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What’s at stake in Tuesday’s primary

From governor to St. Paul Ward 4, a look at the dynamics of the races on the ballot Tuesday.

Original MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley

The primary election is tomorrow. Here’s what’s at stake:

State government

Governor (DFL/GOP)
Gov. Mark Dayton has made it clear for much of his current term that he would not be a candidate for re-election. That gave potential candidates from both parties a long time to gauge support and decide whether to jump in.

Many came and went — former St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, state Auditor Rebecca Otto, state Reps. Paul Thissen and Tina Liebling on the Democratic side; former GOP Chair Keith Downey, Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Huffman, Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens, state Sens. Matt Dean and Dave Osmek on the Republican side.

Five survivors remain for the primary, and only two will stand after Tuesday.

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Republicans will pick between former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson. Democrats will select a finalist from among state Rep. Erin Murphy, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz and state Attorney General Lori Swanson.

It is possible that neither of the party endorsed candidates — Murphy and Johnson — will make it to the general election. That hasn’t happened for … a long time.

Attorney General (DFL/GOP)
A rather sleepy campaign got a lot more interesting in early June. Swanson had already filed for re-election as attorney general, and though she dropped out of the DFL’s endorsement process, she was still widely expected to be renominated — and re-elected.

But Swanson made a last-second shift to the governor’s race after it appeared she would lose the DFL endorsement for AG to challenger Matt Pelikan. The move set off a scramble among other interested candidates, and several jumped in on the final day they were eligible to file. U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison was the best known, but two other prominent DFLers jumped in as well: Debra Hilstrom, a state representative, and Mike Rothman, a former commerce commissioner. Both reinstated campaigns they had kicked off the previous year when Swanson was considering a run for governor. Also filing was former Ramsey County Attorney Tom Foley.

On the GOP side, the party endorsed Doug Wardlow, but an unexpected challenge came on the last day of filing from former state Sen. Robert Lessard.

While Ellison has held healthy leads in the few polls conducted on the race, allegations from a woman he had a long-term relationship with — allegations of both emotional and physical abuse, which he has denied — have roiled the race.


U.S. Senate — Class 2 (DFL/GOP)
Al Franken’s resignation from the U.S. Senate in January prompted a special election for the seat he has held since 2009. Tina Smith, the former lieutenant governor appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton to fill the vacancy, is the DFL’s endorsed candidate and, with $1.5 million on hand, is looking toward the general election. First, however, she must fend off a challenge from Richard Painter, the former George W. Bush ethics lawyer who’s made a name for himself on cable news and social media as a zealous populist — and attracted the support of some progressives for his stances against Trump and copper-nickel mining.

On the Republican side, the endorsed candidate is state Sen. Karin Housley. She’s earned the support of the state GOP establishment and is preparing for a general election match with Smith. Challenging her in the primary is Bob Anderson, a businessman branding himself as an “outsider” candidate.

U.S. House — 1st District (GOP)
Southern Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District is a top target for both Democrats and Republicans in these midterms, with incumbent Rep. Tim Walz leaving his seat to run for governor. Republicans will choose on Tuesday who they want to carry the GOP banner in a district that Trump won by 15 points: either Jim Hagedorn, the endorsed candidate making his fourth run for the seat, or state Sen. Carla Nelson, who represents a Rochester-area district.

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Hagedorn and Nelson have both raised the money needed to compete, and racked up notable endorsements. Hagedorn argues that he’s the conservative choice and, having come within a few thousand votes of defeating Walz in 2016, is best positioned to turn CD1 red in November. Nelson, meanwhile, is touting her experience in St. Paul and endorsements from national groups like the NRA to make the case that she won’t let victory slip away in this Republican-leaning district. Awaiting the winner in the general is Dan Feehan, an Obama White House alumni who has raised more than $1 million.

U.S. House — 5th District (DFL)
DFL Rep. Keith Ellison’s last-minute jump to the race for Minnesota attorney general in June set off a sprint of a primary in Minnesota’s most strongly Democratic district. For just over two months, five candidates have been competing for support in the 5th, which encompasses the city of Minneapolis and suburban communities that border it.

At a hastily convened and somewhat disputed convention in June, DFL activists endorsed state Rep. Ilhan Omar, the freshman lawmaker who’s drawn international media attention as the first Somali woman elected to a U.S. legislature. Also in the race are former Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, activist Jamal Abdulahi, and realtor Frank Drake. Because of the 5th’s heavily Democratic leanings, the winner of the primary is virtually guaranteed to be the district’s next representative in Congress.

