LIVE BLOG: Election 2018 in Northern Minnesota

Our featured race is Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District, where Democrat Joe Radinovich faces Republican Pete Stauber.

Today is Election Day 2018 in the United States of America. This post concerns itself with one small but consequential part of this great nation: my present environs in Northern Minnesota. Let the live blog commence:

11:30 p.m.

One more post. To conclude our evening’s business, MinnesotaBrown projects that State Rep. Sandy Layman (R-Cohasset) has won re-election over former Itasca County Sheriff Pat Medure (DFL-Cohasset). We’re still waiting on some Grand Rapids precincts, but Layman has won all the bellwethers, including Harris Township and even Coleraine.

She’ll now join a GOP House minority caucus. I had thought that this race might be the pivotal one, but the DFL did so well in the suburbs that they didn’t need it. The DFL holds the Minnesota House and governor’s mansion with Tim Walz, while the State Senate remains under Republican control.

Don’t look now, but House 5A seems certain to head to a recount. That’s the one between State Rep. Matt Bliss (R-Pennington) and former State Rep. John Persell (DFL-Bemidji). Might be the only opportunity for a DFL rural pickup in Northern Minnesota.

Nationally, Democrats will take the U.S. House. If you add up just the popular vote in all House races, Democrats carried a 8.5 percent advantage, larger than the swings in any recent election. But, because of a tough Senate map full of incumbents in conservative states, the message tomorrow morning will be muddled.

11:03 p.m. projects Republican Pete Stauber the winner in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District. Stauber outpaces Democrat Joe Radinovich in a district that in 2016 veered sharply toward Republicans in general, and Trumpism in particular.

Campaigns and outside groups spent more than $13 million on this race, and that’s probably a lowball guess once the final days are calculated. Most of that was spent on attack ads against Joe Radinovich. No Democrat has ever faced a barrage like that in this district before, and it worked. A district that once acted with local peculiarity has been nationalized, and rendered much more predictable.

Fundamentally, however, this was one place where the DFL was always going to struggle this year. Whatever beef a majority of Americans, and Minnesotans, have with Trump, the people here didn’t feel the same way. Mining politics played a role, sure, but so did the immigration issue. Immigration? From Canada? Well, Trump and his allies have figured out a way to make races in these kinds of electorates about cultural preservation, a tooth and nail battle for supremacy. Couched, of course, in gentle language borrowed from their opponents.

If the mines weren’t running so hot. If the unemployment rate were higher, Trump’s bluster would be a major liability here. The message I see, however, is that until that happens, nobody’s interested in talking about what Democrats want to do.

Further, Stauber ran a straight-forward, disciplined campaign. To borrow hockey parlance, he was never checked. He skated free and made enough shots to win.

Now Stauber joins the minority caucus in the new Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. Ironies abound, but then again, he wasn’t elected to change things. He was elected to keep things the same. In this he will be an active participant.

10:33 p.m.

Ha! They must have heeded my call. Some results just came in from Itasca. Mostly rural areas, but one precinct from Grand Rapids. These numbers are good for Sandy Layman. She carried Balsam, Arbo, Blackberry. These are places Democrats can win, but that Pat Medure failed to win tonight. It’s shaping up a lot like 2016 in Itasca County so far.

10:30 p.m.

Gotta say, my mojo is way off because of the slow reporting out of Itasca County. What is the deal? It’s not the end of the world, but Cass County people are at home in their nightgowns and sleeping caps, padding up the stairs holding candles.

10:25 p.m.

NBC and Cook Political reports are calling the MN-8 race for Pete Stauber. I don’t want to follow suit until I see how the Duluth numbers look. That said, this is plausible. Radinovich got killed in those early numbers.

10:00 p.m.

Now I’m poking around looking at where results are coming from. This MN-8 race will tighten quite a bit when those Duluth numbers come in. I’m still nowhere near a call here.

9:46 p.m.

