I’ve said in this space before that money raised is a great predictor in winning elections, but it is not the only factor. The candidate raising the most money will win about 85 to 90 percent of the time. This year, with Minnesota’s primary election only two weeks away, Minnesota is experiencing an exceptional campaign in that, as of today, we aren’t positive who we will send to Congress from five of our eight congressional districts. In fact, in three districts, we don’t yet know who will be on the November ballot.
First, incumbents in the 4th, 6th and 7th districts appear to be safe.
Next, the 5th District is the most DFL of all Minnesota districts. Republican candidate Jennifer Zelinsky has only $3,187 in cash. The DFL primary will choose the district’s next representative.
State Rep. Ihlan Omar has raised the most money and still had $150,588 as of June 30. Former Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives Margaret Anderson Kelliher has $128,185 in hand. This is developing into a two-person race, and, as has been seen elsewhere across the nation, is a battle between the socialist progressive Omar and the mainstream liberal Anderson Kelliher. Jamal Abdulahi has only $13,161 left and state Sen. Patricia Torres Rey has $45,134, so their chances don’t look good. Only Frank Drake, who ran as a Republican two years ago, can be counted out.
In the 2nd and 3rd districts, Republican Reps. Jason Lewis and Erik Paulsen face tough re-election bids because of Trump’s unpopularity in the suburbs. Lewis is in a rematch with 2016 DFL opponent Angie Craig, who spent four times what he did and still lost. This time around, the money race is closer. Craig has $1.6 million, and Lewis $1.3 million
Paulsen is sitting on more money than any Minnesota House candidate, $2.8 million. However, his DFL opponent, Dean Phillips has raised $2.3 million and still has $923,059 on hand.
First District incumbent Rep. Tim Walz decided to run for governor. His Republican opponent in 2014 and 2016, Jim Hagedorn, was endorsed again, but state Sen. Carla Nelson of Rochester is giving him a battle in the GOP primary. Hagedorn is sitting on $390,421 but Nelson has $235,912.
The question is, with all the money being spent on the primary, will either have enough to defeat DFL-endorsed candidate Daniel Feehan. Feehan raised more money in the second quarter than Hagedorn and Nelson combined and still has $631,450.
Those same dynamics are taking place in the 8th District, where incumbent DFLer Rick Nolan is running for lieutenant governor. The DFL has five candidates in its 8th District primary, while Republican-endorsed Pete Stauber has only Duluth gadfly candidate Harry Welty to worry about. Stauber is sitting on $414,317, while all of the DFL candidates combined have only $290,971 in cash.
On the DFL side, North Branch Mayor Kirsten Kennedy and Soren Sorensen should not be considered serious contenders. Michelle Lee of Moose Lake is probably in the same class in spite of the fame gained as a TV anchor in Duluth. She is also the most liberal and is attracting support from environmentalists because of her opposition to copper-nickel mining. However, Lee has only 20 contributions to her campaign outside of her own and has only $16,471 in cash.
That leaves former state Rep. Joe Radinovich of Crosby and state Rep. Jason Metsa of Virginia. Radinovich leads the money race, having brought in $289,651 to Metsa’s $232,681. Plus, Radinovich also had $20,000 more than Metsa still in the bank as of June 30.
However, the knock on Radinovich, the reason he is a former representative, is that he doesn’t represent the district. He won a legislative seat in 2012 and was ousted after one term. He supported gay marriage at the Legislature even though his district had voted for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being only between a man and a woman.
In 2017, he went to Minneapolis and managed Jacob Frey’s successful mayoral campaign, then became his chief of staff. Judging from his financial disclosure, Radinovich didn’t waste his time down there. Most of his donations are coming out of the Twin Cities. In fact, in his latest report, only 40 donors are listed who actually live in the 8th District. While it would be unfair to say Twin Citians are trying to buy the seat, the issue of whom Radinovich would represent is coming to the fore.
By comparison, Metsa listed 92 residents of the 8th District as donors in his disclosure. Most of those are from St. Louis County, which includes Duluth and the Iron Range. Metsa is the pro-mining candidate, while Radinovich is trying to appeal to both sides.
Forty-five years ago, when I was last actively involved in politics, I attended a strategy meeting with former Minnesota Congressman William Frenzel. He told the new candidates that it didn’t make any difference where they got their money, just get it. More voters are swayed by a good ad campaign than they are by how a candidate financed those ads. (You can find congressional candidate finance reports at fec.gov.)
We are about to find out if Frenzel’s wisdom still holds true, at least in the 8th.
Tom West, now retired, is the former general manager of this paper. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.