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Does the DFL really have an advantage heading into the 2018 governor’s race?

MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
The results of the recent election offer the Minnesota Republican Party a reason to believe it can reclaim the governor’s seat after an eight-year drought.

The Cook Political Report has started handicapping the 2018 governors’ races — and the track in Minnesota isn’t as fast for Democrats as one might expect, given that Mark Dayton is a popular DFL incumbent.

Cook rates Minnesota, along with Colorado, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, as “lean Democrat.” In Cook parlance, it means the DFL has an advantage but this will be a race to watch. By comparison, California, Hawaii, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island have races that Cook deems solid or likely victories for Democrats.

According to the Cook methodology, one reason Minnesota is straddling the middle is that the governor’s seat will be an open one in 2018. A second reason is the state’s close call with choosing a Republican for president. Hillary Clinton beat president-elect Donald Trump by just 1.4 points in November. 

“…Although presidential performance is not a perfect measurement in governors races, it does play a role to assigning ratings. This is particularly true of open seats,” according to Cook writer Jennifer Duffy.

DFL party chair Ken Martin isn’t buying it. “It would be dangerous to over-read the election results of 2016 without the level of detail that will be coming shortly from the Secretary of State’s office,” he said. Martin is referring the final election report that will include a breakdown of the state’s vote, precinct by precinct.

Republicans will be scouring that data as well. Trump’s showing, combined with Republican victories that gave the party majority in both the Minnesota House and Senate, offers the GOP a reason to believe it can reclaim the governor’s seat after an eight-year drought.

But the DFL dominance in statewide offices represents a home-field advantage. For some potential candidates (e.g. Attorney General Lori Swanson or State Auditor Rebecca Otto), it offers a head start in terms of name recognition. For Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, it brings the ability to argue that she will continue the policies that have led to budget surpluses and low unemployment.

Then there’s Tom Bakk, long-time Senate majority leader and Iron Range legislator, who is often cited as the one Democrat who can harness the Trump support, and who has an affinity for non-metro voters who can be suspicious of policies that seem to be crafted for and by the Twin Cities.

Martin won’t speculate on what kind of DFLer would be best positioned “until we get a good sense of what the Republicans are going to do.”

And until the DFL Party probes more deeply into what voters were saying. “There’s some takeaways but…. it’s too early to tell,” he said. “Was this a wholesale sea change or an anomaly?”  

It’s the same question the Minnesota Republican Party will be asking as well.

Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/07/2016 - 10:39 am.

    DFL advantage?

    I wouldn’t think so. We are coming off a pretty devastating defeat in the 2016 election, and the failure of the next legislative session is pretty much baked in. While I expect Mark Dayton will retain his personal popularity, I just don’t see a pathway for another Democrat to win the governorship in 2018.

  2. Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/07/2016 - 12:18 pm.


    If the DFL party hacks pick the nominee, probably not. If the party can manage to avoid the failure of its own endorsement process like it did with Dayton, they should win.

  3. Submitted by Paul John Martin on 12/07/2016 - 12:21 pm.

    No Safe Elections

    Nationally, the Democrats have lost touch with their former core voters, the working and middle classes, especially in the Rust Belt states that swung the Presidential election, and small town America that nearly lost the DFL for Clinton and did hand power in St. Paul to the Republicans.
    In Minnesota, it is easy to forget that Al Franken won his first Senate race in 2008 by 225 votes, and that Mark Dayton was elected largely because of a 3rd party candidate.
    Democratic Mark Dayton/Yvonne Prettner Solon 43.6% 919,232
    Republican Tom Emmer/Annette Meeks 43.2% 910,462
    Independence Tom Horner/James A. Mulder 11.9% 251,487
    If the Democrat leadership, here and nationwide, continue to blame everyone from Trump to Sanders via the media for their decline, or to look for a new savior (as Obama was in 2008), or to keep telling themselves that demographic changes will soon kick in and ensure they won again, I predict they will still fail.
    See Thomas Frank’s excellent article “How the Democrats could Win again if they Wanted,” (Guardian, UK, 11/29/2016.)

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/07/2016 - 01:55 pm.

