GOP Tsunami Sweeps Republicans Into Control of MN Legislature

After a late night of watching election returns, DFLer Mark Dayton is winning the gubernatorial contest, by a mere 9,300 votes, which is within one-half of one percent of the votes tallied, triggering an automatic recount. As of 9:00 this morning, Dayton leads Republican Tom Emmer 43.7% to 43.2%. The Independent Party candidate Tom Horner received only 12% of the vote, but those 250,000-plus votes definitely impacted the outcome.

Despite a close race at the top of the ticket, Republicans surprised all political pundits by knocking off 18-term U.S. Representative Jim Oberstar in Minnesota's 8th Congressional District and taking control of both the Minnesota Senate and Minnesota House for the first time since party-designation was instituted in 1972. The Senate picked up 16 seats, giving them a 3-seat majority, and the House picked up 25 seats, giving them a 4-seat majority. This far surpassed expectations of even GOP insiders, since the DFL controlled the Senate with a supermajority and the House with a 40-seat lead.

Governor's Race

Mark Dayton handily won the two largest Minnesota counties, Hennepin and Ramsey, but lost to Emmer in the five other counties encompassing the Twin Cities metropolitan area: Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Scott and Washington. Emmer did particularly well in Anoka County, considered the definitive "swing district." However, Emmer's overall suburban numbers weren't as strong as Tim Pawlenty's in 2006. In Greater Minnesota, Dayton won the Iron Range, but by lower margins than DFL-candidate Mike Hatch in 2006. Part of this could be attributed to the swell of GOP voters who turned out for the Cravaack-Oberstar race. Dayton also won in the far western parts of the state as well as a handful of counties in southeastern Minnesota. Emmer had solid numbers in the St. Cloud and Rochester areas – although Horner is thought to have cut into Emmer's margins in Olmsted County, where Horner produced his best numbers in the state.

Recount Redux

This morning, both Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and the Republican Party held press conferences to discuss the prospects and plans for a gubernatorial recount. As votes are still coming in from a handful of precincts, Mark Ritchie cautioned that a recount is not a given. However, if the margin falls within one-half of one percent, Ritchie predicted that a recount in 2010 would be easier than the U.S. Senate recount conducted in 2008 considering there were fewer overall votes cast in the governor's race than there were in the U.S. Senate race (about 90,000 fewer); the margin is wider (9,000 votes versus 321), and the Legislature has provided election officials more guidance since 2008 about recount procedures and what constitutes a "frivolous ballot."

Meanwhile, Republican Party Chair Tony Sutton has come out with guns blazing. Outside attorneys have already been retained by the party to hold "Ritchie's feet to the fire" and find out if the outcome of the governor's race was due to "fraud or incompetence." He, and other die-hard Republicans, believe the GOP lost the U.S. Senate seat unfairly, and they want to prevent "getting rolled" again. A reporting glitch that occurred in Hennepin County last night, where some ballots were temporarily counted twice, has only added fuel to the fire.

At this time, neither the DFL nor the Dayton camp has announced plans regarding a recount plan.

Pawlenty Term Extended?

While Gov. Pawlenty's term is set to come to a close the first week in January, he may be retained for an encore performance if a recount drags on. The constitution reads, "The term of office for the governor and lieutenant governor is four years and until a successor is chosen and qualified." Expect attorneys to be hired by the political parties to fight over this consequence of a recount as well.

Minnesota Legislature

As we earlier predicted, the suburbs were the bellwether for this election. The GOP took back many of the seats it had lost to the Democrats in the last four years, sweeping the six seats in Eagan and Woodbury, and taking back seats in Shoreview, Minnetonka, Burnsville and Bloomington. Outstate Minnesota wasn't immune to the GOP wave either, with the cities of Rochester, Bemidji, St. Cloud and Winona experiencing GOP pick-ups. Despite anticipating gaining a handful of seats, the DFL did not win any of the Republican races they were targeting.

Minnesota Senate

Beyond the aforementioned areas, the Democrats could not hold onto seats in the northern exurbs where Senators Lisa Fobbe (DFL-Zimmerman) and Rick Olseen (DFL-Harris) were handily defeated. Most surprising were the losses in Anoka County, where committee chairs and long-term incumbents Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley) and Leo Foley (DFL-Coon Rapids) were knocked off by Republican challengers. It's likely the GOP candidates were the beneficiaries of coattails from the Michelle Bachman and Tom Emmer campaigns.

Despite losing so many familiar faces (see list of defeated incumbents below), a few former legislators are making a return. Former Senator Sean Nienow (R-Stacy) will be returning to the Senate District 17 seat he lost in 2006; past House member Carla Nelson (GOP-Rochester) has been elected to serve in Senate District 30; and former Representative Barb Goodwin (DFL-Columbia Heights) won the open seat in Senate District 50.

