A closer look at this month’s election results suggests that Minnesota is much in need of healing.
In one respect, Minnesota voters reverted to form in the last election – or at least their history from the onset of the Great Depression until 9/11. In those mid-term elections, the president’s party almost always lost, and such was the case in 2018.
From 1930 to 1998, the gubernatorial candidate of the president’s party lost 16 of 18 mid-term elections. During that same time frame, the president’s party also lost 10 of 13 mid-term U.S. Senate elections. And since 1954, the president’s party has suffered a median loss of 15 seats in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
That changed in 2002, following 9/11 the previous year and the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone in a plane crash 12 days before the election. Both Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton bucked the trend, winning four consecutive elections while their parties controlled the White House. In two of three mid-term U.S. Senate elections since then, Republican Norm Coleman and DFLer Al Franken also won while the White House was occupied by their party.
That changed this year, and it wasn’t close. With Republican Donald Trump as president, the DFL swept every statewide election on the ballot. It regained control of the Minnesota House of Representatives, gaining 18 seats. Barring recounts, 15 Republican incumbent state legislators lost their seats, 13 of them in the Twin Cities suburbs. Not a single DFL legislative incumbent lost, nor did the party lose any of the 15 open seats it previously held.
Except for Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s re-election over Republican Jim Newberger, it wasn’t a landslide, but all the other DFL statewide candidates won handily.
However, underneath what appears to be a return to a typical mid-term election lie some disturbing trends that those just elected need to address. Like much of the nation, Minnesota is profoundly split and becoming more so. Minnesota has become as 19th-century British statesman Benjamin Disraeli once described his country: “Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets.”
Think that is too strong? Klobuchar was the only DFL statewide candidate to carry all eight congressional districts. Governor-elect Tim Walz carried five; Sen. Tina Smith, Secretary of State Steve Simon and State Auditor-elect Julie Blaha four; and Attorney General-elect Keith Ellison only three.
The difference was in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, and in particular in the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Without the vote margins from Hennepin and Ramsey, Klobuchar would have been the only statewide DFL candidate to win. In the 4th Congressional District, which is mostly Ramsey County, all statewide DFL candidates received at least 60 percent of the vote. In the 5th Congressional District, which is mostly the city of Minneapolis, they all received over 70 percent of the vote. In the 16 legislative districts numbered from 59A up to 67B and which are located mostly in Minneapolis or St. Paul, every DFL legislative candidate received at least 70 percent of the vote and all but two were over 80 percent.
In Greater Minnesota, meanwhile, the Republicans have become the dominant party except in college towns. It is no fluke that two of the few congressional districts that the Republicans picked up nationwide were in Greater Minnesota, nor is it surprising that the DFL gained two Twin Cities suburban districts in return. Although the 5th District remained with the DFL, Ilhan Omar replaced Keith Ellison. The last time Minnesota sent five freshmen to the U.S. House was in 1924.
An example of the Republican strength outstate came in state Senate District 13 to replace Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach. The district, which is mostly eastern Stearns County outside of St. Cloud, was won by state Rep. Jeff Howe of Rockville over Stearns County Commissioner Joe Perske of Sartell. Between his own campaign and independent expenditures by political action committees, Perske had a spending advantage of more than $300,000. Howe still garnered 57 percent of the vote. His victory gives the Republicans a one-vote majority in the Senate, the only obstacle preventing a complete DFL takeover of state government
Of the 134 Minnesota House districts, 83 were won by a landslide, defined as the winner receiving at least 60 percent of the vote; 48 were DFLers and 35 were Republicans. The battle for control of the House was fought in the suburbs. Twelve of the 15 DFLers who beat Republican incumbents received less than 54 percent of the vote; five won with less than 51 percent.
The difference appeared to be that the DFL has been fired up ever since Donald Trump surprisingly won the presidency. Rather than sulking, DFLers got back to the basics, finding committed candidates, raising more money and identifying supporters and getting them to the polls.
As this division between rural and urban areas continues, it’s likely that the party that will win is the one that makes the greatest effort to bridge the gap. Playing only to one’s base will be insufficient. Governor-elect Tim Walz’s campaign theme was “One Minnesota.” Now it will be up to not only Walz, but to every elected Democrat and Republican, to make it so.
– An opinion of the Adams Publishing – ECM Editorial Board. Reactions welcome. Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org.