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After a rough election night nationally, Democrats see bright spot in Minnesota

MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Sen. Al Franken: “Last time it took eight months to get seated, it was called pretty quickly on this one. It’s gratifying.”

On a positively dreadful night for Democrats nationally, their federal and statewide candidates had at least one relatively bright spot — right here in Minnesota.

Democrats have lost 7 United States Senate seats so far, and handed Mitch McConnell the majority in that chamber. They lost 13 U.S. House seats, more than the most aggressive prognosticators predicted, and Republicans have their biggest House majority since World War II. Democrats lost gubernatorial races in deep blue states — Massachusetts! Maryland! Almost Vermont! — and nearly gave up a must-have Senate seat in what was supposed to be safe Virginia.

Minnesota Republicans had great success in local races, sweeping back into control of the Minnesota House. But on the federal and statewide side, Minnesota Democrats weathered the storm and resisted the wave.

It wasn’t just that they won, but how they won. Minnesota voters emphatically returned two statewide Democrats to offices they initially won after long recounts. Six years after winning his seat by 312 votes, Sen. Al Franken won a second term with 53 percent of the vote. Gov. Mark Dayton topped 50 percent too, and his margin of victory was 6.5 percentage points.

In two U.S. House races that attracted millions of dollars in outside money, Democrats won out even as their colleagues fell nationwide. Rep. Collin Peterson will serve a 13th term from Minnesota’s right-leaning 7th District, even though the ranks of his group of moderate “Blue Dog” Democrats shrunk even further. In the 8th District, a true battleground, Rep. Rick Nolan fought off an aggressive challenge after months of national money and national media flooded the district for the second straight election cycle.

Franken’s big win

The Senate race was over the quickest, with national news networks calling it for Franken as soon as the polls closed in Minnesota.

“It’s very different experience,” he said. “Last time it took eight months to get seated, it was called pretty quickly on this one. It’s gratifying.”

Minnesota’s Senate race was never a top-tier contest nationally — Franken held a solid lead over Republican challenger Mike McFadden in every poll of the race — but television stations called it so quickly Democrats weren’t even ready to react. At the DFL election night party, only a smattering of supporters were in the downtown Hilton ballroom when NBC News showed its projection in the race, and it took those assembled a second or two to react, to let the results sink in.

“I know that some Minnesotans didn’t quite know what to expect of me when I went in, but I think they’ve seen that I work really hard every day on behalf of Minnesota,” Franken said. “I think they like what they saw.”

The Senate picture was less pretty for Democrats nationally, in what turned into a conservative version of the dominoes game Democrats played in 2012. Democrats lost — big — in races they had hoped to make competitive: Iowa, Kentucky, Georgia. Races that were trending Republican simply toppled towards the GOP: Arkansas, Colorado, North Carolina. There will be hand-wringing in Virginia, where Sen. Mark Warner was supposed to beat Republican Ed Gillespie with ease, but instead leads by only 12,000 votes.

Throughout his campaign, McFadden had talked of joining a new generation of Republicans in the U.S. Senate. Instead, he was left telling Minnesota Republicans at their Minneapolis election-night party to buck up and look toward the future.

“The time has come to stop being angry. Anger doesn’t work. It’s not healthy. Frustration is good, but channel the frustration into hope and inspiration into what we can do,” he said. “I envision a state in not too distant of a future which is led by Republicans. Hold your heads high, the fight has just begun.”

McFadden made this statement with emotion in his voice and the crowd responded with applause and cheer. His remarks lasted only a few minutes and he didn’t take any questions from the media.

Minnesota Democrats resist GOP House wave

On the House side, Minnesota Republicans won the races they were expected to win, and easily. Tom Emmer, a former gubernatorial candidate, will succeed retiring Rep. Michele Bachmann in the 6th District after winning 56.3 percent of the vote. Reps. John Kline (56.1 percent) and Erik Paulsen (62.1 percent) both won easily as well.

But both parties knew Peterson and Nolan were the targets, and they both held on even as similar districts nationwide went to the GOP. Peterson, a moderate Democrat who had reminded voters about his expertise in agriculture policy, won by 8.5 percentage points over state Sen. Torrey Westrom. It’s his narrowest margin of victory in a decade or more in his rural, red district, but around the country, similar seats — including those held by fellow Blue Dogs Nick Rahall (West Virginia) and John Barrow (Georgia) — went to the GOP with relative ease.

Nolan was re-elected to a House seat Democrats lost in the last big wave year of 2010, holding a 1.4 percentage point lead over Republican opponent Stewart Mills as of Wednesday morning. Nolan ran as a liberal in what has been billed as a toss-up district, beating back a strong challenge from Mills based around his opposition to President Obama’s health care law and an argument that Nolan was out of touch with his voters. In all, outside groups spent $21.3 million in Nolan’s and Peterson’s districts, the second and fourteenth most nationally, according to the Center on Responsive Politics, and the incumbents held on.

Republicans won 13 seats in the House Tuesday night, pushing their majority to 242. It’s the party’s biggest margin in the House since World War II.

Dayton wins as Democrats flounder nationwide

Voters re-elected Dayton with a narrow majority of the vote as he knocked off Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson on his way to a second term. Democrats also picked up the governor’s mansion in Pennsylvania, but struggled elsewhere.

