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

Trump’s showing, combined with Republican victories in the Legislature, offers the GOP a reason to believe it can reclaim the governor’s seat after an eight-year drought.

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.
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson

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.

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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.