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Hudson and MacDonald move on to general election in race for state Supreme Court seat

An incumbent justice hasn’t lost a re-election bid since the 1940s. But leading up to the primary there was concern among Hudson supporters about the capricious nature of low-turnout primaries. 

Associate Justice Natalie Hudson was appointed to the state’s highest court by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2015.
MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach

Apparently, voters got the message that there was a Minnesota Supreme Court race on the primary election ballot Tuesday.

In the run-up to election day, some supporters of Natalie Hudson, an incumbent associate justice running against two challengers, worried about the capricious nature of the contest — what was expected to be a low-turnout primary that would determine which two candidates would compete in November’s general election. 

Those concerns appear to have been overblown. 

Hudson, who was appointed to the state’s highest court by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2015 and previously served on the Minnesota Court of Appeals, led all candidates in the primary, with 65 percent of votes as of Wednesday morning. 

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She and Michelle MacDonald, an attorney since 1986 who ran an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the court in 2014 and got 20 percent of votes Tuesday, will advance to the general election in November. Attorney Craig Foss, who said he was running because he couldn’t find a job, was eliminated from the race after receiving 15 percent of votes. 

An incumbent Minnesota Supreme Court justice hasn’t lost a re-election bid since the 1940s. But there was concern among Hudson backers that people didn’t know much about the race — or even that there was a race. The Supreme Court seat was the only statewide office on the ballot, and in some districts, the only race on the ballot.

As of Wednesday morning, less than 270,000 votes were cast in the race. 

Judicial elections in Minnesota are nonpartisan — while candidates may seek endorsement, there are no party affiliations listed next to candidates’ names on the ballot. The incumbent, if there is one, is noted. Since Supreme Court races normally don’t attract a lot of attention, especially in primaries, voters are more likely to skip picking a judicial candidate, or vote for someone based on whether they’re an incumbent — or choose someone randomly.

Hudson said Wednesday she was grateful for voters’ support. “We knew it was going to be a low voter turnout primary but still a significant number came out, and I’m just very happy about that,” she said.

Michelle MacDonald
Michelle MacDonald

As November approaches, Hudson said she’ll continue to travel the state, talking to voters about her judicial experience — which she said sets her apart from MacDonald — and educating voters on what the Minnesota Supreme Court does. 

MacDonald told MinnPost Tuesday night she was thrilled to be advancing in the race. 

In 2014’s general election, MacDonald lost a bid for a seat on the Minnesota Supreme Court to incumbent Associate Justice David Lillehaug, receiving 47 percent of the votes. 

Earlier that year, MacDonald won the state Republican endorsement only to lose the party’s support when leaders learned she had been arrested on suspicion of drunken driving in 2013, according to the Star Tribune. MacDonald was ultimately convicted of refusing a breath test and resisting arrest, and found not guilty of drunken driving. 

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At this year’s Republican convention, a committee recommended MacDonald for endorsement, but dissent led to the party not endorsing a candidate in the Supreme Court race.

This year, MacDonald said, the fact that there was a primary in August gives voters more time to think about the Supreme Court race — and more time for her campaign to build momentum (in 2014, there were only two candidates, so no primary). 

“I feel because of the last election I’m more well-known and people are starting to know the real me,” she said.