Boundless primary choices await Northern MN voters

Eighth District DFL candidate Michelle Lee at an Iron Range parade. A recent primary poll shows Lee and Joe Radinovich in a statistical tie for first place, followed by Jason Metsa, Kirsten Kennedy and Soren Sorensen. Meantime, Republican Pete Stauber and Independent Skip Sandman await in the general. (PHOTO: Lee for Congress)

Eighth District DFL candidate Joe Radinovich works an Iron Range parade on July 4. (PHOTO: Radinvoich for Congress)

Over the Fourth of July holiday political candidates marched in parades across Northern Minnesota. Each hoped to make valuable connections with voters during a tumultuous election cycle. But here on the Iron Range, this mushroomed into an ungainly number of candidates.

This was particularly evident on the DFL side. With stacked primaries in Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District, the governor’s race, and a number of other races, the parades started to resemble the line for the restrooms at a DFL convention. The operative difference being the level of EXCITEMENT these people had for going to the bathroom. (And the campaign volunteer holding a sign with an arrow identifying the bathroom-goer).

Add to the mix a smaller number of enthusiastic Republican candidates. The result: way, way too many politicians, according to parade-goers across the region.

Nevertheless, I also heard that people were polite. If there’s any political resentment or anger at one side or the other, it was muted for the holiday. If anything people were quiet and guarded about their political preferences. And that, I think, is the story.

For the last couple weeks, a particular media narrative seems to have settled over this situation like the foggy mists of Brigadoon. That narrative: A rural/urban divide is turning Northern Minnesota “red” as voters distrustful of metro liberals abandon their DFL roots for conservative candidates.

I can attest that I’ve met people who describe this as their personal view. I’ve also met local liberals and labor voters frustrated that this narrative abandons them. I’ve also met lifelong conservatives who are simply jacked up that Trump won and that Republican Pete Stauber might win for Congress. In other words, this is a region in flux, and I wouldn’t describe any outcome as certain. For 20 years we’ve slowly watched the 8th District shift to swing status. Though I’m not sure if it will end up a GOP or DFL-leaning swing district, it has thoroughly ended its run as safe blue region.

Over the next few weeks I’ll have some new analysis of the Minnesota political scene, especially as it relates to Northern Minnesota — a changing region that will prove influential to the outcome of the 2018 race.

Currently I’m working on some new material about the 8th District and the governor’s race. I hope to post some of that this week.

This Friday, July 13, I’ll be part of the political panel on TPT’s Almanac. The show broadcasts live at 7 p.m. from Twin Cities Public Television.  It airs statewide, including on WDSE Channel 8 in the Duluth market and Lakeland Public Television.

I’m always a little nervous going into these things because I’ve only done the panel once before. The other panelists do it so often they’re like those guys in war movies who put out cigarettes on their glass eyes. It also takes some discipline to refine my crude rustic long form bullshit into high octane TV bullshit. Wish me luck.

RELATED: The first time I was on Almanac was for my book. It prompted this post, which some found amusing.

The next big date on the political calendar is the Aug. 14 primary election. Yes, MinnesotaBrown will be doing live election night blogging using sources across the region to crack open the tough nut of Iron Range election returns. I’ll have special coverage of Minnesota’s 8th District Congressional race and House District 6B. I’ll also have my eyes on the governor’s race and a few other interesting primaries.

Then, just one week after the primary, I’ll be part of a panel moderating the Northern Community Radio Greater Minnesota Governor’s Forum at the Reif Center in Grand Rapids. We have commitments from the major party candidates ensuring that this will be the first post-primary debate between the winners of the primary. We’ll pay special attention to Greater Minnesota issues. The Aug. 21 forum panel includes the “Dig Deep” crew: Heidi Holtan, Chuck Marohn and me. The event host is Dennis Weimann from Lakeland Public Television.

If you don’t like politics, I understand. But folks seem to enjoy the local perspective. So I’ll crank the pump some this week before moving back to my research project. Thanks for reading!

RELATED: If you want more Iron Range “politicians in parades” humor, try this column I wrote in 2016.


  1. Gerald S says

    One thing I can say with confidence is that for an election with a vacant governor’s seat, a vacant Senate seat, vacancies in several state constitutional offices, and a vacancy in CD8 there is an amazing lack of enthusiasm and interest by people in both parties. Sure, I’ve talked to GOP supporters excited about the chance of winning CD8, but I have yet to meet anyone who is personally enthused about Stauber. DFLers are united in their general lack of interest in all four — make that five — CD8 candidates. The GOP seems to be preparing to nominate Pawlenty under a slogan of “sure he messed up, and he’s less exciting than cottage cheese, but everyone deserves a second chance.” Three DFLers of fairly high personal profile are rattling around the state running for governor without generating enough heat to warm a hotdog. And the vacant Senate seat seems to be settling into a question of which bland suburban woman do you want in Washington. The biggest excitement right now seems to be the race to be appointed to the vacancy in the Duluth City Council. The CD8 and state candidates could probably do worse than show up this Thursday evening and work the crowd as the remaining council members struggle to narrow a field of nineteen — yes, you read that right — applicants to just three without running into the next day.

    I don’t know exactly what is going on, but perhaps a combination of very unexciting candidates and a high level of repulsion toward the existing political figures from the POTUS on down is just causing everyone to find something else to do. Perhaps it will all heat up once the primaries pass and the fields narrow, but I tend to doubt it.

    • Gerald S says

      Make that twenty applicants for the Duluth City Council vacancy. One more filed at the last minute.

    • can’t say I didn’t tell you the DFL was killing the enthusiasm factor when they joined forces to squash the Phifer candidacy. There is strong enthusiasm for Painter but it is just a matter of time before the establishment takes the gloves off and starts to hammer him to clear the way for their chosen one. It’s their private game of musical chairs and newcomers are not invited.

      • Gerald S says

        I am still mystified as to why Phifer and her supporters thought that the endorsement would be some sort of magic ticket, and that her failure to be endorsed was such a game changer. As you point out yourself, and as discussed on the thread above, historically endorsement does not mean much at all in the large contests like Congress, Senate, and Governor, with many if not most successful candidates having been unendorsed. There are several unendorsed candidates, including Painter, making runs for Congress, Senate, and other offices from the left of the DFL.

        I have no doubt that had she applied herself to the task Phifer could have raised money to match the numbers that the remaining CD8 DFLers have been able to raise, and given the strong support she had among some groups of people been able to contend, perhaps successfully, in the primary. I still wonder if her realization that her record of working for ICE and her defense of ICE in the MN Post made her a villain in the eyes of many Latinx people was personally demoralizing.

        I would have thought she might have some future in MN politics, but I have heard that she is applying for jobs with the giant corporations and planning to move to California.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.