    Yeah, about that advantage

    I just don’t view the current DFL as having an advantage. Pat Terry and Paul Martin have laid it out pretty well, I think. For what little it’s worth, my personal opinion is that Dayton has been a very good Governor, but he’ll be out of the picture, and “business as usual” got hit upside day head with a 2 x 4 in November. DFL party machinery hasn’t impressed me over the 7+ years I’ve been here but maybe they’ll have learned something from this past November. On the other hand, if the state GOP continues to put forward gubernatorial candidates from the Neolithic period, almost any DFL candidate with a conscience ought to be able to win. I just don’t think there’s a built-in advantage.

    That is, unless the state’s Republicans prove – again – that they’re not capable of governing, only of ruling by fiat. If the right wing dominates the legislative session(s) before the next election, it’s quite possible that the Minnesota GOP will have dug itself into a hole from which it can’t be rescued in time for November, 2018. We’ll see…

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 12/07/2016 - 05:05 pm.


      Given the last 2 GOP weak candidates and the GOP’s tendency to aggravate people by getting side tracked with social issues… I would say they have a lot to prove and improve during the next 2 years…

  5. Submitted by joe smith on 12/08/2016 - 09:29 am.

    After decades of the DFL doing nothing

    for farmers or laborers they are losing support across the state in droves. Up on the Range miners, loggers, fabricators and all the good folks who work with their hands are tired of liberals telling them their lives are better when they don’t see it. 2018 will be a small sample test on Trump and his pro-workers agenda. If more blue collar folks are moving up to middle class and working good jobs (not Subway jobs) it will help the GOP earn votes.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 12/08/2016 - 03:30 pm.

      And the DFL should do what?

      I don’t know about the situation for loggers and fabricators, but when it comes to miners, I don’t think there’s a better example of what went wrong on the Range:

      “U.S. Iron Ore cash production costs decrease 26 percent to $48 per long ton

      “Asia Pacific Iron Ore cash production costs decrease 27 percent to $27 per metric ton

      “Cliffs Natural Resources, Inc, Cash production cost: $47.88 per long ton”

      “Rio Tinto now mining iron ore for $14.30 a tonne

      “Rio’s Pilbara margins are already pretty fat. According to its half-year financial report the company’s Pilbara unit cash costs fell to $14.30 per tonne in 2016 first half compared to $16.20 per tonne in the same period last year.”

      (One long ton = 2,240 pounds . . . One metric tonne = 2,205 pounds — and, for those unfamiliar with mining, Cliffs is one of the Range’s “major players” in iron ore. Rio Tinto is an Australian company in the same game)

      So, Joe, what is the DFL supposed to do about THAT difference in production cost?

      Cliffs = $47.88 per ton

      Rio Tinto = $14.30 per tonne

      Let’s say you own a restaurant and you’re able to get an Angus hamburger on the (blue) plate for $1.30.

      Let’s say I own a restaurant down the street, but I can’t get an Angus burger on ANY plate for less than $4.50.

      Which one of us is going to go out of business first? Who’s more likely to be out of work, wondering what happened to the good life they used to have? Your employees or mine?

      Is it really the DFL’s (or any political party’s or government’s) job to do something about things like that?

      If so, what should the DFL do to make it possible for Cliffs to mine a ton of ore for $33.58 less than it’s able to now?

      Was that huge cost/competitive gap caused by, or can it be fixed by, the DFL (or Rangers will go GOP)?

      Or is it a “business management” problem? Could it be Cliffs (and the entire American ore mining industry “management team”) is getting out-smarted, out-managed, out-competed by companies like Rio Tinto and, as a result, the miners on the Range have seen their $80,000 to $100,00 per year blue collar jobs vanish?

      Isn’t it one of the most basic Conservative Principles that says Big Government has no business interfering with business?

      Isn’t it up to business to succeed or fail in the marketplace based on their decision making, innovation, reinvestments in their business, performance, etc.?

      Isn’t it up to business to ensure employees have jobs that pay?

      When did conservatives start believing those things are the responsibility of the DFL, the GOP, the government?

      And aren’t people who are saying it IS government’s job barking up the wrong tree, getting ticked off at and pointing the finger at the wrong people?

