Minnesota voters set the stage for the 2020 general election Tuesday, even if they’re not totally sure who will be standing on it.
While there were some races with clear victors, such as U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s renomination in the 5th Congressional District, there remained closer races that will need a full ballot count to call with confidence, something that might not be ready until Thursday, or even later.
Generally, the endorsed DFL and the GOP candidates were doing well, with several topping incumbents like Minneapolis DFL lawmakers Sen. Jeff Hayden and Rep. Ramond Dehn. Both men trailed their endorsed challengers late Tuesday.
In the 7th Congressional District, covering western Minnesota, the GOP-endorsed candidate, Michelle Fischbach, was outpolling four other candidates in a race to face incumbent DFL Rep. Collin Peterson.
“A lot of our endorsed candidates, and that’s our party’s core foundation, are having decisive victories, so we’re very excited tonight,” said state GOP Chair Jennifer Carnahan at a Fischbach election night party in Olivia. In addition to that contested primary, endorsed legislative candidates were fending off challenges as well.
“Our optimism for November is at an all-time high,” Carnahan said, citing an Emerson College poll released Tuesday that put both U.S. Senate nominee Jason Lewis and President Trump trailing but within the poll’s margin of error.
There are now just 83 days to the general election.
DFL Chair Ken Martin was also able to tout the influence of a party endorsement. “It’s still a little early but it looks like a good night for the DFL party with most of our endorsed candidates coming through decisively,” Martin said. “At this point it looks for a strong showing.”
“We believe that Minnesota is going to be close all the way to the end,” he continued. Both national parties are investing in the state, “and I expect this to be a battleground all the way to the finish line.”
Still, any candidate who is not trailing by a large margin can still say: wait for the final tally. That’s the reality of increased mail-in voting — slower counts and delays in declaring winners, said Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon.
“We have all gotten used to knowing the results of the election at 10 p.m. on Election Night, sometimes the morning after,” Simon said earlier this week. “It’s going to be different this year. It might take a few days, or up to a week until ballots are all in and counted.“
To call the use of mail-in ballots for the primary record-breaking isn’t adequate. Driven by concerns over voting inside polling places during the COVID-19 pandemic, at least 640,000 mail ballots were requested of state and local elections officials for the primary. Those numbers compare to 222,589 requested in 2018, the most-recent pre-pandemic primary, and 107,159 requested in 2016, which has comparable races to Tuesday’s election.
A combination of legislative changes and legal challenges means ballots postmarked by election day can arrive up to two days later and still be counted. That grace period bumps to seven days for the general election. And so the state waits a little longer this year.
Omar and Fischbach prevail in congressional primaries
In the 5th Congressional District, which includes Minneapolis and several inner-ring suburbs, Omar’s Democratic primary race against Antone Melton-Meaux, a mediation lawyer and a newcomer to DFL politics, was one of the most visible House races in the country. As of election day, it was also one of the most expensive.
Omar, who was elected in 2018 by a substantial margin, had substantial support from numerous DFL politicians, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, several of Minnesota’s unions, progressive groups, and national progressive leaders like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. She also had the endorsement of “The Squad,” a group of progressive women of color elected to Congress in 2018 — two of whom defeated their own primary challengers earlier this year.
“We have been in the forefront in pushing for policies that put power back into the hands of people. And it’s made a lot of people feel uncomfortable,” Omar said in an interview.“And they are fighting us tooth and nail to find their comfort spot on the backs of people who have been marginalized in our society. And this seat belongs to the people and the people are fighting for it today.”
Melton-Meaux had fewer elected DFL elected officials endorse him, but he did have the support of a few, like Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris and State Sen. Ron Latz. He also had the support of Nekima Levy Armstrong, the former president of the Minneapolis NAACP; and famed civil rights leader Dr. Josie Johnson.
In Minnesota’s Seventh District, Republicans vied for a chance to take on fifteen-term Rep. Collin Peterson, the longtime DFL stalwart and chair of the House Agriculture Committee, whose electoral margins of victory have shrunk in recent elections.
In May, Michelle Fischbach, the former Lt. Governor of Minnesota, received the GOP’s endorsement in the district over Dave Hughes, the Republican endorsed candidate from 2016 and 2018. Prior to that, Fischbach also received an endorsement from President Donald Trump, as well as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
On Tuesday night, with 76 percent of precincts reporting in, Fischbach maintained a lead of more than 36 points.
While Peterson’s district has slowly been shifting more and more red, he remains a formidable candidate: Peterson has more than $1 million in his account and has substantial financial support from the sugar beet industry, long a staple of the economy in the Seventh District.
The closest watched legislative races were the three in which the established incumbents did not capture the party nomination. All three were trailing late Tuesday.
In south Minneapolis, Hayden, who has served in both the Minnesota House and Senate, was trailing Omar Fateh by 10 percentage points. In North Minneapolis, four-term incumbent Dehn was running closer to Esther Agbaje, but still trailed by 5 percentage points.
