Can the name ‘Lourey’ keep a reddening 11th Senate District blue?

On Tuesday, voters in Minnesota’s 11th State Senate District will choose somebody new to represent them at the Minnesota State Capitol.

It’s a special election, prompted by Gov. Tim Walz’s appointment of former Sen. Tony Lourey to head up the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

The district, or some version of it — redistricting changed up boundaries in 2011 — has been held by DFLers named Lourey for more than two decades.

But it’s not a sure win for the DFL. Like many Greater Minnesota legislative districts held by Democrats, SD11 has been turning redder. In recent elections, its residents have chosen both Republicans and Democrats to represent them in government.

The stakes are lower than they were in the last special election, in Stearns and Benton counties in November, where an upset victory by the DFL could have given the party control of the Senate. Republicans will still control the Senate regardless of the outcome of this special election, though it means the difference between a one-vote and a two-vote margin in that chamber. But the changing politics of SD11 means this election is likely more in play for both parties than the last go-around.

“We’re feeling, definitely, as a party, there’s an incredible opportunity to pick up a seat,” Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan told MinnPost.

The contenders

SD11 map

Senate District 11 stretches from Kanabec County to Pine County and Carlton and up to the southern end of  St. Louis County, a swath that covers the stretch of I-35 including Pine City, Hinckley, Sandstone, Finlayson, Moose Lake, Barnum and Cloquet.

“It is a diverse district. In the southern end, you’ve got farming and agriculture, and in the northern end, it’s more industrial, and then you’ve got the [Fond du Lac] tribe,” said Mike Kennedy, the DFL’s Senate caucus campaign director.

Stu Lourey will be on the ballot for the DFL. He’s the son of Tony Lourey, who represented SD11 since 2007, and the grandson of Becky Lourey, who held the seat from 1997 to 2007. Stu Lourey previously worked as an aide to Sen. Tina Smith. He moved to the family farm in Kerrick before announcing his run.

State Rep. Jason Rarick is running on the Republican ticket. Rarick, an electrical contractor, has represented the southern portion of the district in the Minnesota House of Representatives since 2015. He lives on a farm in southern Pine County, according to his campaign website.

A two-term House member, Carnahan says Rarick is already known to voters, making him a good candidate.

John “Sparky” Birrenbach is running as a member of the Legal Marijuana Now Party (now a major party after securing more than 5 percent of votes in a statewide election in November).

A swing district

There are a couple reasons this race — short as it is, just over a month after Tony Lourey’s appointment — is getting people’s attention.

First, special election turnout is unpredictable. And where people turn out in SD11 could be key.

Stu Lourey
Lourey for State Senate
Stu Lourey
House District 11A, the northern part of the district that includes Cloquet and the Fond du Lac nation, is more reliably DFL. The area has long been represented by a Democrat, currently Mike Sundin, who has served there since 2011.

Rarick has represented the more conservative southern part of the district since 2015, after defeating DFL incumbent Tim Faust.

In the 2016 presidential election, 11A went for Hillary Clinton by about 2 points. Meanwhile, 11B went for Trump by a nearly 30-point margin. In 2012, 11A voted for Barack Obama by a 26-point margin, while 11B voted Mitt Romney by 4 points.

That means the DFL is hoping to see high turnout in the northern part of the district, while the GOP’s fortunes ride on turning out the southern part.

“It all comes down to voter turnout,” Carnahan said, especially in a special election that  could see a third of the voters in a typical general election.

“I am confident that we are going to motivate and turn out our base in the northern half of that district to win the seat,” Kennedy said.

Second: taken as a whole, the district’s getting redder.

Despite the Loureys’ decades-long hold on the district, SD11 residents have helped to send Republicans to Congress and the White House in recent elections.

In 2018, while SD11 chose DFL Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Tina Smith and Gov. Tim Walz, they also chose Republicans Pete Stauber for Congress and Doug Wardlow for Minnesota attorney general.

In 2016, the district went for Donald Trump by a 13-point margin, though voters also preferred DFLers Rick Nolan and Tony Lourey.

In the two elections since redistricting in 2011, Tony Lourey saw his margin of victory diminish, from a 29-point lead in 2012 to a 9-point lead in 2016.

Campaign cash

As far as fundraising goes, Lourey comes out ahead, having raised $60,200 as of the pre-election filing deadline. The reports cover Jan. 3 through 22, and any large donations that come in this close to the election are reported separately.

State Rep. Jason Rarick

Lourey has spent money on mailers, digital and TV ads. As of the filing deadline, he had $16,600 on hand.

Republican Rarick raised $49,000 and has spent money on mailers and digital ads. Rarick has more cash on hand than Lourey, at about $21,000.

Birrenbach has not filed a campaign finance report.

Outside money groups, which often outspend the candidates themselves, have waded into the race as well. Groups including Alliance for a Better Minnesota, Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and the AFL-CIO have run Facebook ads to influence the election in favor of Lourey. Right Now MN, the Minnesota Family Council, the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action and others have run Facebook ads to persuade  voters to choose Rarick.

Both sides have people out knocking on doors to get out the vote.

“Twenty years ago, this wouldn’t have been a competitive seat,” Kennedy said.

Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/04/2019 - 01:39 pm.

