LIVE BLOG: MN House 3A DFL Primary

DFLer Rob Ecklund poses next to a giant "punkin' chunkin''" catapult at Aitchison's Pumpkin Patch in Koochiching County. (PHOTO: Ecklund's campaign Facebook page)

DFLer Rob Ecklund poses next to a giant “punkin’ chunkin”” catapult at Aitchison’s Pumpkin Patch in Koochiching County. (PHOTO: Ecklund’s campaign Facebook page)

Today, four candidates — Rob Ecklund, Bill Hansen, Eric Johnson and Heidi Omerza — sought for the DFL nomination in the House 3A special election DFL primary. The winner will face Republican Roger Skraba and independent Kelsey Johnson in the Dec. 8 general election. I will provide news and analysis on the race throughout the evening in the following live blog:


9:52: We still don’t have the final tally, but we can perform something of a post-mortem on my predictions. I could feel that Ecklund was surging, but I wasn’t sure how much. I thought Hansen had more support baked in among progressives in St. Louis County. I also thought Omerza would draw several hundred more votes out of Ecklund’s take. With Omerza’s collapse and Hansen’s underperformance in St. Louis County, Ecklund had a wide, smooth highway to victory.

Wow, new numbers in and it looks like Ecklund will end up with a 10-15 percent margin of victory. (NEVER MIND: Looks like a six point, or 450-vote margin for Ecklund. Hansen kept it close given what happened).

For those of you who don’t know Rob Ecklund, he’s the candidate I knew the best out of this group. He’s a good man. He’s paper maker and union leader with a lifelong interest in politics. He and his wife are very kind people. I would compare him being in the legislature to a blue collar “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” situation, in that he’s not as much of an insider as other members of the Range delegation.

Nevertheless, Ecklund won this election in the tide of pro-mining politics that has turned so many Range-area elections, and the one thing I’d fear is that — once again — Northeastern Minnesota’s legislative agenda would be dominated by mining projects and proposals that we don’t control, while issues we can influence go unaddressed.

But that’s not tonight’s concern. Congratulations to Rob Ecklund! He and his supporters pulled through and this thing was actually much less nasty than it could have been.

Ecklund becomes the prohibitive favorite against Republican Roger Skraba and independent Kelsey Johnson. It would take some kind of dramatic event to alter DFL prospects in the general election.

9:10: With the city of Silver Bay in Lake County going to Rob Ecklund, we can call it. projects Rob Ecklund the winner of the House DFL primary in the MN03 special election. Ecklund will be heavily favored in the Dec. 8 general election against GOPer Roger Skraba and independent Kelsey Johnson.

9:05: With 60 percent in, Ecklund still has a 1,000 vote lead. Nothing reported from Cook County yet, but even a Hansen blowout there probably wouldn’t net enough votes. Hansen needed to keep it close in St. Louis County. The Range towns universally rejected him.

Two things happened here. Everyone will probably point to the Mesabi Daily News attack, but I think a huge amount of union money and support went in for Ecklund in the last days. As I said, progressives only win in this area when they are on the same side as labor. Separated, they are only good for a third of the DFL vote.

8:53: These St. Louis County numbers are persistently bad for Hansen. He wins a couple here or there, but 33-1 in Orr? Tower and Soudan (Breiting Twsp) big for Ecklund. The trend line is clear.

8:48: One question I had was what happens in the event of the total collapse of Omerza? In that event I thought Ecklund probably surges. I think that’s happening. I mean, I know big Hansen votes are coming from Cook County, but right now Hansen’s down almost 800 votes. I had him clearing that many out of Cook County.

8:41: International Falls is in and Ecklund cleaned up in his hometown. One thing is certain, Ecklund is taking care of business on his side of the district. The lead right now looks huge, but it will narrow immensely when Cook and Lake counties come in later.

8:31p: Things we know: Omerza and Johnson are going to finish far back. Hansen needs some good news somewhere in St. Louis County.

8:24p: Tom Coombe of the Ely Echo reports Ely unofficial returns:

Ecklund nearly carried a majority in Ely. Omerza is way behind in her hometown. Hansen got some votes, but I’d bet he’s disappointed in this return. Another good sign for Ecklund early on.

8:18p: Early returns from very rural Koochiching County precinct show Ecklund up big. Returns from handful of rural St. Louis County precincts show slight Ecklund lead. So far, not huge surprises, though Hansen would need to pick up pace in SLC just a bit.

8:09p: The polls have closed across Northeastern Minnesota. In keeping w/ tradition, ballots now given to forest druids who perform incantations for three hours before reporting to the Secretary of State. Kidding. Kind of. Has to do with rural precincts and county election process. Returns come in hot when they’re ready, though.

7:40p: As the polls near closing time, prepare yourself for a lot of generalizations about Iron Range mining politics. Remember, however, as our District 3A political action heroes dart and dodge on the runway of this issue, the stock of arguably the most important mining company in the launch of nonferrous mining on the Range is burning on the tarmac of global finance. Sorry, I have to get metaphors like this out of the way before it gets late.

7:14p: Tom Coombe of the Ely Echo is tweeting an estimate of 800 voters in Ely. That would be near double the 2014 DFL primary. That was the one in which Matt Entenza beat Rebecca Otto 2-1 in Ely over mining politics in the State Auditor race. Remember, Otto won statewide 4-1. That kind of turnout suggests that mining supporters will probably pull votes out of Ely. The question is whether they went for Ecklund or hometown Omerza. Hansen will win votes in Ely, too.

Bill Hansen, wearing what I would describe as a "Huey Long Suit," in the YouTube video that drew so much fire during the primary.

Bill Hansen, wearing what I would describe as a “Huey Long Suit,” in the YouTube video that drew so much fire during the primary.

7p: Polls will close at 8 p.m. I analyzed the race earlier today, but here are a few notes before they do. Not only is tonight’s outcome genuinely uncertain, but the process by which we’ll find out who won is also cumbersome. District 3A includes three rural counties and the most rural part of the state’s largest geographic county. This combination means that if the race is close we might not know the result tonight. Early on, watch to see where the returns are coming from. Cook County will probably report nearly all at once. If that happens early, it will likely appear like a huge Hansen lead. Likewise for Ecklund when Koochiching County reports. Unless you have a representative collection of precincts across all four counties, you don’t really know who’s winning. Assuming big wins for Hansen and Ecklund in their home counties, eyes turn to Lake County and the northern and eastern section of St. Louis County. If Hansen wins St. Louis County he’ll win the race. He may anyway if he keeps it close. If Ecklund, however, breaks away in St. Louis County he’ll probably prevail. Lake is expected to break for Hansen, but watch it. That’s another canary in the coal mine (mining!) if there’s an Ecklund surge. Northshore Mining has a plant in Silver Bay, which is a much more of a labor town than Grand Marais. I broke down the geographic components of the district in this post if you’d like to interpret your own election night prediction. As I recall from running a state House campaign in Koochiching County, that county comes in very late. So does the most rural parts of St. Louis County. So we can probably count on Ecklund and, to some extent, Omerza making up ground near the end of the night. My “what the heck” prediction from earlier was Ecklund 35, Hansen 34, Omerza 22, Johnson 8. If this guess concerns you, know that I am probably wrong; I’m just testing my gut instinct. It’s not scientific, but I did some scritch-scratch math based on my individual county guesses.


  1. No real surprise here. But a sad confirmation that Range politics are likely to remain toxic, to the Range especially, but also to the whole state. Neither can afford this.

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