Duluth attorney McEwen thumps Simonson for DFL State Senate endorsement

Jen McEwen

Jen McEwen, a Duluth attorney, won the Senate District 7 DFL endorsement today after party officials tabulated online balloting.

She outpaced incumbent State Sen. Eric Simonson (DFL-Duluth) with more than 70 percent of the vote on the first ballot, a stunning margin for an endorsement challenge. Of 435 eligible delegates, 374 cast votes.

“I am honored to be endorsed by the DFL, and I’m looking forward to working with the party to win in November,” said McEwen in a press release. “The pandemic has made the challenges we face even more clear. We need representatives who will fight for our community with integrity and conviction, and we need to get to work right now.”

Here is a short video of McEwen commenting on the endorsement:

Endorsement challenges like this fail more often than not, but one Duluth DFL insider tell me that McEwen’s campaign came better prepared than most.

For his part, Simonson entered the contest facing a perfect storm.

He took criticism for recently taking an administrative job with a six-figure salary for Lake Superior College. Now, senators are allowed to work other jobs. But this one came after Simonson submitted a bill seeking bonding funding for college. This comes a few years after he had taken a job as director of the Lake Superior Zoo after winning bonding funds for that facility.

Simonson had also developed a more moderate record in the Senate, allying with former Minority Leader Tom Bakk in the recent Senate leadership battle. Duluth’s DFL electorate has moved decisively to the left in recent years, farther away from Simonson’s positions on some issues.

In addition, online voting process greatly improved delegate participation. All these factors together created the conditions for McEwen’s win.

Most expect Simonson to run in the primary to keep the Senate seat. He hasn’t announced that yet. Still, given the political anvil around Simonson’s neck, McEwen will likely field a competitive challenge in the primary, too.

It’s been a rough week for DFL legislative incumbents around the state. Two Minneapolis lawmakers — Sen. Jeff Hayden and Rep. Raymond Dehn — lost their bids for re-endorsement to Omar Fatah and Esther Agbaje, respectively. The incumbents in those races issued doubts about the online balloting process and vowed to continue to a primary.



  1. Rod Halvorson says

    A minor error in the story. Ray Dehn is a State Representative not a State Senator.

  2. Gerald S says

    Simonson has already announced that he will contest the primary, and has begun campaigning.

    Jen McEwen is married to Rich Updegrove, so Rich’s run for At-Large Duluth City Councilor gave them a lot of experience. Updegrove narrowly missed being endorsed on the first ballot in that race. Both of them are closely involved in the Our Revolution movement in Duluth, and their team obviously learned a lot.

    The major issues here are non-ferrous mining — far and away the biggest issue — where Simonson has recently changed his lean from against to for, and the ongoing failure of the legislature to enact more of the left wing agenda on health care, housing, education, and other issues. Alliances between Range DFLers and the GOP are seen as a major betrayal of Party principles by the Duluth left, and Simonson’s support for Bakk helped cement opposition to his re-election.

    The combination of the replacement of the caucus system with a primary for president and the lack of any other heated races in the area put the left wing in a good position to control the outcome of the caucuses, loading the convention with supporters. This also helped County Board candidate Ashley Grimm defeat the much better known Noah Hobbes for endorsement in that race.

    McEwen actually appears to have withheld her candidacy until after the caucuses were over, but this might have been an accident, not a clever Machiavellian move.

    The COVID-19 crisis, and its impact on door knocking, house parties and other get-togethers, and other standard Democratic election tools, is going to give the advantage to incumbents and better known candidates.

    The whole LSCC job thing probably had almost no impact on the endorsement, but may be more important in the primary, when a larger number of less involved voters will be voting, and when crossover from GOPers hoping to help Donna Bergstrom in November may be a factor as well. Bergstrom ran for SD7 once before, and lost to Simonson by a wide margin in a very good GOP year. The GOP is in an uphill battle to preserve their thin State Senate majority, and might commit quite a bit of money and effort to a fight between Bergstrom and McEwen, but might tend to write off a Bergstrom-Simonson rematch.

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