The Homestretch

The last few weeks of the campaign calendar are possibly the most agonizing and anxiety-filled days of any political junkie's life. The last seven days of the political campaign calendar are always full of much speculation, anticipation and anxiety, including:

  • Are the polls really reflecting my candidate's standing with the voters?
  • Will one of the candidates make a last-minute gaffe that will create an opening for their opponent?

And, of course, there's always this, possibly our all-time favorite paranoid political thought:

  • Who benefits most if it rains on Election Day?

This year is no different. Likely voters in the State of Minnesota—described by many as "purple" in political vernacular—are acting as unpredictably as ever. Six days from today, Minnesota voters will head to the polls to decide who will be the new occupant of the Governor's Residence after Gov. Tim Pawlenty leaves office in January 2011 and also to decide the fate of all 134 House seats and 67 Senate seats—the entire legislature—that are on the ballot.

With the DFL Party controlling both chambers of the legislature by large margins—87 to 47 in the House and 46 to 21 in the Senate—almost everyone believes the DFL will lose seats in what is being predicted to be a good year for Republicans around the country. The question is: How does the Republican momentum translate to the election here in Minnesota and how deep will DFL losses be in legislative races?

Stay tuned. This election is far from over, unpredictable, fluid as ever—even six days out—and will probably be decided late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning. We may even end up with a few recounts when all of the dust settles—a likely outcome given Minnesota's penchant for tight races at both the local and state levels.

What's At Stake

Some would argue that the biggest prize in winning the Governor's race is that it determines who gets to control the redistricting process that will occur in 2011 as a result of the 2010 census. This important and tedious process determines the battle lines in each legislative and congressional district for the next ten years and has a tremendous impact on how elections play out and who controls the legislative process at both the state and federal levels.

Finally, Minnesota faces one of the largest fiscal problems in the nation with what has been estimated to be a $5 billion to $7 billion budget deficit. Whoever wins this election will confront fiscal issues unlike any governor or legislature of recent generations—all in the midst of a very slow-moving economic recovery.

The Race to Be Minnesota's Next Governor

Candidates and their campaigns have a lot to worry about this election cycle in the state of Minnesota. Facing an angry and frustrated electorate, the race to be Minnesota's next governor has produced no clear frontrunner, although the DFL-endorsed candidate appears to be holding a consistent lead over his rivals with barely 40% of the vote, according to recent polling data. The most recent poll, conducted by St. Cloud State University, shows Mark Dayton with 40% support among likely voters, Republican candidate State Rep. Tom Emmer coming in at 30% support among likely voters, and Independent candidate Tom Horner trailing at 19%. As you can see, that leaves 11% of the voters still undecided just one week out from the election. Most of the recent polls reflect similar data and little movement by voters since Labor Day, as well as an unusually high number of undecided voters this close to Election Day.

After nearly two years of weeding out DFL, Republican and Independent candidates for governor, we are now down to three candidates who are having a terrible time capturing the affection and attention of Minnesota voters and an even harder time breaking out with any defining issue that clearly distinguishes one candidate from the others.

An even more unusual anomaly is that it appears Horner is capturing the hearts and minds of everyone…except the voters. For two weeks running, Horner has received the endorsement of almost every major newspaper outlet in the state, save for a handful. Dayton finally picked up an endorsement this past Sunday—his one and only—and Emmer has yet to receive the endorsement of any newspaper outlet, to our knowledge.

If you are keeping score and want to follow the race for governor more closely as new polling data comes in, take a look at some of our favorite polling Web sites:

The Legislative Races

This election cycle, all 201 members of the Minnesota Legislature are up for re-election. During the 2006 and 2008 campaigns, Democrats picked up seats in districts that had long been GOP strongholds, such as the Twin Cities suburbs of Eagan and Woodbury. With the political tides turning, Republicans are hoping to bring those seats back into their fold. Suburban races will be a key barometer for Election Day success for either party, and several of the races could be considered toss-ups.