      Maybe the folks on the Range ought to be asking Cliffs (and whoever else is running the mining companies) why their production costs are $33 per ton higher than their competitors and MAYbe think about dialing it back a little when it comes to blaming the DFL, “environmentalists” and anyone BUT the companies they’re working for (or waiting to go back to work for).

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/08/2016 - 12:30 pm.

    I wouldn’t have thought the DFL had an advantage

    People don’t vote for the last governor so Dayton’s popularity is irrelevant. I would have thought that the DFL has a distinct disadvantage unless they come up with a superstar candidate like Amy Kobuchar.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 12/08/2016 - 03:45 pm.

      Somebody give her a call and talk her into it!

      In a world full of less than optimal political ideas, that is a REALLY good one.

      (Keep thinking!)

      • Submitted by Aaron Albertson on 12/13/2016 - 03:28 pm.

        We need Klobs in the Senate

        We already have so many seats we need to defend, I think Minnesota’s Senate seat in 2018 is safe as is, so we’d be better having someone else run for governor. If we’re talking about the national delegation, then Rick Nolan would be my pick, with Tim Walz as a second pick.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 12/08/2016 - 08:53 pm.

      Klobs? Really?

      You think another free trade Democrat is the way to go? The election results say otherwise.

  7. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/08/2016 - 03:30 pm.


    A good friend of mine and a very savvy political observer told me not long ago, that one of the most powerful political messages out there is “It’s time for a change.” I have talked to so many people who believe that, really irrespective of the fact that they have little awareness of what the political status quo is that they would like to change.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/09/2016 - 10:11 am.

      Again with the “change”

      You don’t actually have to be terribly savvy to make mundane observations. Yes, the democratic capacity for ignoring popular calls for change and losing elections because of it is well documented. You would have thought a big giant victory in two consecutive election cycles by a candidate that campaigned on change would have taught democrats something, but it obviously didn’t. Given a choice between a candidate that ran on change and a candidate that promised to restrain change, they chose the latter, and lost in spectacular fashion.

      As to the nature of the change while some people may have trouble describing what they want eloquently, they nevertheless know what they want, and they recognize when they see it, or don’t get it. This idea that the masses are to ignorant to know what they want is a reflection of elite democratic leadership mentality, it’s Bill Clinton saying: “Change? Give me a break”. Sanders and Obama clearly tapped into into issues and talked about changes that people wanted, they just weren’t changes that were compatible with elite leadership. So despite notable and predictable failures democrats keep running candidates that promise to restrain change in a variety of ways rather than champion it, the mystery is why?

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/10/2016 - 09:45 am.

        In my experience, people don’t often know what they want. With change advocates, what I see is people who want something different but who have no idea what that different thing they want might be. They don’t even understand the notion of change, because they haven’t developed any kind of understanding of what the status quo is that they would like to change.

        For example, it’s pretty common to run across people who want to vote against all incumbents. But carried to a logical not very extreme conclusion, in the last election that would have meant flipping the Senate to the Republicans and flipping the house to the Democrats. The result would have been the same deadlock we had last session, and given the divided nature of government, will have next session. Change in any meaningful way is not what will happen over the next two years.

        Trump wise, I think what people who like him see is an ability to make things happen. They just don’t have any idea of what those things are. Trump is a terminator type politician, seen as someone who will reach his goals by crushing all obstacles in his way. As I have said many times, its a powerful political model, it got a Republican elected governor of California twice. The defects are that at least in a functioning democracy, the president doesn’t have those terminator like powers, and also that you don’t know what the goals are, or if they are worth the effort and perhaps the sacrifice required to achieve them.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/13/2016 - 09:28 am.

          Not to insult

          “In my experience, people don’t often know what they want. With change advocates, what I see is people who want something different but who have no idea what that different thing they want might be. They don’t even understand the notion of change, because they haven’t developed any kind of understanding of what the status quo is that they would like to change.”

          I’m not trying to be insulting but this looks like a rather patronizing statement. I think people are usually quite clear what they want and will tell you if you ask. People want decent affordable health care. They want affordable housing and education, roads and bridges, light rail and bike lanes. They want decent incomes and good pay with benefits. They want to pursue their own happiness, practice their religions, and enjoy each other’s company. They want good beer.

