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Could a Democrat ever win in Bachmann’s GOP-leaning district?

Jim Graves
MinnPost photo by Jana FreibandJim Graves

Normally, in U.S. congressional politics, when a long-time incumbent retires, it elevates the opportunity for the other party to capture the seat. In the case of Michele Bachmann’s sudden departure, announced Wednesday, the conventional wisdom holds that the opposite is the case.

Democrat Jim Graves came within 1.2 percentage points of upsetting Bachmann in 2012 and had already announced he would try again in 2014. Graves still plans to run against whichever of the dozen or more Republicans currently contemplating the race ends up as the nominee.

Purely on the basis of the partisan lean of the Minnesota 6th District, the current assumption is that Graves had a better chance against Bachmann than someone else. Charlie Cook, who analyzes every congressional district based on multiple factors, rates the district “R +10,” which means a generic Republican should start out with roughly a 10-percentage-point lead over a generic Democrat. That makes the 6th the most Republican-leaning district in Minnesota. The 2011 redistricting map increased the Republican lean of the 6th. In 2012, Mitt Romney carried the 6th District with 56 percent of the vote, his best district in Minnesota.

Of course, Graves is not a generic Democrat. He is an ideological moderate, with a business background, personal wealth, a likeable if low-key personality, and the advantages in name recognition and political experience of having just run a close race for the seat. But, as of Wednesday, he lost one of his biggest political assets, namely that he was the vehicle around which Democrats and moderate Republicans could express their distaste for Bachmann.

In April, when I wrote that Bachmann was increasingly likely to retire from Congress, I relied significantly on the growing understanding in Republican circles that she had become a liability to her party, requiring ever-increasing levels of money and drama to hold a seat that should be safe for a generic Republican.

Of course, we won’t know for a long time who will be the Republican nominee to replace Bachmann nor what level of intra-party bloodletting might weaken that nominee on the way to a race against Graves. But, just based on the lean of the district, he faces an uphill battle.

I asked Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report how many Democrats currently represent districts with a stronger Republican lean than the Minnesota 6th.

Gonzales’ answer: Three.

Using the size of the Romney vote in 2012 as the indicator of generic Republican strength, Gonzales found that of the 201 House Democrats, just three represents districts that were better for Romney than the Minnesota Sixth.

StateDistrictRomney percentageCurrent Democratic representative
Utah4th67%Jim Matheson
West Virginia3rd65%Nick Rahall
North Carolina7th59%Jim McIntyre
If Graves had won, the Minnesota 6th District, with a Romney percentage of 56, would fit here on the list
Georgia4th55%John Barrow
Minnesota7th54%Collin Peterson

Source: Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report
All five of the Democrats on the list, by the way, are members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by David Broden on 05/30/2013 - 11:23 am.

    GOP vs. Democrat 6th District Winner in 2014

    Eric Black has shown a very solid analysis and rationale for the GOP to retain the Mn6th. However as one who has followed and been involved in congressional campaign strategy and management for over 30 years the district will go with the candidate who best captures the Mn voter views and Mn underlying attitude and thoughts on the role of government etc. If the GOP cannot select a candidate with a new vision representing Mn values and also looking to the future the race will be a toss up or even lean democrat. The GOP must have a fresh voice not a political retread or voice of the poltical past—The district while a GOP profie is dynamic, growing and sensitive to the turmoil of the past few years. There certainly are individuals in the 6th who are moderate GOP voices that understand the values of the 6th and will not have underlying themes of special interests. For starters then I call the 2014 race as even until the GOP finds a candidate with a vision of Mn values and future for the 6th and district of growth and opportunity.Perhaps an open primary for the GOP will bring out the real candidates who can represent the best of the district. Lets hope for this vision to evolve- lets see new names not retreads show in the candidate mix. When that happens we all win!!

    Dave Broden

  2. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 05/30/2013 - 11:24 am.

    The proof is in the 7th

    If Collin Peterson can keep his seat in the conservative MN 7th for 20+ years, there is a path for Graves to win and hold the 6th. I think the low-key businessman will have to be more aggressive in his message in 2014 to convince 6th district voters, including some Republicans, that he is the best person for the job. Also, he needs no primary challengers and strong and unqualified support from the state and national party to have a chance of taking this open seat.

    I see Emmer as the strongest possible GOP candidate right now. But he started his race for governor by stumbling into a self-made controversy about servers and tips, and his personality comes off to many as a bullying and bombastic, which is great for talk radio but not an asset on the campaign trail. That said, he did very well in the 6th.

  3. Submitted by David Broden on 05/30/2013 - 12:57 pm.

    GOP Candiate Options

    Lets get real!!. The strongest GOP candidate is not Emmer or other retreads — the Strongest GOP candidates are those who are not even yet identified and who can make a distinction between being a GOP ideology voice vs someone who has a grasp and understanding of the role of a congressman vs. a state elected official- much different and the transiton is not automatic- the mind needs to think differently. The retreads mentioned in the past 48 hours do not fit this category–they are mentioned only becasuse they are retreads– all losers!!

    Dave Broden

  4. Submitted by jody rooney on 05/30/2013 - 02:36 pm.

    Emmer is an arrogant fellow based on

    my one conversation with him. I hope he runs because he will be trounced. It takes about two seconds to figure out that he is all about Emmer and not about anything else.

  5. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 05/30/2013 - 04:23 pm.


    We’ll see what happens with the next round of redistricting in 2020. If the Democrats are still in control you can bet the 6th will be largely altered so the GOP doesn’t have such a strong hold on the area.

    Personally, I was surprised to see the 6th wraps all the way around the west side of the Cities. That’s a pretty goofy configuration.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/30/2013 - 07:02 pm.


      partisan districting these days seeks to compartmentalize the opposition in a small number of districts. That’s why the Democrats can receive a majority of the popular vote and still not control the House of Representatives.
      Following this logic, the Democrats would try to redraw to 6th to contain as many Republican voters as possible, since Republicans are most likely to win anyway, so it doesn’t matter if they win by 5% or 25%. In the mean time, they might increase the number of Democratic voters in neighboring districts by drawing lines selectively.

  6. Submitted by Mike Worcester on 05/30/2013 - 11:45 pm.

    Perhaps, but….

    It is entirely possible–no, quite likely–that Minnesota will lost a congressional seat in the next round of reapportionment after the 2020 census. So if we go down to seven seats, how does all that area get carved up?

    And as an aside, I am hoping by then that someone has the good sense to try and pass either legislatively or through citizen vote the creation of a non-partisan redistricting commission like what is found in Iowa. Our elected officials have proven themselves singularly incapable of doing that job for decades now. Time to give it up and turn it over to responsible adults.

  7. Submitted by Aubrey Immelman on 05/31/2013 - 10:50 am.

    Can a Democrat win in MN-06?

    Here’s my related analysis, conducted prior to my decision to challenge Michele Bachmann in the 2008 Republican primary:

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