Duluth city reporting. Unofficial numbers from poll watchers shows Radinovich at 33,022 (about 61 percent); Stauber at 19,436 (about 36 percent); and Sandman at 1,497 (shy of 3 percent). That’s good for Radinovich, obviously. Good enough? Time will tell.

9:37 p.m.

It’s still early, yes, but one clear observation so far. Radinovich is winning the towns of the Iron Range. But precinct by precinct, it’s a much closer battle than the Iron Range of modern DFL lore. You can see how the influence of the mining lobby has completely saturated the electorate, and how an older population is falling in line with demographic expectations. The Iron Range is solidly purple.

For Republicans, it’s not a “win” but a victory of sorts. They’re going to remain competitive here in the near future. Just like Democrats aren’t happy to lose the Texas Senate race, but their 48 percent showing there portends future advances due to demographics. Same here for Republicans.

9:18 p.m.

Stauber is probably still happier than Radinovich at this point, though it’s still very early. I’d spitball the unofficial numbers I’m getting from Hibbing as putting Radinovich in the mid 50s in that Iron Range town. It would seem he’s doing a little worse the closer you get to PolyMet and Twin Metals. Meantime, early indications are that Radinovich did well in Duluth — the question is whether he did well enough when numbers from everywhere else come in.

Still waiting on Itasca County numbers. Those will decide House 5B and will be an important bellwether for Radinovich as well. If he wins Itasca County he has a chance.

8:47 p.m.

The Ely Echo is reporting that Pete Stauber led on the ballot tape in Ely, with absentees yet to count. Stauber had 673 to Radinovich’s 625. Not sure what the absentees will change, but that’s a rough number for Radinovich. Ely is uniquely tied to mining politics.

Also keeping with a trend, DFL gubernatorial candidate Tim Walz is generally outperforming Radinovich totals in the Iron Range precincts I’ve seen. JoeRad needs to do very well in Duluth at this point, better than Nolan did two years ago.

9:01 p.m.

I’m getting these unofficial, pre-absentee numbers from Hibbing and Radinovich has won the new Airport precinct and the Lincoln Middle School precinct. But he’s only winning by about four or five percentage points. Again, unless the absentees are overwhelmingly Democratic (not sure that’s a safe bet), it looks like he’s just off of what he needs. He’s hovering above the “red line” that orbiting space commanders speak of.

8:38 p.m.

Let’s check in on House 5B between State Rep. Sandy Layman (R) and former Itasca County Sheriff Pat Medure (DFL). Much of Cass County is in, showing about a 650 vote lead for Layman. That’s a good number for her, but fairly typical of Cass County. This race will come down to key precincts in Itasca County where Layman eroded the DFL index in 2016.

8:34 p.m.

The early volatility shows. With a little over 8 percent in, Stauber up 57-38 percent, with Sandman over 4 percent.

8:32 p.m.

Not sure where these are coming from, but early returns at the Secretary of State site shows Radinovich up about 48.8 percent to 47.8 percent for Stauber, with Sandman at about 3.4 percent. That’s a trend line that Radinovich can live with. Usually this fluctuates throughout the night, though. The big question is where the race is after Duluth comes in around 9:30 or 10. Radinovich should be up and then it gets closer through the late hours.

8:22 p.m.

Now, this is good news for Minnesota DFLers. Sen. Tina Smith has been projected the winner of the special U.S. Senate election over Karin Housley. This was widely believed to be closer than the Klobuchar race, and a phantom opportunity for the GOP. That did not materialize. Bodes well for DFLers in statewide races, so far.

8:11 p.m.

First whiff of MN-8 news. Unofficial results off the ballot machine tape in Hibbing P. 1, the Maple Hill precinct, shows a 281-274 win for Joe Radinovich. That does NOT include absentees. That’s close, probably closer than Radinovich would want in Hibbing. However, Maple Hill is the more rural part of Hibbing. The city’s precincts were reorganized this year, so you can’t compare to past elections.

8:01 p.m.

News agencies projecting U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has won re-election over … Jim. I think his name is Jim.

8:00 p.m.

