Another Minnesota mid-term surprise

It’s the day after Election Day, America’s favorite day for credit-taking, blame-placing and hand-wringing.


Here in Minnesota, we can proudly proclaim once again that we managed to confound the national pundits.


Our record of mid-term election year surprises is strong. In 1990, Paul Wellstone was the only candidate in the country to defeat an incumbent US Senator. In 1998, Jesse Ventura “shocked the world.” Four years later Norm Coleman defeated a former Vice President less than two weeks after Sen. Wellstone’s plane crash. In 2006, Gov. Tim Pawlenty was re-elected despite a national Democratic wave.


Last night might not be quite on par with those mid-term surprises, but seeing two Democratic incumbents re-elected by healthy margins as the rest of the country turned red (including the takeover of the US Senate and new GOP governors in Illinois, Massachusetts and even Maryland) certainly went against the CNN-Fox News-MSNBC narrative.


What happened last night wasn’t terribly different from Minnesota’s ’06 mid-terms eight years ago, with the parties reversed. Mark Dayton and Al Franken kept their races focused on what they had accomplished for Minnesotans, fending off Republican messages that would tie them to an unpopular President (even in DFL-leaning Minnesota, the latest polls show President Obama with a 40%-54% job approval rating).


In 2006, President George W. Bush’s approval rating in Minnesota was an even lower 35%. Governor Pawlenty hung onto his post by a 1% margin, while Republicans lost control of the Minnesota House majority they had held the previous 8 years, as the DFL picked up 19 seats.


Last night’s State House swing was dramatic, but not quite that large, as Republicans gained 11 seats. But it showed again that Minnesota voters are not easy to pigeonhole and we like making things difficult for politicians at the State Capitol.


Since 1960, we’ve had divided government in St. Paul 75% of the time (during the Ventura years it even featured tri-partisan government). There’s a great chart from the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library here.


Many pundits were predicting a Republican takeover of the Minnesota House – but not many predicted Republicans would get all the way to 72 seats (68 are needed for the majority) or that virtually all of the pickups would happen outside the Twin Cities metro area.


Of the 72 incoming members of the NEW Republican majority, 34 come from the 11-county Metro area and 38 come from Greater Minnesota. A majority of the majority hails from outside of the Twin Cities – which will no doubt impact how the House will work over these next two years.


Mark Twain once said, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes.” With control of Minnesota’s House of Representatives changing hands three elections in a row, you can say the same thing about our state-level politics.