Much of Minnesota’s Democratic Congressional Delegation May Be in Play in 2018

Al Franken -- shown here in October at a hearing on Capitol Hill -- resigned from the US Senate amid a cloud of accusations of sexual impropriety

With both U.S. Senate seats in Minnesota up for grabs in 2018 after the resignation of now former Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), a Democratic governor not seeking re-election, and three of the state’s Democrats in the House of Representatives from districts Donald Trump won in 2016, the state’s entire Congressional delegation may be in play in the upcoming November midterm elections.

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), considered by some a potential candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, is expected to run for her third six-year term in November. She was easily re-elected in 2012 by a 65 percent to 30 percent margin over her Republican rival, but the political climate in the state is remarkably different than it was six years ago, when President Obama carried the state by a comfortable 52 percent to 45 percent margin over the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.

In 2016, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton carried the state by less than 45,000 votes, winning over President Trump by a mere one and a half percent–46.9 percent to 45.4 percent.

The issues that drove Trump’s strong showing–blue collar and middle class unhappiness with Democratic economic and immigration policies–remain hot buttons for many voters in the state two years later.

Two other statewide offices are up in November.

Governor Mark Dayton, a far left Democrat, is not running for election, and an election will be held for a Senator to fill out the remaining two years of Sen. Al Franken’s term. (On Tuesday, Gov. Dayton appointed far left Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to serve the rest of the year until a new senator is elected. Smith has said she will run in that election.)

Dayton squeaked into the governor’s office in 2010 by a 43.6 percent to 43.2 percent margin over Republican Tom Emmer. Independence candidate Tom Horner pulled in 12 percent of the vote.

Four years later, in 2014, he was re-elected by a 50 percent to 44.5 percent margin over Republican Jeff Johnson – a respectable, but not overwhelming victory.

Former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-06), who represented a district comprised mostly of suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul in the House of Representatives for eight years (from 2007 to 2015) and ran for the Republican nomination for president in 2012, has already expressed an interest in running in the special election in November to select a permanent replacement to serve the remainder of Al Franken’s term.

Another 2012 Republican presidential contender, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, may also jump into one of the senate races.

The Cook Political Report continues to rate Klobuchar’s race as “Solid Democrat,” but now rates the special election for the seat now held by Smith as a “Toss Up.”

Five of the state’s eight-member Congressional delegation are Democrats, but three of them represent districts President Trump won handily in 2016.

“The three Democratic districts with the largest Trump margins are in Minnesota. Trump won one district there by more than 30 points and the two others by about 15,” as the Washington Post reported in December.

All three districts are largely rural areas punctuated by small towns and cities outside metropolitan Minneapolis-St. Paul.

In the seventh district, which stretches from Bemidji in the north and Hutchinson in the south to the western border with Minnesota, incumbent Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN-07) fared slightly better in 2016, defeating his Republican opponent 52 percent to 45 percent. But Trump won this district resoundingly over Hillary Clinton by a 62 percent to 31 percent margin, a 31 point differential.

In the first district, which includes the southernmost counties of the state and the city of Rochester, incumbent Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN-01) barely won re-election in 2016, squeaking out a 50 percent to 49 percent victory over his Republican opponent. Walz is not running for re-election, opting instead to run for governor, leaving the seat as an open contest. Trump easily won this district over Hillary Clinton by 15 points in 2016, 53 percent to 38 percent.

Then in the eighth district, which stretches north to the Canadian border from just outside the metropolitan Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and includes Duluth, incumbent Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN-08) narrowly won in 2016 by a 50 percent to 49 percent margin over his Republican opponent. Trump also easily won this district by 15 points over Hillary Clinton in 2016, 54 percent to 39 percent.

With Gov. Dayton’s apparent decision not to seek re-election, the gubernatorial race is wide open on both sides of the aisle. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman is among those vying for the Democratic nomination, while 2014 Republican nominee Jeff Johnson will try again for the GOP nomination. The Cook Political Report now rates the governor’s race a “Toss Up.”

As The Weekly Standard reported back in August–five months before Franken’s resignation–Minnesota was already considered a target rich environment for Republicans in 2018:

This is a state that was reliably liberal for decades after the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, the DFL, was created in 1944. A succession of DFLers were sent to Washington, reaching a high point with Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, both of whom became vice president and then their party’s nominee for president. But the GOP won a statewide upset in 1978, electing two U.S. senators and the governor. And ever since, control of state offices has passed back and forth between the DFL and the GOP.

Last year brought the latest reversal, with the GOP keeping control of the state house and retaking the state senate. More revealing was the closeness of the presidential race. The much-heralded DFL get-out-the-vote operation almost came up short in delivering the state for Hillary Clinton (who had lost there to Bernie Sanders in the primary/caucus season).

Trump’s strong showing came in the rural and blue-collar exurban areas, which responded to his antiestablishment message, and in the northeastern Range area, usually a DFL stronghold, where the vote was as much anti-Clinton as it was pro-Trump.

Eleven months out from the November 2018 mid term elections, Republicans now have a good chance to take at least one U.S. Senate seat, three House seats, and the governor’s race away from the Democrats who have controlled the state since the end of World War II.