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One week out, an updated look at the 20 races that will decide who controls the Minnesota House

It’s one week from Election Day 2014, and the race for the Minnesota House of Representatives might be the closest competition in the state right now. 

It’s tough for many Minnesotans to wrap their heads around the race for the House, thanks to the sheer number of seats (there are 134 members), the scant attention given most of the races, and the limited amount of advertising that most voters will be exposed to. But Democrats currently hold a narrow 73-61 majority, which means that Republicans need a net gain of just seven seats to retake control of the chamber.

The bad news for the DFL: While both parties agree that anywhere from 15 to 20 seats in Minnesota are in play, all but a few of those contested seats are already controlled by Democrats. In other words, the party will be on the defensive just to maintain its majority, let alone increase it. In fact, in our analysis of the top 20 competitive districts, only three races offer a chance for Democrats to pick up seats from Republicans (though Democrats say there are closer to six total districts they are targeting for pickups). 

The stakes are high. Republicans are in the minority in both legislative chambers and hold no major statewide office, and winning the House would give them a say in how policy and budgets are shaped over the next two years. 

Attention has shifted in a handful of instances since MinnPost first looked at the state’s most competitive House races in September. In one case, political parties and outside spending groups have mostly moved on from targets in two suburban districts — DFL Rep. Ron Erhardt in Edina and GOP Rep. Mark Uglem in Champlin — where polling shows the incumbents are likely to survive their challenges this fall. Major dollars have also moved away from DFL Rep. Tom Anzelc’s Bemidji-area district, where attacks have failed to chip away at the incumbent lawmaker’s popularity. Instead, a handful of new districts in the Willmar area, St. Cloud and the suburbs are seeing an infusion of campaign cash in the final weeks of the election. 

Seven days before voters go to the polls, here are the top 20 most competitive House races in the state, split into two groups: The “Watching” districts are the 15 races that offer the best chance of flipping from one party to the other, based on the district’s calculated political lean, previous election results, and the strength of the respective candidates; The “on the radar” group are five races that, as of right now, are less likely to flip, but that nonetheless bear watching.

Finally, a note about the chart below: The list of districts are split by party: Those in blue are currently held by the DFL, red are held by the GOP. In the synopses of individual races, incumbents are in bold.

Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Beth-Ann Bloom on 09/23/2014 - 10:47 am.


    I am disappointed by the text accompanying this data. It is far more slanted than the numbers and MinnPost would usually call for.

    Take for example, this paragraph from the intro:
    The stakes are high — Republicans are in the minority in both legislative chambers and hold no major statewide office. Winning the House would give them a say in how policy and budgets are shaped over the next two years.
    It could have been written like this:

    The stakes are high —Democrats are in the minority in both legislative chambers and hold major statewide offices. Winning the House would give them a chance to continue to shape policy and budgets are shape over the next two years.

    OR like this:
    The stakes are high — Minnesotans have a legislature with a Democratic majority . Switching the House to Republican control would create a dynamic for policy and budgets similar to the Federal configuration.

    Luckily there are 6 weeks left for MinnPost to improve!

  2. Submitted by Barbara Gilbertson on 09/23/2014 - 10:58 am.

    Interesting summary…

    …and great graphics.

  3. Submitted by Michael Ernst on 09/23/2014 - 01:20 pm.

    District 17B

    I’ll add to Beth-Ann’s comments. The comments for District 17B state “…Republican groups trying to tie her to $2 billion in tax increases over the last two years and the faulty state health insurance exchange.” The health insurance exchange has had problems, but I don’t believe it’s accurate to say that the whole thing is faulty. This is stated as a matter of fact. How about “…and the problems surrounding the roll-out of the state health insurance exchange.”?

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/24/2014 - 09:27 am.

    The thing that bothers me about this kind of coverage…

    There’s a lot of work and data, but it doesn’t appear to be reliable in terms of it’s predictive ability. This kind of horse-race (sorry, I know it’s an often used metaphor) coverage actually seems to manufacture drama. Such coverage creates a lot of work product, but seems to ignore basic considerations such the nature of the individual candidates and their actual campaigns. One thing we know about voters in the US is that on local levels they tend don’t necessarily vote for parties, they vote for candidates. This entire analysis assumes that party affiliation is the primary factor in voters minds.

    The fact is it’s hard to see republicans making big gains in this election cycle. For one thing, none of their candidates is actually promising anything other than a return to gridlock, budget crises, and obstructionism, and it’s unlikely that Minnesotan’s will vote for that. The democrats have produced results and the polls show that most Minnesotan’s recognize that fact. Dayton and Franken will win, and typically such victories carry the party. Incumbent’s have an advantage and most the democrats have more incumbent’s than the republicans. Meanwhile the republicans have actually produced weak statewide candidates that are actually embarrassing in many ways, and that could very well bleed over into a general impression of the party. With the exception of Johnson, and McDonald, the major republican candidates we’re hearing the most about are Oligarch’s who are running on Oligarchy. None of this bodes well for republican challengers.