U.S. House — 8th District (DFL)
The 8th District, which covers northeastern Minnesota, will be a major battleground in the fight for control of the U.S. House in the fall. Long a Democratic stronghold, the 8th has grown redder in recent cycles, and went big for Trump in 2016. That incumbent DFL Rep. Rick Nolan is leaving Congress at the end of his third term has only further encouraged Republicans.

Five candidates are running for the DFL nomination: state Rep. Jason Metsa, former TV journalist Michelle Lee, former state Rep. Joe Radinovich, North Branch Mayor Kirsten Kennedy, and activist Soren Sorensen. When the party met in April, it declined to endorse a candidate, leaving the primary wide open. The major candidates share similar views on health care and the economy but differ on copper-nickel mining, an issue that has become this region’s most controversial political topic.

Eighth District political observers believe several candidates have a good chance to win Tuesday’s primary. Whoever comes out of it will face Republican Pete Stauber, a former Duluth police officer and a favorite of President Donald Trump.

Hennepin County

Hennepin County Board (nonpartisan)

Fueled by anger over racial inequalities countywide, a group of activists are rallying behind a few candidates who are new to politics and who would, supporters say, bring a fresh perspective to the jobs.

What could be the most interesting race among those contests is the bid by Angela Conley to represent the board’s District 4. Conley, who does job assistance for the county, is taking on 27-year incumbent Peter McLaughlin for the seat, which represents much of the eastern half of Minneapolis. The first sign this election would be different came in May, when McLaughlin didn’t get the DFL’s endorsement. Conley received the majority of delegates’ votes at the convention, but not enough to win the endorsement herself.

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Conley and McLaughlin share the ballot with Megan Kuhl-Stennes, an environmental activist and urban farmer in Minneapolis who has secured the Green Party’s endorsement. Because board races are nonpartisan, the top two vote-getters Tuesday night will move on to November’s general election.

The race to represent the board’s District 2 — which covers north Minneapolis, Golden Valley and Plymouth — is crowded, too. Since the current commissioner, Linda Higgins, announced her retirement last year, five candidates have lined up to replace her. They include two former Minneapolis council members, Natalie Johnson Lee and Blong Yang. The others are Irene Fernando, a community activist who the DFL endorsed at the convention; Tim Bildsoe, president of the North Loop Neighborhood Association; and Iyob Waldsmayate, who works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Hennepin County sheriff (nonpartisan)

Rich Stanek — whom at one point this election had his sight set on the Republican nomination for governor — is seeking re-election for a fourth term. He’s running against two people: Dave “Hutch” Hutchinson, a sergeant with Metro Transit (who’s been endorsed by the DFL) and Joseph Banks, a former police chief.

St. Paul

City Council — Ward 4 (nonpartisan)

The candidates to represent Ward 4 are a representative of Rep. Keith Ellison’s office (Mitra Jalali Nelson), a parks advocate (Shirley Erstad), and a man who has been arrested multiple times since filing for office (David Martinez).

Nelson has the DFL endorsement. Both she and Erstad have generated buzz for their newness — while Martinez has gotten the bulk of media attention for his erratic behavior. He’s been arrested on suspicion of crimes ranging from violating a protection order to “non-consensual dissemination of private sexual images” after he said someone hacked his campaign site and posted a topless photo of his wife there, the Pioneer Press reported. Even the Washington Post paid attention.

All three candidates decided to run after former City Council President Russ Stark left the position to work for Mayor Melvin Carter.

Looking ahead

Another spot on the Hennepin County board — representing District 3, which covers parts of southwest Minneapolis and St. Louis Park — has a race this year, too. But since it’s only two candidates, incumbent Marion Greene (who has been endorsed by the DFL) and LaDonna Redmond, both will automatically be on the ballot in November.

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Primary voters will also decide on top candidates for District 3 and District 5 on Ramsey County’s board of commissioners. But most of the county’s races, including sheriff and county attorney, will go straight to the general election with incumbents.

That’s the same story for the Hennepin county attorney election. Not until the general election will we know if current attorney Mike Freeman will keep his job for a sixth term, or if Minneapolis lawyer Mark Haase will move into his chair. The decision for voters comes as the attorney’s office faces increasing heat from political activists over its handling of police shooting cases and scrutiny over officials’ handling of sexual-assault cases.