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The ‘Blue Wave’ Will Rise or Fall in Minnesota

September 4, 2018

Photo: Steve Reuters

By Tom Schroeder (@TomASchroeder)

We are constantly hearing about the Democrat opportunity for a “blue wave” in the midterm elections, due to the number  vulnerable Republicans up for re-election in close or blue-leaning districts, and a Democrat enthusiasm advantage.

But what about the districts that Republican could flip red?

With the constant rhetoric about how the House is supposedly almost assured to flip to the Democrats, you’d think the conventional wisdom is that Republicans have no chance at flipping a single seat. But in Minnesota’s 1st and 8th congressional districts, the opposite is true.  Two sitting Democrat congressmen decided to retire in districts that are Republican-leaning. This opened up a rare opportunity for the Republicans to go on offense and score wins in the midterm. If the GOP can score a win in one or both districts, it would significantly stunt the Democrats’ chances for a wave election, in a state that Trump only lost by one percentage point.

Currently, Etholytics own polling shows very tight races in both MN-08 and MN-01. While MN-08 has been held traditionally by Democrats, Tea Party conservative Chip Cravaack (R-MN) held the MN 8th district congressional seat as recent as 2013.  Just as well, Trump carried this 93% white district by 15 points in the 2016 election, boosted in part by his appeal to white working-class democrats. Trump also won MN-01 by 15 points as well. Much of Minnesota relies solely on populism- left or right wing populism. These districts are very rural, largely working class, and hold socially conservative values. But at the same time, Minnesota is willing to accept social programs and bigger government, along with its traditional values. That puts these districts in a tight bend with where to vote- either on social values with Republicans, or economics with Democrats.

But what makes these rural Rust Belt seats, and perhaps the Rust Belt as a whole, dangerous for Democrats is that the Republicans are slowly beginning to take the economic issue advantage away from the Democrats in these working class areas.

One word: Trade

With the insurgence of Trump Republicans now campaigning on protecting jobs in America, this plays especially well in the “Iron Range”, or northern Minnesota where there tends to be many iron-ore mining districts. When you examine the fact that Republicans are beginning to to take hold of both the social and economic issues of these Minnesota districts- it could halt the blue wave dead in its tracks.

Nevertheless, with the many Democrat retirements in Minnesota, it leaves a golden opportunity for the Republicans to gain it was is purported to be a drought year for them. The Republicans also have managed to capitalize on this,  nominating Pete Stauber, a retired police lieutenant and former pro hockey player, who is extremely well known and liked within the district.  The Democrats selected lesser-known former state legislator, Joe Radinovich.  Running a model candidate such as Stauber for an open seat in a R+4 district seems to be tailor-made for a GOP pickup.  But even there, Republicans’ good fortune in Minnesota does not end.

MN 1st district is also very much in play. The sitting congressman, Tim Walz (D-MN), became the Democrat nominee for governor this year. This means he vacates his seat in an R+5 district- a lucky event for the GOP.  The Republican nominee is Jim Hagedorn, who only lost by about 2,500 votes in 2016. Hagedorn decided to give it another shot this year in 2018, and should be in a much better position to flip the seat now with the popular incumbent Walz out of the way. One big advantage for Hagedorn is district-wide name recognition from his previous campaigns in 2014 and 2016. This time he faces off against Obama-era Pentagon official Dan Feehan.

One big game changer for the House races in Minnesota this year is that there are two Senate races, and a Governor’s race.

Here’s why this matters: the Democrats will benefit heavily off low-turnout since they are the party out of power. But with two Senate races and a gubernatorial race, having three statewide races at once is likely to revert Minnesota back to its natural turnout levels, instead of benefitting the Democrats with low turnout. Strong voter turnout should be expected on a statewide level due to the fact Minnesota will have so much political activity going in November with three races. Increased turnout would put both Stauber and Hagedorn in the driver’s seats in their respective races, and a win from one or both would throw a monkey wrench into the Democrats plans to keep the House.