What to watch in today’s MN-8 primary

The sample ballot for the DFL primary in the Minnesota 8th District primary published in the local newspaper.

The polls just opened in Minnesota’s 2018 primary election. If you haven’t yet, get out and vote. Plenty of federal, state and local races are on the ballot no matter your party preference.

The DFL and GOP races for governor will be closely watched. Insiders tell me Tim Walz, Erin Murphy, and Lori Swanson seem closely bunched in a three-way race. Meanwhile, Jeff Johnson runs hard to the right of Tim Pawlenty on the GOP side. He might put a scare in the well-funded former governor.

We see some intrigue in the DFL race for the special Senate election between Tina Smith and Richard Painter. The DFL Attorney General’s race will be a barn-burner as well.

I will talk about these races in my live blog tonight, but I’ll be mostly following the race for Congress in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District.

We don’t know how many people will vote in this election. We do know how many people voted in the last contested DFL primary in this district back in 2012. That race featured eventual winner Rick Nolan, Tarryl Clark and Jeff Anderson.

TARRYL L. CLARK; 17,554; 32.25%
JEFF ANDERSON; 16,035; 29.46%
RICHARD NOLAN; 20,840; 38.29%

As we see, Nolan won the race with just shy of 21,000 votes out of 54,429 votes cast.

The question is, will more people vote this year? That seems likely. Higher Democratic enthusiasm in the era of Trump is a factor, as is the fact that we have two U.S. Senate races and a governor’s race on the same primary ballot.

The last time we had a DFL governor’s primary was 2010. In that same race, late U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar faced a minor opponent in a MN-8 primary that generated 70,220 votes.

Normally, I’d say turnout could be even higher. But 2010 was a September primary. The state primary now bakes in the dog days of August. So while I want to say 90,000 could vote in MN-8, I’ll hold back from predicting that big a jump.

Figuring a MN-8 turnout of about 75,000, and suggesting that 35 percent is enough to win this primary, the win number becomes 26,250 votes. That’s conservative. 30,000 votes would be a safer target. Obviously if turnout is higher the winner might need more votes than that.

So who gets to 30,000 votes? For the all of the persuasion that goes on in a campaign, it comes down to 30,000 humans deciding you’re their horse and marking your name on the ballot.

If we were patient, we’d just vote, close our laptops and put away our phones until tomorrow. But that’s not why you’re here right now, is it? You want to know how to read the results as they come in tonight (including on my exclusive MN-8 live blog).

We’ve got five candidates from five different parts of the district, each appealing to different sections of the DFL coalition. So here’s what I plan to follow tonight.

  • DULUTH: Michelle Lee needs to win here by margins. Duluth has 34 precincts, more or less numbered from east side to west side (or, top to bottom, if you look at most city maps). One of the things to watch is whether the high numbered precincts in west Duluth deviate from the low numbered east Duluth precincts. For reference, Precinct 18 is Park Point, roughly in the middle.
  • LAKE AND COOK COUNTIES: Lee probably needs to win the North Shore as well. Watch blue collar Silver Bay and touristy Grand Marais for small samples of different North Shore communities.
  • IRON RANGE (SD 6): Metsa must win big here to have any chance. If Radinovich is even close or ahead, Metsa is in big trouble. I’d look to a town like Chisholm, which comes in earlier than most Range precincts, to tell a story about this area.
  • NORTH CENTRAL: Itasca and Koochiching counties. Radinovich favored here. If Lee or Metsa keeps this area close, it’s a sign of trouble for Radinovich. Watch the three precincts in International Falls, Coleraine or Deer River. There’s a big sheriff’s race in Itasca County that will drive up turnout.
  • CROW WING AND AITKIN COUNTIES: Radinovich’s former district. He needs big numbers here.
  • THE “WEST”: Beltrami, Hubbard, Cass counties: Sorensen’s home turf, this region won’t pack a lot of DFL votes but it is more or less open country for all candidates. Watch Park Rapids or Remer.
  • CARLTON COUNTY: From Cloquet to Moose Lake, this is Lee’s home county and she should win here.
  • THE “SOUTH”:¬†Morrison, Mille Lacs, Kanabec, Pine, Isanti and Chisago counties. Any hope for North Branch Mayor Kirsten Kennedy lies here. But if she falters, this is fertile ground for Radinovich or Lee. This might be the district’s true bellwether. Another wild sheriff’s race in Chisago County could amplify votes here.

If we see results that show candidates failing to win where they’re supposed to win, they we know that the race is breaking toward its ultimate result. However, reading precinct data will be an incomplete picture of the final results.

One specific problem with increased early voting is that it makes it harder to know who’s winning early on election night. Depending on the precinct, absentee ballots might not be included in the tape that spits out of the voting machine at the end of the night. (Some precincts run the absentee ballots on site; others add to the tallies at the county courthouse later).

That means we’re more dependent on the final number reported to the Secretary of State. I know I might get some reports from precincts, but I also know that they should be read with caution.

I look forward to live blogging results tonight. If you have any information to report please contact me.

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