          People know what they want but here’s the thing… there are those who get what they want and them that don’t. Democrats and republicans have been giving the elite, guys like Ziggy Wilf, what THEY want for decades. An out of state billionaire and his few dozen employees get the largest public subsidy state history while ordinary citizens get to plunge into the river atop a collapsing bridge.

          I won’t name names but there are democrats who always tell us that this is just the way things are, some people get what they want and other don’t, that’s politics. But then those democrats have to win elections and fail to connect with voters, not because voters don’t know what they want, but because democrats don’t actually care what voters want, they just want to get the election over with so they can go back to giving the elite whatever THEY want. And then democrats lose… and it’s the voters fault.

  8. Submitted by Jeffrey McIntyre on 12/08/2016 - 03:33 pm.

    Get out the Vote

    The DFL can win if: 1. They have a viable candidate. and 2. They can get their voters to show up at the polls. HRC got 200,000 less votes in Mn than Obama in 2012, Trump got 2000 more than Romney….which tells me folks just stayed home. Another factor will be how the next few years go under Trump and his new posse. Based on his picks, to date, it doesn’t look like an agenda for the common man…..

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 12/08/2016 - 09:00 pm.

      It Doesn’t Have To

      Be an agenda for the common man. It just has to sold as one. Just look at Carrier.

      Trump gets played by Carrier to the tune of at least $7M. He tells people he saved over 1K jobs. The media say next to nothing that it’s really less than 1K jobs.

      The thought there will be a lot buyers remorse among Trump voters may prove to be wishful thinking. In their eyes, he can do no wrong. Hiring billionaires and Goldman Sachs alums counts as “draining the swamp.” His cabinet will be even more populated by swamp creatures than Hillary’s would have been, and that’s really saying something. But none of that means anything to his supporters. He will take their healthcare, bust their (remaining unions) and raise their taxes while he give the .1% a tax cut, and they’ll line up to vote for him in 2020. Bank on it.

  9. Submitted by Richard Hutton on 12/09/2016 - 09:10 am.

    DFL Advantage?

    I look at the last two election cycles where the GOP were able to flip the house and the senate by doing nothing and blaming the DFL. I see this coming session as more of the same from the GOP. Be prepared for a repeat of the Pawlenty years of tax cuts and deficits. After all it is working great in Wisconsin.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/09/2016 - 09:51 am.

      The weird thing is…

      While the GOP attacks the DFL and promises more… the DFL never responds in any coherent way. We’ve seen this in two election cycles now. The fact is that democrats do more to address rural concerns and needs that republicans have ever done, but for some reason they just sit there and let republican charges go unanswered; does anyone know why that is? When Pauslon blamed Bonoff for the Pawltenty deficit crises the DFL never responded, it’s like they created some kind campaign two years ago and set it on auto-pilot. Republicans cut outstate infrastructure spending in half, and cut it in half again, and then refused to show for a special session to even get that spending out the door, and yet when they accused democrats of neglecting rural MN the DFL just sat there. It’s weird. There’s a basic disconnect between DFL leadership and any kind of effective or rational campaign strategy or candidate selection. I mean does anyone remember who the DFL actually endorsed for Governor?

  10. Submitted by Jeffrey McIntyre on 12/10/2016 - 02:17 pm.

    Add In

    I think the incoming Trump administration will be all the advantage that the DFL needs. On Thursday, Rep. Sam Johnson, a Republican from Texas and chair of the Ways and Means Committee, introduced legislation to significantly cut Social Security. Couple that with “modernizing” Medicare, converting Medicaid to block grants, and whatever happens with ACA….might be all the ammo the DFL needs.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/12/2016 - 08:32 am.

      Let’s hope…

      The problem is the DFL has a well documented talent of blowing ANY advantage they might have. No matter what happens in DC, you still need a candidate that people want to vote for and democrats for some reason tend to think mediocrity is inspirational.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/13/2016 - 05:17 pm.


        The Republicans will also do all they can to distance themselves from the Trump Administration. “Of course we don’t necessarily agree with him on all of that, and . . . Look! Abortion! Guns!”

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