After 20 years of covering politics in Minnesota, I like to create a list of races to watch for our staff on election night. Our state is always interesting, and 2018 may be the most important campaign cycle yet. Half – that’s half – four out of eight of our congressional seats are highly competitive. That’s unusual, if not unprecedented, anywhere. Both United States Senate seats are on the ballot, also very rare, and I’ll explain more on that below. The Governor’s Office is open with the retirement of Governor Mark Dayton. The Attorney General’s Office has been held by a Democrat for decades and that race looks close. The Minnesota House is often competitive, tending to switch hands every couple of election cycles. Here’s my list:
US Senate Special Election: GOP Karin Housley vs. DFL Tina Smith. Because of Sen. Al Franken’s resignation, Minnesotans will elect two US senators on Tuesday. And remember, if Housley wins, then there’s also an open seat in the state Senate that, depending on the special election in Sen. Michelle Fishbach’s seat, the Senate could be back to a 33-33 tie. Smith was appointed to the seat by Gov. Mark Dayton when she was his lieutenant governor, triggering a line of succession that brought Republican State Senate President Fischbach to the LG’s office.
Governor: GOP Jeff Johnson vs. DFL Tim Walz. It will be a second surprise if Johnson can win this after an upset victory in the primary over former Governor Tim Pawlenty. Walz has led in every poll. Democrat Mark Dayton served two terms in the office, following Republican Pawlenty. Walz has tried to unite the state with a One Minnesota mantra; having served a rural area in congress, he’s trying to undo the rural-urban divide that’s dominating local and national politics.
Attorney General: DFL Keith Ellison vs.GOP Doug Wardlow. The embattled DFLer is not scheduled to be at party headquarters on election night, and he was missing from DFL’s big get-out-to-vote rally. Wardlow led in one poll, Ellison more recently. This race looks very close and very controversial, with the DFLer accused of domestic abuse and the GOPer’s history of voting and working against marriage equality.
1st Southern Minnesota: DFL Dan Feehan vs. GOP Jim Hagedorn in an open swing seat that had been held by Walz. The Republican candidate has been running with Trump versus the Democratic candidate, who has been promoting his teacher/veteran pedigree that’s similar to that of Walz. Trump won this district in the 2016 election, but soybean and pork farmers in the region are concerned about tariffs, and polls show that his popularity is fading a bit.
2nd Southern Suburbs: DFL Angie Craig vs. GOP Jason Lewis with incumbent Republican running with Trump. Lewis is a well-known former radio talk show host, and Craig is a suburban mom and successful businesswoman. This is a rematch – it was close last time and could be again.
3rd Western Suburbs: GOP Erik Paulsen vs. DFL Dean Phillips. A first-time candidate takes on the incumbent Republican who didn’t welcome Trump’s support. Paulsen beat a suburban mom/lawmaker last time, despite expectations he would have a close, tough race. Phillips has done some out-of-the-box campaigning and advertising.
8th Northern Minnesota: DFL Joe Radinovich vs. GOP Pete Stauber in another open seat that had been held by a Democrat. In the 2016 election, Trump won big here. The race pits a former DFL state lawmaker who voted for marriage equality and lost his seat against a Republican hockey player/cop/county commissioner. Trump remains popular, while steel tariffs and mining are issues that have Republicans gaining traction. Negative ads attacked the Democrat for run-ins with the law, though he fought back by telling his personal story of perseverance over adversity.
SD13 GOP Jeff Howe vs. DFL Joe Perkse. One special election in the Senate will decide political control of the chamber that’s now in a tie. Fishbach’s position is a big red seat, but her predecessor long ago was a Democrat (who left in scandal), and tons of money has poured in.
House all 134 seats up, Republicans lead 77-57 now.
4B NW MN DFL Rep. Paul Marquart in GOP area
5B Cohasset Range Incumbent GOP Sandy Layman
14B St. Cloud GOP Rep. Knoblach not campaigning but on the ballot
19A Mankato open seat had been DFL Clark Johnson
36A Champlin open seat had been GOP Mark Uglem
37A Spring Lake Park DFL freshman Rep. Erin Koegel
38B Dellwood open seat had been GOP Matt Dean
42A Shoreview GOP freshman Rep. Randy Jessup
44A Plymouth longtime GOP Rep. Sarah Anderson in Hillary district
47B Chaska open seat GOP Rep Hoppe retiring
48B Republican Rep. Jenifer Loon in Hillary district
49A Edina, classic swing seat, current GOP Rep. Dario Anselmo
52B Inver Grove Heights, seat has swung from longtime DFL to GOP Rep. Regina Barr
54A St. Paul Park, prone to swings in the past, GOP Rep. Keith Franke, a surprise moderate
55A Shakopee open seat, GOP Rep. Bob Loonan, ousted by his party, DFL mayor running
56B Lakeville Republican Rep. Roz Peterson facing a DFL medical doctor
57A Apple Valley open seat had been DFL Erin Maye Quade