How Republicans scored their big upset in House District 50B

Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson

Republicans were so pleased with the victory Chad Anderson scored over DFLer Andrew Carlson in House District 50B, in Bloomington, that he was sworn into office Tuesday, just a week after he was elected.

The GOP’s excitement was understandable — Democrats had held the seat since 1998 — but the victory was no fluke. The House Republican Campaign Committee placed cable TV ads accusing Bloomington City Council member Carlson of raising property taxes. But it was direct voter contact that clearly made the difference, as Anderson, his volunteers and paid staff went door-to-door and explained why he would make a great state representative. In the end, in an election that was decided by 130 votes, more people in the district were talking about Anderson than about Carlson.

The question is whether the victory is a one-off, born of a very particular set of circumstances in Bloomington, or a trend that portends good things for Republicans in a presidential election year, a situation that normally favors strong Democratic turnout.

“This should serve as a wake-up call for Democrats that we cannot take any district in any part of the state for granted, even in a presidential election year,” House Minority Leader Paul Thissen told MinnPost after Anderson’s win.

One DFL operative predicts that in a general election, with 75 percent voter turnout — compared to 15 percent last week in Bloomington — Republicans cannot maintain the same level of ground game in every competitive House race.                                                 

Traditionally, the DFL has been far better at that aspect of campaigns than Republicans. Even Republicans acknowledge the superiority of the DFL get-out-the vote operation. In 2014, the Republican Party admitted this weakness and tried to upgrade its efforts, opening 18 field offices and hiring two-dozen paid staffers. Even so, that effort paled in comparison to the DFL’s operation, with 30 field offices and 125 paid staffers.

With no statewide offices on the ballot this November, the unknown factor in voter turnout is the identity of each party’s presidential candidate. Republicans believe Hilary Clinton will turn off Democrats in rural Minnesota, where the GOP made many of its gains in 2014.  Meanwhile, the DFL predicts a Republican ticket topped by either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz would similarly depress turnout by GOP-leaning voters, especially in suburban districts like Bloomington.

But the emphasis on the ground game on both sides makes it clear that old-school campaigning is still critical. Even in this era of data driven nano-targeting, politics is personal, and talking to people is the best way to get their votes. 

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Jim Million on 02/18/2016 - 11:59 am.

    Thesis Here

    2016: Politics Not-as-Usual. Minnesota included.

    Thanks for this elaboration, Cyndy.

  2. Submitted by Phil Dech on 02/18/2016 - 12:37 pm.

    I wonder

    whether the Bloomington trash hauling fracas played a role in this. If so, this may be more of a one-off than a trend. As they say, all politics are local.

    • Submitted by Matt Brillhart on 02/22/2016 - 08:26 am.

      This is the obvious answer

      I’m not sure why the media has been so slow or reluctant to pick up this theory. Carlson is a sitting member of the Bloomington City Council. The organized trash collection vote is still fresh in the minds of voters (especially those who oppose it), and it looks like they took that frustration out on Carlson.

      Personally, I’m all for organized trash collection. As proven in Maplewood and countless other communities, stubborn “no change” types get their undies in a knot about the decision, but once implemented everyone is pretty darn happy with it. I’m not aware of any communities that have gone back to unorganized collection. The critics tend to disappear once the system is implemented. You don’t hear as much about that.

      Should he so desire, Mr. Carlson can probably run again in November and be pretty well assured of a win. Just to be safe though, they might want to pick another DFLer not so directly connected with a still-fresh hot button issue.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/18/2016 - 04:21 pm.

    How do we know?

    “But it was direct voter contact that clearly made the difference, as Anderson, his volunteers and paid staff went door-to-door and explained why he would make a great state representative. In the end, in an election that was decided by 130 votes, more people in the district were talking about Anderson than about Carlson.”

    It’s not that this isn’t true, but I was just wondering if we know it’s true. Door knocking is standard with both parties. Did Carlson not door knock? How do we know more people were talking about Anderson than Carlson? Among other things I have heard was that part of the problem was with some of Carlson’s positions taken on the Council, which suggests that people were talking about Carlson, just in a negative way.

    While the seat was seen as safe for Anne, the DFL has a long track record of losing special elections. Did the DFL leadership take this seat for granted?

  4. Submitted by joe smith on 02/19/2016 - 09:22 am.

    Carlson spent more money but Anderson won. Dems tell us it is all about the money all of the time (evil republicans buying elections). Maybe the voters thought Anderson would do a better job. End of story!

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/19/2016 - 10:09 am.

    Dems tell us it is all about the money all of the time (evil republicans buying elections). Maybe the voters thought Anderson would do a better job.

    What this Democrat will tell you is that legislative elections aren’t about money, they are about turnout, and this absolutely true in special elections. I have heard it said, elsewhere and here that the DFL took this election for granted, that they did not do the work necessary to turn out the vote in a special election. Is that true? The author of this article says in effect the Republicans used paid door knockers. Why didn’t the DFL? What kind of phone banking work was done? If we did spend more money, where did it go?

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