Iowa fallout: Record turnout may be new GOP fear factor

It’s Huck? For Minnesota Republicans, so what?

Hillary finishing third? Not so good for the state GOP.

Because Minnesota is a nonfactor in choosing the GOP nominee, at this point in the presidential candidate selection cycle, all Minnesota Republicans can do is watch and hope that the candidates chosen will have the right impact on Minnesota races.

What impact? The Minnesota Senate is not up for re-election this year, so all the action will be in the House. Up until 2006, Minnesota legislative contests exemplified Tip O’Neill’s “All politics is local.” But the anti-war, anti-Bush sentiment in 2006 changed all that. While there aren’t any hard scientific data, key party leaders on both sides of the aisle will tell you anecdotally that Bush was a huge factor in many contests.

The Senate went from 35 DFLers to 44, and the GOP, from 31 to 23 members. Thursday’s special election in Senate District 25 increased DFL ranks to 45, a veto-proof majority the DFL hasn’t enjoyed since 1992.

The 2006 House races were much more dramatic. Not only did the GOP lose the majority, but its mumbers dropped from 68 to 49, while the DFL grew from 66 to 85 members. That’s five seats shy of a 90-member veto-proof majority. The Democrats haven’t reached that number since 1976, when the party boasted an astonishing 103 members.

Presidential elections boost DFL turnout
One of the most interesting yet largely unknown phenomena in Minnesota legislative races is that in presidential years, the DFL averages about 5 percent more voters in each district. So, right off the bat, the 2008 races are a challenge for Minnesota House Republicans.

For the top of their ticket, the best the GOP can hope for is a galvanizing figure. Mike Huckabee? Probably not. From what we know so far about Iowa, evangelical Christians turned out en masse for Huckabee — a fete unlikely to be replicated in other states in the coming weeks. “Huckabee was the ice cream flavor of the day,” says House Minority Leader Marty Seifert (R-Marshall). “First it was Fred Thompson; then it was Mitt Romney,” said Seifert, who is state campaign chair for Thompson. He also noted that Huckabee has no campaign organization in Minnesota thus far.

Seifert hoping Dems pick Hillary
The Minnesota Republicans also hope for a not-so-galvanizing figure at the top of the Democratic ticket. Think Walter Mondale in 1984, the so-called “Minnesota Massacre” year when the GOP grew from 57 to 69 members. (Sorry, Walter, about that characterization.) This year, the House Republicans actually are hoping for a polarizing figure, and Seifert believes Hillary Rodham Clinton would best help his troops.

But for the Minnesota GOP, perhaps the most significant thing that happened in Iowa was the record turnout. Projections showed a turnout of 220,588 for Democrats, compared with 124,000 in 2004. Most projections had estimated turnout would hit about 150,000.

Notes House Speaker Rep. Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis: “The large turnout in Iowa makes it clear that Democrats and independents are energized and excited about their candidates. Thousands of people went to a caucus for the first time. We also saw a strong DFL turnout in the Senate District 25 race … I think it [the Iowa turnout] will help Democratic candidates around the state and country.”

For the Minnesota GOP, the Iowa caucus turnout could be the new fear factor.

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