The polls have closed in Minnesota. Next 45 minutes will be mostly quiet, but the verdict has been rendered. Now we read the report.

7:10 p.m.

Looks like huge turnout across the state. Might break a record for midterm elections. We’ll all find out what that means soon enough.

11:50 a.m.

MN-08, a district that hasn’t finished changing. (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

Here we find Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District, a critical bellwether in the national campaign for control of Congress. I’ve been covering that race since the beginning. We also find State House District 5B, where you find World Headquarters in rural Itasca County. As a former campaign manager for a legislator in this district, I know it well. It is arguably the pivotal swing vote for control of the State House of Representatives.

Throughout the evening I’ll be live blogging the results as they come in. Polls close at 8 p.m., and we usually start to see numbers at 9 p.m. Unless a race is exceptionally close, we’ll know the winners by midnight central.

Who am I? I’m Aaron J. Brown, an author, radio producer, college instructor from Minnesota’s Iron Range. In addition to this blog, I write a weekly column for the Hibbing Daily Tribune and host the Great Northern Radio Show and Dig Deep on Northern Community Radio. My work has appeared in numerous publications. This year my election analysis appeared on National Public Radio, in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and in many Minnesota media outlets. I’m working on a new book about former Hibbing Mayor Victor Power and the wild world of the early 20th Century Mesabi Iron Range.


  1. I love that map, nicely done.

    Heavy turnout this morning at our township hall, despite a combination of rain, snow, and sleet.

  2. Very heavy turnout at my polling place just before noon. Election officials say the count is well ahead of 2016 at this point.

    Not having health insurance is a potentially fatal condition, so people need to vote as if their life — and the lives of others — depends on it. Because it might.

    • David Gray says

      I’ve voted as if lives depended on it for years, not only my own but those of the unborn children around me.

  3. Well, I was wrong whatever I said here earlier. That’s twice now. I was wrong in 2016 and this year.

  4. 538 election blog has called MN district eight for Stauber.

  5. With almost half the vote counted Radinovich is getting buried in his home county, Crow Wing County, 56-40.

  6. Trump…& Amazing Grace!

  7. CD8 seems to have finally done what analysts have expected it to do for years: become a Republican rather than a Democratic district.’

    The election of Pete Stauber, a tea party founder and Trump supporter, to Congress is the most visible sign. But the real diagnostic test is lower down the ballot.

    In high profile races like the CD8 congressional seat, we can always wonder about the extent to which personalities and personal appeal have been crucial. In this race, we could also wonder about the impact of cash, since the GOP and its allies spent almost four times as much, and GOP allied groups spent seven times as much on attack ads as the DFL allies were able to. This makes me wonder just how much of the result was due to the personal appeal of a simplistic, hockey playing, middle aged man with a.very low profile in his actual political record versus a much younger and younger seeming professional politician who had been involved in high profile positions during his career, and just how much that flood of cash, especially the attack ads, were decisive.

    I think the answer is “maybe some, but not really all that much.” The key data for me are the results in the low profile down ballot elections. Most voters have no idea about the identity and policies of candidates for Secretary of State and State Auditor. The only real identity voters have access to in evaluating these candidates is the party endorsement on the ballot.

    Although all of the state constitutional offices were won in the state by DFL candidates, in CD8 the Republican candidates defeated the DFL candidates on every level. Except for the tremendously popular Amy Klobuchar, all the district wide GOP candidates beat all the DFL candidates. While it can be argued that Johnson, Housley, and Stauber were well enough known for voters to select them based on campaign stands and personality, almost no one knew anything about Blaha and Myhra or Simon and Howe. The votes for Myhra and Howe represent voters choosing a Republican over a Democrat when they have no other information, and this choice is based on identification with the GOP over the DFL.

    IMO, CD8 is now clearly a GOP district, perhaps a little more pink than solid red, but certainly not purple and absolutely not blue. The handwriting is on the wall.

