By Tom Steward | Watchdog Minnesota Bureau
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Regardless of whether Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton holds on to his job next week as polls suggest, Minnesota voters appear poised to topple one party rule in St. Paul on Tuesday.
Even as Governing magazine moved the race for control of the Minnesota House of Representatives into the toss-up column, political pundit David Schultz raised eyebrows by predicting the GOP will turn over the seven seats needed to retake power — and then some. The Democratic-controlled Minnesota Senate doesn’t face voters this year.
“It’s a combination of the Democrats picking up more seats than they should have two years ago and, at the same time, having a cookie-cutter strategy that’s aimed for winning the urban cores, but not an effective strategy for winning in the suburbs,” said David Schultz, a Hamline University political science professor and past president of Common Cause Minnesota. “And it’s certainly not a strategy that’s very effective for competing for rural districts across the state.”
While President Obama won Minnesota by 7 percentage points in 2012, he only carried two more legislative districts than Mitt Romney, 68 to 66. Analysts say up to 20 districts may be up for grabs with Democrats playing defense in nine rural districts that Romney won.
Though Obama isn’t on the ballot this election cycle, he appears front and center in an onslaught of direct mail, newspaper ads and cable television spots aimed at the most vulnerable Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party House members.
BOLD PREDICTION: Political science professor and analyst David Schultz predicts that one party Democratic rule will end in MN on Election Day with the GOP winning back more than seven state House seats needed for control.
Half-page ads ran a month ago in 28 local newspapers targeting nine rural representatives on the one-year anniversary of the implementation of Obamacare. One ad showed a photo of three-term Rep. Andrew Falk and a photo of Obama, whose 38 percent favorability rating among Minnesotans rivals George W. Bush’s at the six-year mark of his presidency.
“Representative Andrew Falk helped President Obama bring Obamacare to Minnesota” blared a cut line blaming the Murdock politician for the unpopular MNsure state health exchange.
“I think a lot of people are so perplexed at the amount of money and the amount of stuff that’s being thrown into this district,” said Rep. Falk when reached between campaign meetings. “They haven’t really seen this as much and it’s always outside interests. I think people are kind of upset at just how negative it is. We’ve always been kind of more Minnesota nice out here.”
Perhaps so, but look for the Republican-leaning Minnesota Jobs Coalition Legislative Fund to have spent some $750,000 targeting Falk and his DFL colleagues leading up to Tuesday.
“I believe that Barack Obama is going to be an albatross for Democrats, especially in rural Minnesota, where you have nine districts that Obama lost in 2012 and are currently held by Democrats,” said Ben Golnik, chairman of the Minnesota Jobs Coalition. “On the margins there may be a few Republican-held seats in play, but the reality is the Republicans are playing offense.”
Democrats hope a strong performance by Dayton and Sen. Al Franken in statewide races will provide coattails further down ticket, offsetting traditionally lower DFL turnout in non-presidential election years.
“The fact of the matter is these are going to be very close races and we need Minnesotans to show up. I think we have a good effort in place to do that,” said DFL Rep. Paul Thissen, speaker of the Minnesota House, on public television’s Almanac. “…Gov. Dayton is winning by double-digit numbers in most of the polls. I think what that tells you is most Minnesotans think what we did over the last two years is going in the right direction.”
GOP hopes of breaking one-party rule in St. Paul hinge in part on turnout for key congressional races. Democratic congressmen Collin Petersen and Rick Nolan face stiff challenges from GOP candidates Rep. Torrey Westrom and Stuart Mills in the 7th and 8th congressional districts respectively.
“Having single-party Democratic control in Minnesota has reduced transparency and, frankly brought the highest tax increase, one of the highest spending increases in state history. It’s frankly just not sustainable,” said GOP Rep. Kurt Daudt, House Minority Leader, on Almanac.
The ramifications for a Dayton second term to-do list would be sweeping.
“If the Republicans pick up the House of Representatives, it’s not as devastating as losing the governorship, but it’s huge,” said Schultz, the political analyst. “It completely alters the Democratic agenda for the next at least two years.”