All politics is national

PHOTO: Hunter Desportes, Flickr CC-BY
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Mesabi Tribune.

We now understand that 2016 was no fluke.

Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range, a post-WWII bastion of the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party, now leans toward the Republican Party. And the DFL shows no sign of regaining lost ground anytime soon. The old days are truly gone.

The numbers from Tuesday’s election weren’t overwhelming. President Trump won most Range towns, but not all of them. He didn’t gain *that* much from 2016. Many Range precincts ran close to 50-50.

But even when Joe Biden held on to a Range town, like Nashwauk for instance, he lost the surrounding rural area, Nashwauk Township, leading to a net win for the GOP. Biden narrowly won Eveleth, but lost Fayal Township. And the farther from town you got, the worse the results for Democrats.

DFLers won most Range legislative seats. State Sens. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) and Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook), along with State Reps. David Lislegard (DFL-Aurora) and Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls) were all re-elected. But those legislators are no longer “safe,” a fact evident in at least one surprising outcome from Tuesday’s election.

According to unofficial returns Wednesday morning, Hibbing Republican Rob Farnsworth defeated State Rep. Julie Sandstede (DFL-Hibbing) by 47 votes in District 6A. However, a batch of absentee ballots counted Thursday put Sandstede in the lead by 90 votes. The race will likely end in a recount.

How did Farnsworth make up so much ground against Sandstede, who beat him in 2016 by 18 points and who beat Guy Anderson in 2018 by 25 points? Well, Donald Trump carried Hibbing by 12 votes in 2016, but by more than 200 this time. Trump carried 6A by six percentage points.

Though Sandstede outperformed Biden by four points, it wasn’t enough. Range voters were simply less willing to split their tickets. That trend will eventually haunt other Range DFLers.

Sandstede was never a typical DFLer. She’s moderate, pro-life, and was a key figure in the effort to restore funding to the Thistledew Correctional Facility in Togo just last month. If she can’t split a conservative’s ticket, no one can.

Even if Sandstede wins the race, Republicans now know that they can reach for this district — and others — in the 2022 midterms. With better candidates they will be competitive across the Iron Range.

Sandstede might yet avoid a loss this time. However, if Farnsworth wins, he would become the first Republican to represent Hibbing since the legislature abandoned nonpartisan elections in 1974, and the first conservative since Carl D’Aquila in the 1940s. If he doesn’t, he or someone else will hold that title in the not-so-distant future.

Such a victory would also mean that, for the first time in its history, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) would be controlled by Republicans in a 5-4 split.

Even as this partisan trend accelerates, however, the Range again finds itself in the familiar position of an aggrieved minority. With 60 percent of the state’s votes in the Twin Cities metro area, Joe Biden still carried Minnesota by the predicted amount, about 7 percentage points. This happened even though President Trump far outpaced his 2016 gains in rural areas.

Despite Gov. Tim Walz’s hopeful slogan “One Minnesota,” we increasingly live in two states: one urban, one rural; one ensconced in a multicultural progressive vision and another tied to a natural resource-based economy and fierce cultural identity. This wasn’t just evident in the candidates we voted for, but how we campaigned, rallied, and the method in which we voted.

Even as COVID-19 spiked dangerously through the fall, Democrats and Republicans responded completely differently.

To reduce the spread of the disease Democrats altered their campaign tactics. No door-to-door contacts. Smaller rallies. Masks.

Republicans, running on the belief that the economy affects more people than the pandemic, deployed only minimal COVID mitigation.

We’ll never know what Election 2020 would have looked like outside the dreary context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We only know that politics infested the nation’s response to the disease. In the process, we learned that face-to-face campaigning remains a critical part of connecting with voters, especially those who don’t follow politics closely.

We also learned that the old adage “all politics is local” no longer applies. Now, all politics is national. Opinions about Donald Trump, Democrats, or the latest Facebook meme seem to have outsized influence over how we see ourselves.

Another saying holds up well, however. This too shall pass. Republican or Democratic, our communities will thrive when we join forces to create a unique and vibrant future. We may began any time we wish. A non-election year seems a good time to start.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.




  1. “Despite Gov. Tim Walz’s hopeful slogan “One Minnesota,” we increasingly live in two states: one urban, one rural; one ensconced in a multicultural progressive vision and another tied to a natural resource-based economy and fierce cultural identity.”

    Very True. You could say this about “One USA” as well. Rural areas still voted red. Urban areas voted blue. Biden won the presidential election more because of Trump’s personal deficiencies than because of Joe Biden. If Democrats in MN and throughout the USA decide that this election gives them the right to push their urban-centric multicultural progressive agenda down the throats of rural America, the divide in MN and USA is going to get worse, and you are going to see the Iron Range go more and more red in the upcoming elections. If Democrats really want to stem the huge political divide that is present in both MN and the USA, a compromise agenda is key rather than a progressive agenda.

