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What offseason? Parties drawing battle lines for 2016 Minnesota House elections

Both parties’ operatives have their attention trained on the same turf – the 11 seats that Republicans flipped in 2014 to give them the majority in the Minnesota House.

Anne Neu
Anne Neu

When it comes to elections, there’s no such thing as an off-season for the Minnesota House. Fresh off the 2015 legislative session (and special session) — the DFL and GOP are already girding for the biennial tug-of war that determines political control of state government’s lower chamber.  

On either side of that rope are Anne Neu, executive director of the House Republican Campaign Committee, and Zach Rodvold, campaign director for the House DFL caucus.

Both have their attention trained on the same turf — the 11 seats that Republicans flipped in 2014 to give them the majority in a year when the DFL swept all statewide offices. 

“There is the reality that we have not done well as Democrats in the mid-terms,” Rodvold said.  

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But, he said he’s seeing a significant uptick in interest from prospective candidates compared to 2014. “I think there’s several factors particularly around the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaigns,” he said. “With higher turnout and voter and volunteer engagement, there are more opportunities.”

Neu, of course, holds the opposing view. “The seats the Republicans picked up in 2014 are going to be easier to hold,” she said, noting that eight of those seats are in districts that Mitt Romney won in 2012.

Not only does the Romney performance provide a comfort level, Neu believes there are other positive signs in other districts.  She and her team are looking at races where the Republican candidate lost by fewer than 500 votes. 

Of particular interest is House District 48A, which represents parts of Minnetonka and Eden Prairie, where DFL-er Yvonne Selcer got past challenger Kirk Stensrud by just 41 votes. Neu says Republicans have a candidate to take on Selcer who hasn’t yet filed to run. 

Zach Rodvold
Zach Rodvold

The DFL has its own most wanted: House District 56B in Burnsville. In 2014, Roz Peterson defeated DFL incumbent Will Morgan there by 1,187 votes. The margin went beyond nail-biting territory, but Rodvold believes the GOP victory was an “outlier in suburban races,” where the DFL has made a steady incursion into formerly Republican districts.

Next year, Peterson will face DFL candidate Lindsey Port, who was featured in a Mark Dayton campaign ad in 2014

Rodvold says Port is well ahead of schedule in fundraising and organizing.

Organization is critical in House districts that are small and require the retail politics of door-knocking and community events. “Running a campaign is hard work,” Neu said.  “Whoever chooses to run has to have the ability to run hard.” 

And in that requirement, Neu and Rodvold are looking for the same kind of candidate.