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Predictions hard to come by in pre-election analyses in Minnesota

Two political observers talked about the issues and candidates ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

voting booth
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

University of Minnesota political scientist Kathryn Pearson sat down Monday with Star Tribune political reporter Briana Bierschbach (live and on Zoom) for a very smart and, of course, frustrating look ahead to the upcoming Minnesota election.

I say “frustrating,” but only for those who are silly enough to think that, even this close to Election Day, either of these smart political observers is going to tell you what will happen two weeks from today. Instead, in a role reversal with Pearson asking the questions and Bierschbach offering insightful up-to-the-minute-informed analysis but no predictions, they offered a smart overview of where things stand.

One of Bierschbach’s early insights was that, even with no presidential election on the ballot: “you can’t ignore how much feelings about the president matter.” True, and she might’ve added, also feelings about the previous president. Or, as Pearson put it, you can’t ignore reasoning that is rooted in almost every voter’s partisan identity.

Republicans are drawing a lot of enthusiasm from the rise in crime rates under Joe Biden. Democrats are leaning heavily on the abortion issue (especially in the wake of the recent Supreme Court Dobbs decision overruling Roe v. Wade).

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“I’ve never heard Democrats talk about abortion like they’re doing this cycle,” Bierschbach said. Democrats “see it as kind of the one big issue they can get to motivate their base this time… It’s in every ad. It’s in every mailer.” 

Another big change from former cycles is that the battle for the Iron Range is almost over. Not so very long ago, it was a solid blue region. Over recent cycles, it was a battleground. Now, Democrats are trying to defend their last few Iron Range incumbents, Bierschbach said, adding that the real zone for competitive seats has moved to the Twin Cities suburbs.

Gov. Tim Walz, Bierschbach noted, seems have decided on a “low-profile” campaign featuring “controlled events,” often not even letting the media know about his upcoming appearances.

He’s very folksy, she said, and his style has helped him in the past but not so much this year because he has made fewer appearances.

Jensen, she said, has been more available, but sometimes gets into trouble by “spit-balling” an answer, for example when he off-the-cuff likened COVID restrictions to Nazism, or when he backtracked from his former positions on issues like abortion. As a result, she noted, “A lot [of Jensen’s] old tapes (about positions Jensen has since changed) turn up in current ads by Walz and his party allies.”