In St. Paul, meanwhile, a DFL-endorsed incumbent, Rep. John Lesch, was trailing challenger Athena Hollins.
It wasn’t just incumbent DFLers in the Twin Cities, either. Sen. Erik Simonson of Duluth, who is a first-term senator but served four years in the House, was trailing DFL-endorsed primary challenger Jen McEwen by 56 percent.
The race highlighted a split among labor and environmentalist wings of the party: McEwen opposes Enbridge’s Line 3 project and copper-nickel mining projects, while Simonson, a retired firefighter, backed the projects and had more labor support and the endorsement of Gov. Tim Walz.
In a speech streamed on Facebook, McEwen said her likely victory would be part of a “shift in our politics” on issues from clean energy to health care in Minnesota and across the country. She quoted Bernie Sanders, and called for Minnesota to “transition our economy to a clean energy economy.”
Establishment-backed Republicans, many of whom were endorsed by the GOP, were holding off challengers from their right flank in closely-watched legislative primaries around the state. GOP-endorsed Andrew Myers, a former Tonka Bay council member running in House district 33B, which stretches along the shores of Lake Minnetonka, had a nearly 42-point lead over Marianne Stebbins. The winner will face DFLer Kelly Morrison, who won her 2018 race by just 216 votes.
Julia Coleman, a Chanhassen city council member, was winning by 30 percentage points over Thomas Funk in Senate District 47. Though the GOP did not endorse in the race, Coleman is backed by the district’s outgoing senator, Republican Scott Jensen of Chaska, and several other prominent GOP senators.
Some of the more conservative GOP candidates also held leads. Lake Crystal Rep. Jeremy Munson, a member of the breakaway conservative New Republican caucus, had 58.5 point lead over challenger Yvonne Simon in House District 23B. Though Munson’s challenge appeared to be backed by the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, a pro-business committee that often spends big in favor of Republican candidates, Munson was endorsed by the GOP.
In Shakopee-area House District 55A, Erik Mortensen was leading former state Rep. Bob Loonan by roughly 10 percent in the primary race to challenge DFL incumbent Rep. Brad Tabke. Mortensen lost to Tabke in 2018 after he unseated Loonan in that year’s primary.
Minneapolis Council and Hennepin County Board
Residents of Minneapolis City Council Ward 6 — which includes the Seward, Cedar-Riverside, Philips West, Elliot Park, Stevens Square, and Ventura Village neighborhoods — have been without council representation since March, when Abdi Warsame resigned from the council to become executive director of the Minneapolis Housing Authority.
Eleven candidates eventually got into the race, and as the preliminary results for the ranked-choice vote election were tallied Tuesday, it was Jamal Osman who had the most first-choice votes. The 36-year-old social service and affordable housing nonprofit worker has 29 percent, with AJ Awed at 22 percent of first-choice votes and AK Hassan with 14 percent. The winner of the race won’t likely be called until the end of the week.
In Minneapolis’ western suburbs, six candidates were vying to replace the retiring Jan Callison, who represents District 6 on the Hennepin County Board. District 6 including the northern part of Eden Prairie as well as Edina, Minnetonka, Hopkins, Wayzata, Orono, Mound, Excelsior, Shorewood, Greenwood, Spring Park, Deephaven, Minnetonka Bay and Long Lake.
As early results roll in, candidate Chris LaTondresse was leading with 32 percent of the vote, followed by Dario Anselmo at 21 percent and Brad Aho at 18 percent. The top two candidates will move on to the general election in November.
In District 1, Jeff Lunde and De’Vonna Pittman looked to move on to face one another in the general election. With all precincts reporting, Pittman had 45 percent of the vote and Lunde received 37 percent.
And in District 7, Kevin Anderson and Danny Nadeau will move on to the November general election. Anderson got 43 percent of the vote Tuesday and Nadeau got 30.
School board elections
Election results posted Tuesday evening showed some clear front-runners for both open seats on the Minneapolis Public Schools board. With just a couple of precincts still outstanding, it looks like incumbent Kim Ellison, current chair of the board, will be up against Michael Dueñes, a former community college dean, for an at-large seat in the November general election.
For the seat representing District 4, newcomers Christa Mims and Adriana Cerrillo look to face off in the general election.
The results of a school board race in Red Lake School District — in which seven candidates are competing for three open seats — have not yet been reported.
Late Tuesday, votes in favor of approving an operating levy in the Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop Schools district — which school officials say could prevent the district from facing dissolution or closing — were leading. With 17 of 20 precincts reporting, 65 percent voted in favor of the ask.
Results for two bond requests in the McGregor Independent School District — and one bond request in the Ely Public Schools district — were still pending.
MinnPost writers Gabe Schneider, Peter Callaghan, Greta Kaul, Solomon Gustavo, Erin Hinrichs, Walker Orenstein and Tiffany Bui contributed to this report.