    Of course at the same time as low income, lower education level, lower skill level, more rural, and older districts like CD8 are going GOP, younger, more wealthy, and better educated districts like CD2, CD3, and the Metro suburb parts of CD5 and CD6 are becoming Democratic, as we saw in this election. Minnesota is a perfect model for the nation.

    • A lot of thinking going on there Gerald. Any way congratulations are due the DFL8’th good old boys….you won. You still rule the roost. Of course there was a bit of a cost…. but necessary to maintain the status quo.

      • No. That’s the point. The DFL old boys don’t rule the roost in the 8th district. The Republicans rule the roost in the 8th. A clear majority of voters voted Republican in every single race on the ticket except Klobuchar — who of course could not be more a part of the mainstream DFL.

        So unless you think that a substantial number of reform Democrats actually crossed over to vote for GOP candidates for Auditor and Secretary of State, the reform wing and the regular wing of the DFL are left just bickering about picking over the carcass. And this was in a year in which 12,000,000 more people voted for Democratic Senate candidates than Republican, so a very strong Democratic year.

        With the turnout much higher than in 2014 and flirting with turnout from 2016, and with progressive protest candidate Skip Sandman actually getting a lower percentage of the vote than in 2014, the DFL did not lose the 8th because progressives were disgusted with the mainstream DFL. They lost because the ordinary people of the 8th — the ones who don’t sit around talking with you or me about politics and the direction of the country — are embracing the message of Donald Trump.

        In that, the 8th is clearly running the opposite direction of most of the rest of the country, but so are a lot of other semi-rural districts with low mean incomes, low numbers of minorities, older populations, predominantly blue collar jobs, and lower levels of education. As I said above, a lot of observers would argue that this has been clearly going to happen for a while now, and that it represents the 8th getting into line to behave like other districts like it.

        • sorry… what I intended to say to the DFL 8’th good old boys was congratulations you still rule your roost.

          • OK.

            However, I am pretty sure that if the DFL is ever going to have a chance in any elections in the CD8 outside the Duluth area, both sides of the mining issue are going to have to stop thinking in terms of the regulars versus the insurgents and using non-ferrous mining as a litmus test on both sides, and look of common ground. A united DFL is going to have significant problems anyhow, but a divided DFL is toast.

          • David Gray says

            The DFL was much more competitive in this area when it had an active pro-life wing.

          • That is true, but not really relevant any more.

            Oberstar was a staunch anti-abortion politician his entire career, consistently voting for anti-abortion measures, including the Hyde amendment renewals and the amendment to the Affordable Care Act forbidding use of its funds to support abortion. He actually won his first primary, against the DFL endorsed Tony Perpich, partly by making his opposition to abortion a major issue.

            Nonetheless, as soon as he had a viable opponent the anti-abortion movement turned against him and worked hard to defeat him.

            In almost any setting, the anti-abortion movement will always support any viable anti-aboriton Republican against any anti-abortion Democrat. Only if they have no viable choice will the anti-abortion people support a Democrat abortion opponent.

            And this is really as it should be. The Democrats as a party, and the Democratic contingents in Congress and other legislative bodies, all support abortion as a party policy, and the party has pro-aboriotn planks in its platform year after year.

            The Republicans, of course, are almost completely rigid opponents of abortion. It absolutely makes political sense that anti-aborition people would support Republicans, because that is the clear path for restricting, discouraging, and ending abortion rights.

            However, as a consequence, most Democrats realize it doesn’t make sense to lay down positions that oppose abortion, since it will make it harder for them to function in their own party, and since they cannot rely on support from anti-abortion people when the chips are down.

            That is not to say that there are not still Democratic politicians who oppose abortion for their own philosophical and religious reasons. We have some right here in the Northland. There are also a tiny number of Republicans who support abortion, although the aggressive GOP purges of the last two decades are bringing that to an end.

            So if abortion is the overriding issue for you, more important than health care, economic issues, international issues, labor issues, education, retirement, and all other issues, it certainly makes sense to be a Republican, as you are. But I personally find myself a skeptic that you would ever support a Democrat against a Republican if both were viable candidates. And that makes sense, if abortion is your issue.

