What’s at stake in Tuesday’s election? When it comes to state offices, pretty much everything

MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
For the Republicans to return to a one-seat majority, they have to win a special election this week.
So what’s at stake in Tuesday’s election when it comes to Minnesota constitutional offices and the state Legislature?

Kind of a lot — including the chance for Republicans to be elected to a statewide position for the first time in years, and for Democrats to regain control of the state Legislature.


Incumbent Gov. Mark Dayton had long let it be known he had no interest in seeking a third term in the office, which meant lots of people kicked the tires on possible campaigns for governor over the last two years. Open seats are rare enough that anybody who sees themselves as governor had to give it a look.

By our count, 11 different Republicans announced candidacies (12 if you count Bob “Again” Carney) at some point, while nine Democrats did so (10 if you count Capt. Jack Sparrow).

But attrition, the DFL and GOP conventions and primary voters eventually winnowed that field down to two major candidates. Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson is making his second bid as the GOP nominee for governor while U.S. Rep. Tim Walz is making his first attempt to capture the office. Johnson upset former Gov. Tim Pawlenty in the GOP primary while Walz outlasted two potent DFL rivals, Attorney General Lori Swanson and state Rep. Erin Murphy.

The DFL nominated Peggy Flanagan for lieutenant governor; the GOP nominated Donna Bergstrom.

Political strategist Todd Rapp has been tweeting out some historic tidbits about the race. For example, a Greater Minnesota Democrat hasn’t defeated a metro-area Republican since 1982 (Rudy Perpich over Wheelock Whitney). Another trend to worry Democrats is that the party has never controlled the governor’s office for nine consecutive years since … statehood.

Buoying Democratic hopes are two other factors (via Rapp): Minnesota has never promoted a sitting county commissioner to governor, and only once, in 1859, has a GOP candidate for governor followed a general election defeat with a victory the next election.

While a Walz win would keep the governor’s office in the Democratic category, several other Midwestern states are being watched to see if they turn red states blue. Democrats in Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan are either either leading or in toss-up races.

Also on the ballot are ballot for Minnesota governor are Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party candidate Chris Wright and Libertarian Josh Welter.

Attorney General

What might have been an afterthought of a race turned into 2018’s most contested and contentious campaign. All because of Lori Swanson.

The three-term attorney general, who had gotten more votes than the winning candidate for governor in all three of her ballot appearances, was expected to breeze to a fourth term. The only announced Republican challenger was a little-known one-term House member from Eagan named Doug Wardlow.

But then, Swanson withdrew from the AG’s race the day before the deadline for candidates to file in Minnesota and shifted her attention to the DFL primary for governor. It was a decision that seemed driven by her failure to win her party’s endorsement the previous weekend, and it led to an entertaining rush to the filing window.

First among the candidates was U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who decided to give up a safe seat in Congress for what is considered the No. 2 elected position in the state. Joining him was former Ramsey County Attorney Tom Foley, former state Commerce Commission Mike Rothman, state Rep. Debra Hilstrom, and the guy who actually was endorsed at the DFL convention: Matt Pelikan.

Ellison won easily, even after a primary-eve accusation by a former live-in girlfriend, Karen Monahan, that he had abused her, emotionally — and on at least on one occasionp physically.

But while Wardlow succeeded in putting the focus on Ellison for much of the campaign, Ellison and the DFL were eventually able to bring Wardlow’s own record into the conversation. Wardlow, who promised to be an apolitical AG and accused Ellison of the opposite, has a record of support for conservative causes and positions.

Polls are split, but Ellison does find himself trying to convince DFL and DFL-leaning voters that Monahan’s allegations are not true, something backed up in part by a DFL-commissioned investigation.

One potential factor is Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party candidate Noah Johnson, who has been attracting support in the public polls conducted on the race, enough to potentially cause Ellison another headache on election night.

Other statewide races

The only statewide elected position with an incumbent on the ballot is held by first-term Secretary of State Steve Simon. A lightly regarded race attracted just one major party candidate, Republican John Howe, who is the mayor of Red Wing; and one third party candidate, Libertarian William Denney.

The third open seat for statewide elected office is for state auditor. Three-term incumbent Rebecca Otto opted to run for the DFL endorsement for governor. After pledging not to run for governor if the party endorsed another candidate, she didn’t file for either governor or auditor. The DFL endorsed AFL-CIO secretary treasurer Julie Blaha, while the GOP endorsed former state Rep. Pam Myhra. Also on the ballot are Legal Marijuana Now candidate Michael Ford and Libertarian Chris Dock.

The Minnesota Legislature

Technically, the state Senate is currently tied 33-33. That was caused by the resignation of Republican Senate President Michelle Fischbach to take over the job of lieutenant governor after Tina Smith was appointed to the U.S. Senate. For the Republicans to return to the one-seat majority, they have to win a special election this week.

Republicans nominated Jeff Howe, who had represented half of District 13 in the House since 2013. Democrats nominated Joe Perske. And while the district is considered safely Republican — having voted for Donald Trump in 2016 63 percent to 29 percent — lots of money is being spent by both sides to win it.

Control of the House is more of a toss-up. Republicans enter Tuesday with a 77-57 majority. Gaining 11 votes, however, would allow the DFL to deny House Speaker Kurt Daudt another term.

Much of the action has been in the Twin Cities suburbs, where there is a strong supply of districts that elected GOP lawmakers in 2016 while at the same time giving Democrat Hillary Clinton a majority of the vote. History says that the current U.S. president’s party loses seats in the first midterm election.

DFLers are counting on that happening this year, aided by President Trump’s apparent unpopularity among suburban women voters. Republicans are counting on some ticket-splitting by voters who might want a check on Trump in Congress but use different criteria once they reach state House races.

The DFL last controlled the House in 2014 and the Senate in 2016.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 11/05/2018 - 05:02 pm.

    Why do you ignore Wardlow’s bullying of gay people, which continues to the present and the fact that Ellison was likely the victim of bullying by his wife – and that his accuser has not produced the tape she says she has? Three relevant facts, all that break against Wardlow? Not aware the online articles have tight space limitations.

  2. Submitted by Greg Smith on 11/06/2018 - 07:28 am.

    Oh happy day, the campaigns are over

    I suppose the presidential campaign starts next week.

    • Submitted by Robert Lilly on 11/06/2018 - 09:11 am.

      The 2020 race started in January 2017. The President filed his paperwork the day after the election and hasn’t stopped campaigning. It’s only going to get more outrageous.

  3. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 11/06/2018 - 10:49 pm.

    Looks like I may have to move. Hopefully the State Senate stays GOP so they can put a stop to the gun grabbing agenda. If they attempt to pass a ‘red flag” law, universal background checks or any sort of gun ban, I’ll move to a better state.

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