forums, but probably did more to help other candidates than he did to help himself. His presence in the race does, however, pose a threat to fellow Falls resident Ecklund. The only miracle solution for Johnson would be if he somehow convinces more than 2,000 moderates to cross over into the DFL primary.

My prediction: I’m going to make a prediction not to prove how right I am, but to test how wrong I am. Ecklund 35, Hansen 34, Omerza 22, Johnson 8. You could flip Hansen for Ecklund pretty easily and I wouldn’t be surprised. Ecklund closed strong and could surge. Hansen’s supporters are most passionate, however, which is why he remains a strong contender. Honestly, as many have observed, we don’t really know which voters will show up or how policy differences will be mitigated by geographic loyalties.

If Ecklund wins the election he becomes an overwhelming favorite to win the general (true of Omerza as well). However, should Hansen prevail Iron Range mining advocates and perhaps even some legislators will rush to support the independent lobbyist Kelsey Johnson in the general election. That process could give Republican Roger Skraba an opening in the race. The DFL w0uld have to work harder to keep the seat in party hands, though probably would succeed anyway.


  1. Thanks for the analysis. Do you know anything about each candidate and his/her GOTV efforts? Or those by allies such as labor groups contacting members? Voter contact is often the key in special elections.

    • Dude. I know. Are there any updates? I don’t do social media so I am waiting for Aaron to post update. I seriously got stuck in the elevator at work today. While waiting in there I was thinking about this. I mean, are the nurses a larger demo in USW now? Would they vote for Ecklund? Also, which unions endorsed who? I can’t imagine certain unions endorsing the same as USW.

      I don’t live there. Aaron is my only source of information now.

      I do not see how the few people behind Ecklund’s USW endorsement could actually mobilize anyone, or organize a hole in the ground. The only real the Steelworkers ever had don’t work there anymore. Its all a bunch of the old boys network completely out of touch with reality.

      The union retirees are a completely different group of people than the current union membership up there. The bosses made sure to hire a different type of demographic. Retirees have nothing in common with the workforce up there now. I do not see how the union structure up there could out mobilize Hansen on this.

      I am left waiting.

      • Sorry Kyle. I like Kyle. But that’s where I draw the line. Don’t mind me. Stuck in elevator all day. But I want an update. thanks…

      • I know that Hansen has a large local phone banking operation. Ecklund had a mix of volunteer and paid phone canvassers. I don’t have meaningful information on turnout. Keep in minds that I live near this area, but this district is really hard to track. All you can really do is look at the first numbers out of the major towns and try to extrapolate a trend. Kooch = 30%, SLC=41%, Lake=14%, Cook=15%.

        Give you a for instance, if you see Ecklund clearing, say, 800 votes out of Kooch and Hansen clearing the same or slightly more out of Cook and Lake, then it comes down to SLC. Ecklund must win SLC (or at least beat Hansen there) and probably will. The question is how close. I think Ecklund carries enough out of SLC. That’s where my current prediction comes from. But as you can see it is based on several assumptions, any one of which could be disproved by reality.

  2. Jim from Orr says

    If voters know that Ecklund is strongly pro abortion, the dynamics of the race changes. Bill Hanna, editor of the Mesabi Daily News, refuses to educate voters on that issue because his clique wish so badly to beat Hansen. I don’t support Hansen or Ecklund.

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