  8. Oberstar decided it was more important to have Obamacare than maintain his pro-life position. He immediately lost. Our last DFL House member for Brainerd was pro-life, John Ward.

    • As I’m sure you know, the “Obamacare is abortion” is pure BS. The ACA does not and never has covered abortion, period, either in its Medicaid expansion or its exchange programs. The Hyde Amendment and specific language in the ACA both forbid that, and Oberstar was both a consistent supporter of the Hyde Amendment in its original passage and its multiple renewals, as well as being one of the prime movers of the language in the ACA, refusing to endorse the bill and vote for it until the language was included.

      What many anti-abortion people object to in the ACA is that , as with any private insurance program, people purchasing insurance on the exchange have the option of using their own money to purchase coverage for abortion. They also have the option of using their own funds to buy dental coverage, nursing home coverage, extra drug coverage, or any number of other options. That is true, as I say of any private insurance program, and, this still being the United States, still true on the exchanges. Many abortion opponents would like to forbid the private purchase of that coverage, making anyone who buys it ineligible for the main coverage. As I say, at this moment, this is still the United States, and you can use your own money to buy what you want.

      What the anti-abortion people saw in 2010 was a chance to flip the House, and a strong upwelling of anti-Democratic opinion. Getting rid of Oberstar was a potential key piece of the flip the House scenario, and having a GOP House was definitely to the advantage of the anti-aboriton movement, for obvious reasons. It turned out that the swing was strong enough so that they did not need to throw a loyal supporter of the anti-abortion movement over the side, but they did not know that when they did it. And maybe they would have done it anyhow, because anti-abortion or not he was still a Democrat.

      The “Obamacare is abortion” trope is another lie that belongs on the ash heap of political canards that are so abundant in history, and especially around the ACA. The “Death Panels,” loss of the right to buy useless junk insurance, the idea that people who get Medicaid actually become less healthy and so on, are all examples.

      There are a lot of people who have just not paid enough attention to know this, or depend on the right wing echo chamber as their only source of information, and just end up believing the propaganda. You, I suspect, are not one of them. I suspect you are looking high and low for a justification of why a loyal opponent of abortion, a politician for whom it was actually a signature issue, was trashed by your movement. In reality, it makes absolute sense, since Oberstar, whatever his views and votes on abortion were, would have voted to organize the House for the Democrats and elect Nancy Pelosi the Speaker. That would have hurt the anti-aboriotn movement, and is a perfectly sound political reason for dumping him, It just doesn’t fit with a suggestion that in the end, anti-abortion Democrats can count on the anti-abortion movement for any support when the chips are down. They can’t, and anyone with any brains won’t. Of course there are still some Democrats who are anti-abortion for the same philosophical and religious reasons you are, but they surely are not counting on the anti-abortion movement to help in an hour of needs.

      • I wonder which carries more weight on whether Oberstar maintained his pro-life position, an avid supporter of legalized abortion or MCCL?

        I know which carries more weight with me.

        • I would suggest that since the MCCL were the ones who put the knife in, they are probably not the best choice, from a purely forensic point of view, to use as a source as to what happened.

          I will say again, I do not think that it was wrong for them to do that. Their position is linked tightly with the GOP in terms of the quest to make legal abortion illegal or to at least make it difficult to impossible. The problem is that many people, especially a group for whom claim to the moral high ground is so important, are very uncomfortable with the sausage making aspects of politics, so they like to try to make cold political calculations sound more high minded. That goes for both right and left.

          If you really have any interest in finding out what the ACA actually has to say about abortion, there are abundant neutral third party sources you can consult, rather than rely on vested interests such as the MCCL, the right wing echo chamber. I don’t claim to be neutral, just correct.

          In the end, it was the MCCL’s decision that they would be better off if a Republican represented CD8 rather than Oberstar, regardless of his loyalty. They were undoubtedly right in that calculation.

          Basically, what the MCCL said about Oberstar was “tell Dave it was only business. I always liked him.”

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