SD 4: Mary Olson – Bemidji

SD 10: Dan Skogen – Hewitt

SD 16: Lisa Fobbe – Zimmerman

SD 17: Rick Olseen – Harris

SD 25: Kevin Dahle – Northfield

SD 30: Ann Lynch – Rochester

SD 31: Sharon Erickson Ropes – Winona

SD 38: Jim Carlson – Eagan

SD 40: John Doll – Burnsville

SD 47: Leo Foley – Coon Rapids

SD 51: Don Betzold – Fridley

SD 53: Sandy Rummel – White Bear Lake

SD 56: Kathy Saltzman – Woodbury

Minnesota House

By any measure, last night's election was a sweeping success for House Republicans. Needing to pick up a total of 21 seats to reclaim the majority, Republicans are currently in a strong position to win as many as 25 seats which would give them a 72-62 margin of control.

There are currently four races that are expected to head to an automatic recount due to their close margins:

  • In District 15B, which represents St. Cloud, Republican newcomer King Banaian leads DFL challenger Carol Lewis by 28 votes.
  • In Northfield, incumbent DFLer David Bly is trailing Republican Kelby Woodard by 30 votes in the race for District 25B.
  • District 27A finds DFL incumbent Robin Brown down 58 votes to Republican Rich Murray.
  • DFL Minnetonka incumbent Maria Ruud is trailing her Republican challenger Kirk Stensrud in District 42A by 107 votes.

There were also three major upsets in the House. In District 3B, 14-term legislator Loren Solberg (DFL-Grand Rapids), one of the most senior Democrats in the House and chair of the powerful Ways and Means committee, lost to Carolyn McElfatrick by more than 400 votes. In District 1B, 13-term incumbent and Transportation Finance Chair Bernie Lieder (DFL-Crookston) was voted out of office. And another surprise defeat was dealt to seven-term incumbent and House Agriculture Finance Division Chair Al Juhnke (DFL-Willmar), who lost by over five percent.

The entire list of DFL incumbents who lost includes:

1A: Dave Olin – Thief River Falls

1B: Bernie Lieder – Crookston

2B: Britta Sailor – Park Rapids

3B: Loren Solberg (with 81.7% precincts reporting) – Grand Rapids

8B: Tim Faust – Hinckley

12B: Al Doty – Royalton

13B: Al Juhnke – Willmar

16A: Gail Kulick Jackson – Milaca

25B: David Bly – Northfield

27A: Robin Brown – Moscow Township

30B: Andy Welti – Plainview

37B: Phil Sterner – Rosemount

38A: Sandy Masin – Eagan

38B: Mike Obermueller – Eagan

40A: Will Morgan – Burnsville

41B: Paul Rosenthal – Edina

42A: Maria Ruud – Minnetonka

49B: Jerry Newton – Coon Rapids

53A: Paul Gardner – Shoreview

56A: Julie Bunn – Lake Elmo

56B: Marsha Swails - Woodbury

What's Next

Beyond recount plans, both the Dayton and Emmer camps will begin assembling their transition teams. With an anticipated budget deficit of $6 billion and recommendations due to the legislature in February of 2011, the campaigns need to assemble staff to start crunching the numbers and making recommendations on key policy advisors and potential commissioners. If a Dayton win is certified, the hope would be that the executive and legislative branches could find a way to work in a bipartisan fashion. However, it is more likely that severe gridlock mirroring Governor Pawlenty's interaction with an all-DFL legislature would ensue.

The turnover in leadership of the Legislature means new leaders will be elected. While current House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove) is expected to be named speaker, there is no frontrunner at this time for the role of Majority Leader. For Senate Republicans, questions have arisen as to who will be named Majority Leader. While Dave Senjem (R-Rochester) is current Minority Leader, Senator Amy Koch (R-Buffalo) has gained a great deal of credit and respect for her role in recruiting candidates that helped get them the majority. For DFLers, the huge losses mean that current leaders Senator Larry Pogemiller (DFL-Minneapolis) and Representative Tony Sertich (DFL-Chisholm) can anticipate challenges to their positionss. The House DFL is meeting Thursday to discuss next steps; no dates have been set for the other caucuses to meet yet.

After leadership is appointed, they will begin to assign committee chairs. While the House Republicans have experience as recently as 2005 running the process, the Senate GOP is at a significant disadvantage. Their most senior members retired – and they do not have enough incumbent legislators to elect as chairs to maintain the current Senate committee infrastructure. Expect big changes in the proposed procedural design for the new Legislature – as well as some bumps in the road as the Senate GOP learns how to lead.