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How the numbers geeks see Minnesota’s congressional races

FiveThirtyEight doesn’t just have a list of which U.S. House races are in play. The site has assigned a precise percentage likelihood to every single House race in the country.

FiveThirtyEight, the operation created by the political number-crunching guru Nate Silver, doesn’t just have a list of which U.S. House races are in play. No, the site assigns the precise likelihood of victory for candidates in every single House race in the country. 

On the one hand, I can’t help but look at such things, especially regarding the unusually large crop of competitive U.S. House races in Minnesota this year. But on the other hand, the idea that there is a way to describe a Dean Phillips victory over Erik Paulsen in Minnesota’s hotly contested Third Congressional District as 65.79 percent likely seems a bit over the top. (Most of the other race-raters just put it in the “toss-up” category, which seems, compared to a precise percentage likelihood, appropriately humble about one’s ability to see the future, or even the present.)

But, for the political junkies among us (including me), I’ll pass on the percentages anyway. But first I’ll cut to the chase. Minnesota has four of its eight U.S. House races rated as “toss-ups” by all or most of the sites that do such ratings.

According to FiveThirtyEight, all four of them are likely to “flip,” meaning the candidate of the party currently holding the seat will lose. But, since our four hot races are evenly divided between two currently held by a Republican and two by a Democrat, if all four seats flip, they would cancel each other out in partisan terms and Minnesota would continue to have a U.S. House delegation of five Dems and three Repubs, just a lot of new ones.

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So, as of this morning, FiveThirtyEight rates our four relatively “safe” incumbents are rated as this likely to be back for another term:

  • CD 4, Betty McCollum, DFLer, 99.98 percent likely to be reelected.

  • CD 5, an open seat but so overwhelmingly DFL a district that 538 rates it as more than 99 percent likely that the DFL nominee, Ilham Omar, will be elected.

  • CD 6, regarded as the reddest of our districts, incumbent Republican incumbent Tom Emmer is rated 99.81 percent likely to win another term.

  • CD 7, where long-time “blue dog” Democrat Collin Peterson is rated just 85.48 likely to win an astonishing 15th term, despite serving an otherwise overwhelmingly red district.

But, as I mentioned above, if FiveThirtyEight is right, all four of our other districts will flip parties. Here are the percentages they assign.

In the First Congressional District, the southern Minnesota district currently represented by Democrat Tim Walz (who is leaving to run for governor) FiveThirtyEight rates Republican Jim Hagedorn as 54.66 percent likely to defeat Democrat Dan Feehan. All the other raters call this one a toss-up, which it clearly is. But FiveThirtyEight’s willingness to assign percentages to the second decimal makes it almost impossible to have a toss-up.

But FiveThirtyEight doesn’t see the rest of our toss-ups as all that toss-up-y.

In south suburban Second Congressional District, FiveThirtyEight rates second-time challenger, DFL Angie Craig as 76-24 percent likely to unseat incumbent Republican Jason Lewis. That seems a lot less like a toss-up than it is rated by others.

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In west suburban Third Congressional District, which everyone in the world has been treating as a toss-up, FiveThirtyEight rates Democratic challenger Dean Phillips as 65.79 percent likely to unseat incumbent Republican Erik Paulsen.

And the huge northeastern Eighth Congressional District, which stretches from the northernmost suburbs of the metro to the top of the Canadian border, (incumbent DFLer Rick is not seeking another term) FiveThirtyEight says that Republican nominee Pete Stauber is 64.56 percent likely to defeat Democrat Joe Radinovich.

As I said above, assigning likelihoods to the second decimal point in the chaos of an ongoing political campaign (and doing it for every district in the country) should be considered beyond daunting, and maybe silly. But if you want to know how the serious numbers geeks see our state’s races, you have it here, or read for yourself FiveThirtyEight’s overview of every House race in the country here.

In that big national picture, the FiveThirtyEight-ers conclude that:

“The Classic version of our model gives Democrats a near certainty (about a 98 percent chance) of winning more votes than the GOP in the race for the House — but “only” a 3 in 4 chance of winning the majority of seats.”