Republicans won control in Arkansas, Illinois and Massachusetts, and pulled off a shocking 9-point win in Maryland. Democrats came up empty in states they had reasonable hopes of winning — Kansas, Maine, Florida, and closer to home, Wisconsin, where Scott Walker won his third election in four years with 52.3 percent of the vote.

Taken all together, Minnesota Democrats had a good night, relative to their colleagues around the country, with the glaring exception being the state House. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who wasn’t on the ballot, said their wins here were due to well-run campaigns from Franken and Dayton, and a message based around Minnesota’s strong economy. She credited a strong DFL get-out-the-vote effort and ground game as well.

“We are getting some hard news around the country,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar told Democrats before Franken’s victory speech, “but some great news in Minnesota.”

Devin Henry can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry

Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 11/05/2014 - 09:05 am.

    Across the country…

    people are throwing out the Dems while those here are recycling them.

  2. Submitted by E Gamauf on 11/05/2014 - 09:07 am.

    The mellifluous baritone of Mitch

    Harry Reed was no treasure to listen to,
    but Mitch droning on while patting himself on the back may be worse!

  3. Submitted by Susan McNerney on 11/05/2014 - 09:27 am.

    The real question is

    What will happen to Stuart Mills’ hair? Will it run again? Or will it just model for a new line of mops at Fleet Farm?

    On a serious note, it was nice to see ebola fearmongering, and the resulting xenophobia against African immigrants, lose badly at the ballot box in the Dayton/Johnson race.

    • Submitted by Joe Smithers on 11/05/2014 - 10:22 am.


      Ha. That was pretty funny. I will say I he was not on my ballot but if he was I did not find him unelectable and thought his platform was ok. Just not enough to unseat Nolan. I also thought the ebola stuff was pretty ridiculous.

  4. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 11/05/2014 - 09:39 am.

    Falling behind?

    Why is MN so “out of touch” with the rest of the country and did not participate in the GOP wave?

    Why are we “falling behind” the rest of the Midwest that now has MN surrounded by GOP Governors?

    Is it because the” big and entrenched and establishment special interests” are so well funded with “outside money?”

    It must be that the constant “negative campaigning” sponsored by the DFL is working.

    Of course – it helps that the Star Tribune campaigns year around for the DFL.

    Hopefully Franken, Amy, and Obama will not be “obstructionist” and be the party of “no.”

    Did I use all the “code words”?

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/05/2014 - 10:21 am.

      Gonna be tough to obstruct much from their basement offices.

      Franken will be doing the same thing he was (nothing), of course, it’s just he’ll be doing it in the cone of silence.

      Should be a pretty good gig for him, really.

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 11/05/2014 - 12:11 pm.

        Don’t worry

        Walk softly, carry a gigantic veto stick, and just keep feeding out that rope… I’m glad you’re in good mood Mr. Swift, it will make the dissapointment all the more complete.

      • Submitted by jason myron on 11/05/2014 - 01:55 pm.

        How so…

        it wasn’t tough for the repubs to obstruct when they occupied those same “basement offices.” I think you’re drastically overly optimistic about what this means for you other than some emotional payback for Obama’s reelection in 2012. You took advantage of a sweet national map during a midterm with historically low turnout. It’s the only time you guys win…..enjoy it, but if you think it’s some sort of national trend towards a GOP mindset, you’re delusional.

    • Submitted by Joe Smithers on 11/05/2014 - 10:24 am.

      rural vs. metro disconnect

      I also have noticed a large rural and metro difference and was curious why that was. Negative campaigning goes on from both parties and was largely ignored by me. Maybe the negative stuff works better for some than for others. Who knows. I never liked Franken or Hillary Jr. but it is what it is. Oh well.

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 11/05/2014 - 01:02 pm.

      On Falling Behind

      You characterize the MN 2014 election as being ‘out of touch’ with the rest of the country. I disagree. We thwarted a GOP wave here because DFLers did what they said they would do when elected to office two years ago.

      People in MN are obviously pleased enough with our statewide officeholders to send them back with good-sized majorities. In fact, no Republican has won a statewide election since 2006, if I am correct.

      So no, it’s MN is not “out of touch” or “falling behind”: just the opposite. Minnesota is a nationwide leader not just in progressives standing up for and campaigning on their positions (and yes, their missteps), but for good governance as well.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 11/05/2014 - 01:45 pm.

      Here’s a code word for you….

      4.1% unemployment.

      • Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 11/05/2014 - 03:31 pm.

        If ….

        you want to count college grads working at fast food restaurants, that is a good statistic.

        • Submitted by jason myron on 11/05/2014 - 05:18 pm.

          Unlike you

          I remember the past. I walked out of college in 1980 in the middle of a recession and 10% plus unemployment. I didn’t get the job that I wanted out of the box either.

  5. Submitted by William Burpee on 11/06/2014 - 11:14 am.

    Kudos to Jonathan…

    ….for his previous post. I concur whole-heartedly. It’s ridiculous to say Minnesota is “out of touch”–if anything, it’s leading the way, as it has done so often over the years. The rest of the country hasn’t caught up yet, but I look at who won, and I’d much rather have them representing me than who the Republicans put up.

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