Following is a summary of some of the key state legislative races to watch on Election Night.

Minnesota Senate

The DFL Party has a veto-proof 46-seat majority in the Minnesota Senate. A boon during the legislative process, Democrats now have numerous seats to protect during the election, with as many as 14 to 18 districts in play. This gives Senate Republicans hope that they could take over leadership, as they need a net gain of 13 seats to claim the majority. Sen. Amy Koch (R-Buffalo) has headed up the caucus's campaign efforts and has recruited the strongest class of GOP candidates in some time. That being said, most political prognosticators believe the Republicans will make gains, but at the most only 6 to 8 seats.

Districts in play include the northern exurbs. In Senate District 16, which includes Big Lake and Becker up to rural Mille Lacs, Sen. Lisa Fobbe (DFL-Zimmerman) will try to hold onto a seat she won by 85 votes in a 2008 special election. Fobbe became the first Democrat to represent the area in nearly 20 years, and her victory was largely due to former State Rep. Mark Olson's (R-Big Lake) write-in campaign, which siphoned off more than 1,400 votes from Fobbe's GOP opponent. In neighboring Senate District 17, Sen. Rick Olseen (DFL-Harris) will face off against former State Sen. Sean Nienow, whom Olseen beat in 2006 by 436 votes. Olseen should benefit from the fact that there is no third-party candidate in the race this year. The GOP also believes they will pick up open seats in Senate Districts 15 (formerly Tarryl Clark (DFL-St. Cloud)), 22 (Jim Vickerman (DFL-Worthington)), and 28 (Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing)).

Despite their lack of momentum, Democrats do see opportunities to gain seats that will offset some losses. In Senate District 12, current Sen. Paul Koering (R-Fort Ripley) is mounting a write-in campaign against Paul Gazelka (R-Brainerd), who received the GOP endorsement in a heated primary contest. They also believe they have a shot at Senate District 18, where moderate Steve Dille's (R-Dassel) retirement has pitted extremely conservative Republican candidate Scott Newman against moderate DFLer Hal Kimball. And in Senate District 13 (Joe Gimse (R-Willmar)), DFLers from the top to the bottom of the ticket are polling exceedingly well.

Minnesota House of Representatives

After the 2008 election, Democrats held 87 seats in the Minnesota House of Representatives, their highest total in 18 years. Two years later, a rising national tide of Republican political momentum, combined with a number of difficult elections for many incumbents, has most observers predicting significant Democratic losses and a dramatic tightening of the margin of control.

In Eagan, freshman DFLer Rep. Mike Obermueller is being challenged by Doug Wardlow, whose father Lynn was defeated by Obermueller in 2008. Another vulnerable freshman is Rep. Phil Sterner (DFL-Rosemount), who after his first term is being targeted in a district that was represented previously for 24 years by Republican Dennis Ozment. The tumultuous election season is not affecting only newer members, however. For example, after four years at the legislature, Rep. Paul Gardner (DFL-Shoreview) faces a strong challenge from Linda Runbeck, a former member of both the House and the Senate in District 53A, and two-term House member Marsha Swails (DFL-Woodbury) has her hands full completing with Republican-endorsed Andrea Kieffer.

Greater Minnesota also has the potential to see substantial election drama. In North Branch, Republicans are hoping to reclaim the seat that they felt retiring Rep. Jeremy Kalin was far too liberal for, and in District 16A, Rep. Gail Kulick Jackson will match up for the fourth time with former Rep. Sondra Erickson. In 2008, Jackson prevailed by fewer than 90 votes over Erickson, and many feel the outcome could be different in 2010. It also remains to be seen if the college student population in and around Northfield can propel Rep. David Bly to his second term in Saint Paul.

At the close of Election Night, Republicans must win a total of 21 seats to retake the majority, 68 to 66. This outcome is possible, although highly unlikely. A more probable scenario sees the DFL losing 12 to 14 seats, considerably closing the gap between the two caucuses.

If you plan to follow election night coverage, locally and nationally, here are a few sources to consider: