LIVE BLOG: MN House 3A Special Election today


Today voters head to the polls in Minnesota District 3A. This district is the state’s largest geographic House seat sprawling across Koochiching, northern and eastern St. Louis, most of Lake and all of Cook counties. This is a special election to replace the late Rep. David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake), who died last summer.

Polls will remain open until 8 p.m. I’ll provide some coverage of the election this evening.

9p: Ecklund wins Ely with more than 2/3 of the vote. He’ll end up with about 65 percent. This is roughly the same percentage Dill got in 2014.

8:52p: projects Rob Ecklund has been elected the next State Representative for State House District 3A.

Early returns from Cook County show anemic turnout and a slight Ecklund lead. Though Ely isn’t in, everything else (except for Gnesen for Johnson and a few townships for Skraba) is going strong for Ecklund.

Again, turnout in the primary will end up being higher than in the general.

8:46p: Ecklund is carrying the St. Louis County precincts by the same margin as he did in the primary, if not more. What I see in comparing the results is that, more often than not, supporters of Bill Hansen in the DFL primary stayed home … but so did Republicans. The same people who voted for Ecklund in the primary are coming out to elect him in what will be termed a landslide. Goes to show the power of perspective … and turnout.

8:43p: Ecklund got 140 votes out of Babbitt in the primary and got 143 votes out of Babbitt tonight. These are almost entirely the same people.

8:27 p.m.: Polls have closed and early results are in. With 33 percent of precincts reporting, we see Ecklund with 61 percent, Skraba at 21 percent and Johnson at 16 percent. These numbers don’t include International Falls which is an Ecklund fortress. My original analysis that Ely will have predictive power remains true, but the prediction will seem old news by the time it comes in, me thinks.

Johnson is running stronger than I thought she would, though still nowhere close to Ecklund. We’ll see if she stays above 15 percent, which would probably leave the door open for her to run for something else in the future. She did carry her home precinct of Gnesen by a healthy margin, making her the first independent candidate in Northeastern Minnesota to carry a precinct since Bob Lessard. As goes Gnesen so goes the Gnation?

Republican support behind Skraba, a former DFLer, has evaporated. By the end of the night he will have run for the same office under the banner of three different political parties and lost every time.

9:03 a.m.: Here’s my morning preview of the race. Later tonight I’ll add updates.

Rob Ecklund

Rob Ecklund

Rob Ecklund is the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party nominee. He’s a Koochiching County Commissioner, a paper worker at Boise Cascade in International Falls, and a past local union president with the United Steelworkers. He defeated Bill Hansen and two other candidates in a hotly contested DFL primary last September. Ecklund leads in fundraising and endorsements and is widely believed to be the front-runner in an area that typically elects DFLers.

Roger Skraba

Roger Skraba

Roger Skraba is the Republican nominee. He’s the former mayor of Ely and a fishing guide. He’s run for this seat before, once as a DFLer and once as an Independence Party member. He is typically described as an atypical Republican. He’s probably best known for his full-throated support of nonferrous mineral mining in this region. Nevertheless, he has not separated from the pack because his opponents hold similar views on the issue.

Kelsey Johnson

Kelsey Johnson

Kelsey Johnson is an independent. She successfully petitioned for ballot access as an unaffiliated independent candidate. She’s a lobbyist for the Minnesota Grocer’s Manufacturers Association in St. Paul, but is from the Gnesen area of eastern St. Louis County. She has made an effort to talk publicly about the partisan breakdown at the Capitol and economic diversification, but her resume doesn’t exactly scream “outsider.” If she has any kind of showing, observers suggest she might be a candidate for office again in the future, perhaps in a more ideal situation for her.

As I wrote last week, this election hasn’t drawn much interest around the state or even around the region. But with the current economic crisis on the Iron Range, any new addition to the Iron Range legislative delegation and Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (of which today’s winner will be a member) could have an impact. Further, turnout today is expected to be painfully low, which could skew the partisan index and produce at least some variation from the norm.

The district is really three parts:

  • Koochiching County
  • The “Iron Range triangle” connecting Cook, Ely and Silver Bay
  • The North Shore/Cook County tip of the Arrowhead.

Ecklund has a big advantage in Koochiching County. Question is, will people turnout in sufficient numbers in the Iron Range portions of the district to maintain DFL advantages there? (Probably) And will Cook County DFLers come out for Ecklund after so strongly supporting his anti-nonferrous mining opponent in the primary? (Probably not as much, but it probably doesn’t matter). Keep in mind that Cook County is typically a 50/50 county, even though its DFLers are more liberal. But will Republicans show up for an election that features such a weird mix of candidates?

Who knows? You tell me, 3A voters. End this tonight.

Political observers, watch Ely. If Ely goes strong for Ecklund, as it did in the primary, I’d say you can go to bed.



  1. The characterization of Silver Bay as part of the “Iron Range Triangle” is somewhat misleading, in that it suggests that much of Lake County’s 3A district was pro-Ecklund. In fact, only 3 of Lake Counties’ 12 precincts in 3A went for Ecklund, and at the county Level, the portion of District 3A in Lake County went overwhelmingly to Hansen, 477 (51.62%) vs. 321(34.74%).

    Furthermore, while it is true that Ecklund beat Hansen by roughly 2 to 1 in Silver Bay Precinct 2, and Beaver Bay Township Precinct 1, Hansen narrowly beat Ecklund in Silver Bay Precinct 1 and by a large margin in Beaver Bay Township Precinct 4. The Silver Bay area is no longer as homogeneously part of the Iron Range good old boy’s club (nor as influential in Lake County politics) as it used to be, perhaps in part due to the lack of a union at North Shore Mining.

    Also interesting is that Fall Lake Township, the township east of Ely on the Lake County side, went overwhelmingly to Hansen (118 to 62).

    In this sense, it makes much more sense to characterize Lake County and Cook County as a block, with Silver Bay being an exception.

    Although copper mining skepticism is one factor, I think the bigger issue is that people in Lake and Cook counties are getting increasingly tired of being represented by people that live further and further away. That Ecklund lives more than 115 miles away from anybody in Lake and Cook Counties (and more than 228 miles from people in Grand Marais!) is a real slap in the face. The redistricting commission really did the people of Lake and Cook County a disservice.

    As a result, expect turn out in Lake and Cook Counties to be low. Many Lake and Cook county people are still smarting from having local representation stolen yet again, so enthusiasm for Ecklund is low.

    • Thanks for the comment, Matt. Fair points. I drew the triangle between Cook, Ely and Silver Bay. I’m well aware that most of Lake went for Hansen, but Silver Bay is a notable exception, still tied to the mining industry — which was my point. You could parse this district into eight or nine distinct areas. It is, after all, the size of an eastern state.

      Hansen’s people stayed home. So did the Republicans, for the most part.

  2. I’d add that if Ecklund wins, he needs understand that the people in roughly half of his district may still be either skeptical about or hostile to him, so he had better govern in an inclusive way.

    Although David Dill was basically a republican light (for example, initially opposing a raise in the minimum wage, and also pro-life), he was at least good about showing up in Lake County and paying attention things that were going on and helping out where he could. (Something, which, it seems, Tom Bakk is less interested or willing to do, now that he’s a big shot.)

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