    I would be less than pleased if an appointment to Governor Walz’s cabinet cost the DFL a senate seat. The senate matters is ways, executive department appointments do not.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 02/04/2019 - 02:05 pm.

      This is my take on this too. Today i heard on the radio that last session Gazellka was hamstrung whenever his caucus was down one member. The possibility of the GOP losing one senator due to illness, death, personal reasons, scandal, moving out of state due to a work transfer, etc, is too great. The odds that would happen to two members is far less likely.

      If the DFL loses this seat but later picks up another senate seat, Walz will look very foolish.

  2. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 02/04/2019 - 02:22 pm.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing a rule in place that forbids family members from holding the same seat. This is how political dynasties are formed and it’s never a good thing.

    Hopefully Lourey loses to break up that hold on a Senate seat.

    • Submitted by Brian Scholin on 02/04/2019 - 03:22 pm.

      That’s an easy comment to make unless you know all three generations (in this case) and see how family values have been passed down. If they are the values you value in such a position, I can’t think of a better predictor of them being continued. I was very leery of the third-gen aspects, until I talked with Stu. He’s young, but he has learned much from his ancestors’ experience.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 02/05/2019 - 11:28 am.

      I favor a free market approach to citizens running for office. The voters get to decide who gets in.

  3. Submitted by Nathan Johnson on 02/04/2019 - 03:09 pm.

    I see the Duluth News Tribune endorsed Rarick. But Lourey is a household name that is sure to carry the district, for those motivated enough to go vote Tues.

    Pine City was considerate to reschedule Tuesday events (such as Pine City Area hockey game) to encourage voter participation. Too bad Mora/Milaca vs. Moose Lake is still going on as planned.

  4. Submitted by Brian Scholin on 02/04/2019 - 03:11 pm.

    Living in the south end of SD11, I feel qualified to comment on several points in this article.

    First, this end of the district has not been “farming or agricultural “ for many years. There are still farms, but that is a small part of our economy. We have migrated to service and manufacturing to a large extent. In my area, local government is the biggest employer, followed by healthcare, then manufacturing, then retail. Tourism is a large part as well. Many people commute to the metro for work, and many commute here from Wisconsin or surrounding communities for work.

    Second, I would not say that this end of the district is more Republican that it was. The politically aware are likely more DFL, as measured by caucus turnout, primary voting, and anecdote. But the population has always been socially conservative, and when I talk with people who vote Republican, it is almost always due to the desire to restrict abortion or gay rights. Those who vote DFL almost always cite economic issues.

    Third, I have never heard anyone here say anything bad about a Lourey – Becky, Tony, or Stu. Even my Republican voting friends typically have made an exception for Jim Oberstar, Rick Nolan, Becky Lourey, and Tony Lourey. Not sure this will continue for Stu, but it certainly may.

    In conclusion, if Rarick wins, I suspect it will be due to local name recognition, or “conservative” social values, with possibly some resentment over “dynastic” aspects of the seat. If Lourey wins, it will likely be due to respect for the job his ancestors did for the district and belief that he will continue that, far superior mailings on his behalf, or concern for healthcare and other economics.

    Perhaps the biggest factor, though, will be voter apathy / snowbirds / lack of understanding of the special election. The “Oh, another election already?” Comments have not gone away, with only a day left.

  5. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 02/05/2019 - 08:45 am.

    I see that Rarick is a union electrician, and at least last fall, in his House race, received endorsements from several Building Trades unions. He has been vocal in his support of prevailing wage legislation (which is a local economic development tool) and in opposing right to work for less legislation (which would grow government by inserting it into private sector labor agreements).

    I was not able to determine if he received those endorsement for this race.

    • Submitted by Brian Scholin on 02/05/2019 - 09:25 am.

      And that sounds good until you read the details. His “support” for union positions seems to be that they need to be eroded to the point of meaninglessness.

      Rarick did get the endorsement of his union and one or two others. Lourey got the endorsement of several times as many unions, and takes positions that I believe all unions favor.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 02/05/2019 - 11:26 am.

        Thank you for shedding light on this.

        What specific proposals has Rarick touted to weaken unions? Typically, right to free load and gutting prevailing wage are numbers 1 and 2 on the list.

        • Submitted by Brian Scholin on 02/05/2019 - 07:44 pm.

          And they were both on his list, when he responded to the Chamber of Commerce panel. Just the “soft” versions: redefining prevailing wage to the average paid in the community, and lowering the amount unions could charge for fair share.

      • Submitted by Gunnar Klumb on 02/06/2019 - 02:33 pm.

        And Rarick is a local businessman, Lourey? Hasn’t he been in living in DC the last few years? I know Jason Rarick, he’s a good man. Stu? Never met the guy. His dad and I disagree on a number of issues.The name recognition thing only goes so far.

  6. Submitted by Nathan Johnson on 02/05/2019 - 10:42 pm.

    There hasn’t been a State Senator from Pine City in over 100 years! (since 1902, Levi McKusick)

  7. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/06/2019 - 08:20 am.

    Well that was pretty ugly. The reality is, it doesn’t matter much who is in the governor’s cabinet. Minnesota has literally tens of thousands of people who could do those jobs just fine. On the other hand, it matters quite a lot who serves in the state senate.

    We blew that one.

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