    The only thing that might turn the tide in favor of republicans is the occasional collective voter impulse to “balance” the deck by splitting the vote. If enough voters do that, the house could fall. Whether or not they’ll do that is very difficult to predict, and none of this data addresses that issue. As general rule, voters don’t do that unless they really frustrated with the status quo. Most of the data indicates that MN’s by and large are satisfied with the direction MN is moving in.

    Really, all the democrats need to do is come out swinging big with their achievements while in power. They’ve actually gotten a lot done in short period of time. They also need to swing away at the benefits we seen with MNsure despite it rocky roll out.

    • Submitted by Tom Goldstein on 09/24/2014 - 11:43 pm.

      What about the Vikings Stadium?

      What surprises me is the really lame attempts that Jeff Johnson has made at attacking Dayton. I would think that at the very least he’d be talking nonstop about the incredibly wasteful $1 billion Viking stadium “investment” that Dayton championed for the better part of a year, particularly with the revelations that have come out regarding the Wilfs’ court case in New Jersey. I get that the issue might be a non-starter in house races since that “voter accountability” took place in the 2012 fall elections in which the stadium issue was trumped by the Voter ID and Marriage Amendment battles, but this is the first chance to hold Dayton accountable for making the Vikings stadium a priority–and the Republicans want to focus on MNSure?

      I have no polling data, but a much better case can be made for largess and incompetence surrounding the stadium issue, plus it would also be a way to hurt some Democrats seeking re-election, i.e., the fact that the expected gambling proceeds won’t come close to covering the debt and now other revenue will have to be used to pay off the bonds for the next 30 years.

      You would think this would be right in the wheelhouse of the Republican strategists, but nothing. Do they really think they’d lose votes because the egregious waste has to do with football rather than health insurance? Talk about hypocrites. I’m sure Dayton is surprised that he’s not having to defend his vote at all, and if the question is being asked, it’s probably coming from his supporters rather than the Republicans.

      Maybe some smart wag will raise the issue on Almanac….

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/25/2014 - 09:11 am.


        I warned my Democratic representatives that the stadium might comes back to haunt them (they all promised not to vote for it… and then voted for it). Frankly I think one of the biggest problems republicans have is that they’ve spent decades building an anti-intellectual base, which has attracted a lot of poor intellects. Instead of attacking the democrats for the billion dollar stadium they’re trying to make the new State Office Building an issue? Looks stupid to me on the face of it. Napoleon once said: “It’s impolite to interrupt an opponent who’s making a big mistake”. Republican thinking also tends to be black and white, they all voted against the office building, but half of them voted for the stadium deal so it’s not a “clean” issue for them.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/28/2014 - 11:35 am.

    Curiosly, despite repeated leftist protestations to the contrary here and elsewhere, there are an awful lot of swing districts in play due to a DFL rep voting for SSM against the wishes of their district.

    Bait and switch never plays well.

    • Submitted by John Ellenbecker on 10/28/2014 - 06:15 pm.

      Gay marriage will prove to be a complete non-issue

      After a year in which Minnesotans have not seen any change in their lives as a result of gay marriage being legalized, it will prove to be a complete non-issue. It also doesn’t help those opposed to gay marriage that the public is seeing almost daily courts across the country finding that gay marriage bans violate the Constitution. The tide has turned on gay marriage bans.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 10/29/2014 - 06:44 am.

      If Elmer and Edna Hotdish from Pipestone

      are still sulking about the gay people that they’re never going to meet being able to get married, too bad. They can jump on their rotary phone or pen a letter to the editor of the Bedrock Times to complain that the country is going to hell in a hand-basket. This is a non- issue for thinking people.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/29/2014 - 01:24 pm.

        Elmer and Edna are not the sort to pen letters. They will just quietly deliver a GOP majority this year.

        • Submitted by jason myron on 10/29/2014 - 06:14 pm.


          just like they did in 2012. Once again, you sound like you’re trying to convince yourself. Of course, you haven’t really had much to be happy about politically for awhile.

    • Submitted by William Gleason on 10/29/2014 - 09:06 am.

      You might want to ask Sheila Kihne

      how running on gay marriage resentment works out in Minnesota elections, Mr. Swift.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/29/2014 - 01:27 pm.

        Shiela was running in a metro district, Mr. Gleason. We’re discussing outstate swing districts. Please do try and keep up with the discussion, these topics digress so easily.

  6. Submitted by William Gleason on 10/29/2014 - 05:21 pm.

    Gay marriage is no longer an issue in Minnesota, Mr. Swift

    Perhaps the fact that you live in South Carolina makes you a less than accurate observer in this matter.

    See you next Wednesday, or perhaps not. My recollection is that you took a long break from MinnPost after the last election. Perhaps you were too embarrassed by your many inaccurate predictions.

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