Historically, Edina has equaled Republican. There has rarely been a more consistent area of the state that votes for Republicans, but the gradual shift is very evident this year, and it could become an all-Democratic year in the city known for representing the picture-perfect GOP stronghold.
First, the contentious three-way race in House District 41A, where incumbent Rep. Ron Erhardt has decided to run as an independent after serving the district since 1990 as a Republican.
Republicans chose consultant Keith Downey as their endorsed candidate, mainly because Erhardt was one of six GOP legislators who voted to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of the transportation bill, which included a gas tax increase. DFLers are running Kevin Staunton, an attorney who used to work in the Minnesota attorney general’s office.
With Erhardt in the race, there is a sense that the DFL has a real shot at winning the seat.
Second, there is a contentious head-to-head battle in District 41B, where incumbent Rep. Neil Peterson was defeated in the GOP primary by the endorsed Republican, Jan Schneider. The DFL has endorsed Paul Rosenthal, who garnered 46.5 percent of the vote in 2006 against Peterson. Schneider is thought to be very conservative, especially socially and that could be a major turnoff to moderate Republicans.
Finally, there is the Edina mayor’s contest, and while not a partisan race, it is clearly one that has some interesting ideological angles on local issues. Incumbent Mayor Jim Hovland last year began a run for the congressional seat being vacated by 3rd District Rep. Jim Ramstad. In his campaign, it was largely news not because of the progress he made in the race, but because he was a previously identified Republican who switched parties to run as a DFLer. He later dropped out.
While Hovland isn’t a Republican (anymore) he is being challenged by someone who appears to be coming from the right. His opponent, Daniel Azar, is challenging him with a “Responsible Growth, Responsible Spending” theme. And his website is anti-affordable housing and pro-restrained spending. Although Azar doesn’t seem to be well organized, he does seem to have quite a few yard signs.
So, there are three races at issue, one municipal contest and two with highly partisan overtones that are trending away from the historically incumbent party of Edina. And while there is still a good chance that the GOP could win the House seats, recent electoral trends would suggest they will lose at least one of them. And if Ron Erhardt were to win, the key question would be: Who will he caucus with?
Anecdotally, it seems as though many of the younger professional families who have moved into Edina are more Democratic than their predecessors. This could be the dynamic of South Minneapolis expanding into Edina, and it could mean that Edina is now more urban than such suburbs as Eden Prairie.
It could also be that the social focus of the Republican Party is distant from the “Country Club Republican” image that Edina has often had. The change has been noticeable at the Fourth of July parade the past few years, as evidenced in the reception that DFLers have gotten — and the crowds that have marched for them.
But the numbers also tell the story, illustrating how the shift in Edina’s voters has happened. In Senate District 41, which incorporates all of Edina and is held by Republican Sen. Geoff Michel. There, John Kerry edged President George Bush in 2004 by 0.8 of a percentage point, while in 2000 Bush won by 7 points. In 2006, Sen. Amy Klobuchar won 56.7 percent of the vote, and Tim Pawlenty only won 51 percent of the vote. Norm Coleman won the district in 2002 with 56.2 percent of the vote.
Compare those numbers with 1996, the last big Democratic year, when the area that’s now House District 41A voted for Dole over Clinton by 5 points, and Boschwitz beat Wellstone by 9 points. No matter which way you cut it, that is a shift which could mean Edina turns a little (or a lot) blue this year.