  2. “If Democrats in MN and throughout the USA decide that this election gives them the right to push their urban-centric multicultural progressive agenda down the throats of rural America, the divide in MN and USA is going to get worse”

    We have just seen four years of the GOP pushing its archaic 19th century agenda down the throats of the majority of people in this country. Only the inequities of the Electoral College, the Senate, and gerrymandering have allowed the rural minority to enforce their will on the metropolitan majority. A President who lost the popular vote by a substantial margin, a Senate majority who represent less than 40% of the population, and a Supreme Court appointed by them have created a political reality that the minority white, rural population has power to dictate to the multicultural majority.

    It is true that this probably fairly represents the intent of the Founding Fathers. The Founding Fathers were almost all very rich white men who designed the Constitution to protect their interests, including slavery, and to exclude women, non-whites, and white men who did not own property other than their own homes from power. Today’s white rural oligarchs continue to see the suppression of the power of the majority of Americans as critical to the preservation of what they see as their right to continue dominance. They specifically see their interests as outweighing the rights of the majority.

    It is true that in the setting of close balance of the recent election we enter a period where compromise is necessary. But that would require Mitch McConnell to not repeat his openly avowed goal of blocking any and all programs of a Democratic administration, regardless of merit and bi-partisan support, in order to try to stop the re-election of a Democratic President, and Daudt and Gazelka to abandon their refusal to negotiate on any law. And it will require the abandonment of the “Hastert Rule,” named after the famous admitted pedophile, which prohibits any Republican from joining in bi-partisan votes that overcome the position of any minorities of the Republican Caucus, a rule applying at all levels, state and federal. Since 2000, there has not been a single law passed by either Minnesota or the Federal government that had a minority of Republicans joining with Democrats to accomplish something, a reversal of history in which minorities of both parties have joined with each other to pass laws opposed by members of their own party, sometimes a majority of their own party. Republicans have consistently voted only for their own programs. The opposite has not been true, with conservative national and Minnesota Democrats frequently joining the GOP to pass bills. That is particularly obvious today, with McConnell refusing to allow hearings or debate of any proposal for pandemic relief other than his own inadequate proposal, whether it arises from the Democratic House or the Republican administration. Daudt’s long temper tantrum holding up the state bonding bill was another good example.

    Compromise does not mean “be reasonable, do it my way.” It means accepting and supporting positions both ways across the aisle. A GOP reversal on that would be welcome.

    • So you are arguing that the Democrats have every right to be just a childish as the Republicans? How is that going to bring America together and decrease the division? Joe Biden is supposedly just as much the president for those who didn’t vote for him as those that did. If Democrats want to jump on winning the presidency to try and push through a bunch of progressive stuff… I don’t see that working well for the democratic party.

      • No, not at all, and I agree that Democrats can be childish as well, although they have not adopted it as a key policy, at least so far.

        What I am saying is that the last time the GOP was confronted with a Democratic Presidency, they reacted by refusing to compromise at all and in fact both threatening to and then actually shutting the government down completely. The Minnesota GOP did much the same thing.

        Obviously, anyone with common sense can see that the Democrats and the DFL cannot now pass any of their ambitious progressive programs, even in the remote possibility that the federal Senate ends up technically controlled by the Democrats. Biden is suggesting that he is looking to compromise and cooperate, and has a personal history of doing so. The first two major tests for that are going to occur before the end of this year and not involve Biden directly, first dealing with the necessity of passing a new national budget to keep the government running and then with the need to provide pandemic relief for state and local government, small and large businesses, and individuals experiencing loss of employment, inability to pay rent or mortgages, and shortage of food. If McConnell is willing to compromise — which for the pandemic relief would imply meeting the Democrats half way, at about $1.5 to $1.75 trillion as compared to his own proposal of $500 billion and Pelosi’s $3 trillion — it will be the first sign that the GOP is willing to play ball; and if the Democrats accept that, that they are willing to as well. We would then enter a new world that has not existed for over two decades.

        This also implies that, unlike 2010, both parties would be willing to revisit this in the future and provide more money if the problems of the pandemic financial crisis fail to clear.

        Another important earmarks cooperation would be for the GOP to be willing to allow less extremist senators, congresspeople, and state legislators to vote with Democrats to form majorities, not allowing the extremists to dictate to the others, and to hear and allow floor votes on Democratic proposals. The same is true for the Democrats, allowing their people to abandon their own extremists to work with the Republicans. This happened all the time up until about 1994, when landmark legislation ranging from the Civil Rights and the Voting Rights Acts to the first environmental laws to national budgets passed with both bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition.

        For now, we wait.

  3. Mike Worcester says

    Let’s also not forget that the once-a-decade redrawing of district lines will negatively impact rural areas of the state, especially those beyond the borders of larger cities in rural MN, such as Duluth, Rochester, Mankato, etc. We already have state senate districts that can be described as sprawling. They will only get bigger as the state’s population clusters more and more in cities of all sizes. How many incumbents may be pitted against each other come 2022 simply because there will be no way to draw the lines to avoid it? And if Minnesota loses a congressional seat? I shudder to think how big that seventh seat will be. Half the state? More?

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