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Minnesota DFL, GOP in day-after event: Nobody’s delighted

In a postelection event at the U of M’s Humphrey School, DFL Chair Ken Martin and GOP state Sen. Michelle Benson picked over Minnesota’s mixed results.

DFL Party Chair Ken Martin
DFL Party Chair Ken Martin

In a day-after-Election-Day event at the U of M’s Humphrey School, DFL Chair Ken Martin and state Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, picked over the mixed results of Tuesday in Minnesota.

Maybe it was just because he’d been up all night or because his party had been clobbered nationally (he called it a “real bloodbath”), but Martin seemed to have generally mixed feelings about the results, even though the DFL had swept all the statewide races and maintained its 5-3 advantage in the congressional delegation. He seemed laid especially low by the Republican takeover of majority control of the Minnesota House.

And Benson, likewise, seemed more somber about the Republican losses, by near-landslide margins, in the races for governor and U.S. senator than jubilant over the success in the state House. She said her party has relied too heavily on Obama-bashing in recent years, and needs to develop “an uplifting, positive vision” for the future. “It can’t just be about Barack Obama anymore.”

Powerful division

Both panelists noted the powerful, growing division of the state between DFL strength in the cities and Republican strength in rural Minnesota.

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Martin said that Republican gubernatorial nominee Jeff Johnson had carried 53 of Minnesota’s 87 counties, but that Dayton had carried all of the most populous counties, which led to his substantial margin of victory.

Benson said that the “metrocentric” legislative session, which left “Greater Minnesota feeling abandoned,” was a key to Republican success in winning the House. “Why should farmers trust the DFL?” she asked, since the party had “ignored” their needs and priorities. But her party’s performance in the Twin Cities suburbs was below what Republicans need to win statewide races.

In the governor’s race, Martin opined that Republican attacks on Gov. Mark Dayton’s “personal traits” had backfired.

Benson said the Republicans are still being undermined in statewide races by the state party’s ongoing financial problems. Republican looked enviously at blue states like Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois that elected Republican governors, and Minnesota Republicans will be studying those races to learn “how they did that and what we can do.”

Turnout disappointment

Martin expressed disappointment in voter turnout, which was down from recent midterm elections. “We invested a lot in turning out drop-off voters” (the term professionals use for voters who vote in presidential years but drop out of the electorate in midterms), but did poorly, especially among the young, he said. His belief is that “negative campaigning turns people off.”

State Sen. Michelle Benson
State Sen. Michelle Benson

On the other hand, he said, 65 percent of those who voted before Election Day voted DFL, and the overwhelming majority (73 percent) of the early voters who voted for DFL candidates were in the category that the party professionals rate as “sporadic voters,” which suggests the early voting option is helping the DFL substantially.

Moderator Larry Jacobs of the university’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance noted that the DFL had won the female vote by a 20-point margin, and asked Benson what the Republicans were doing wrong. She replied: “We don’t listen and engage on the issues that really matter” to women voters.

Noting that Republicans nationally are now talking about how they are ready to compromise with President Obama to get things done, Martin said “but when it’s time to do it, they won’t.”

“If there’s a silver lining for Democrats” in losing majority control of the U.S. Senate, Martin said, “it’s that the Republicans now own Congress,” which, he implied, will give the public a clear understanding of who is responsible for the failure of Congress to get things done.