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June 8, 2018


DFL State Convention Shakes Up Minnesota Political Landscape

Beginning with a surprise endorsement at the DFL’s state convention in Rochester last weekend, the entire Minnesota political landscape has been transformed in the last week leaving many to reevaluate their prospects in the upcoming campaign season. The surprises started last Saturday at the DFL convention in Rochester when political newcomer Matt Pelikan received just over 47 percent of the vote against three-term incumbent Attorney General Lori Swanson (Swanson received 52 percent but 60 percent is needed for endorsement). Swanson subsequently withdrew her name from endorsement before the second ballot and Pelikan was endorsed by acclimation.

Later in the day, and after a number of contested ballots, former MN House Majority Leader Rep. Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) secured the DFL endorsement for governor over presumed front-runner Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN 1) and two-term State Auditor Rebecca Otto. However, even before Rep. Murphy was endorsed there were rumors as to the potential impact of the attorney general’s endorsement on the governor’s race as Lori Swanson had previously considered a 2018 bid for governor before deciding to seek a fourth term as attorney general.

Two Seats in the United States Senate

Prior to the DFL State Convention, Minnesota was already facing the once-in-a-generation situation of having both of its U.S. Senate seats on the ballot at the same time. Incumbent Sen. Amy Klobuchar was endorsed for a third term by the DFL state convention delegates and will likely face the GOP-endorsed Rep. Jim Newberger (R-Becker).

The second U.S. Senate seat is on the ballot following the resignation of Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) in January and the appointment of then-Lt. Gov. Tina Smith by Gov. Mark Dayton.  At the DFL convention on Saturday Sen. Smith (D-MN) was endorsed for re-election over primary opponent Richard Painter, a professor University of Minnesota Law School who previously served as ethics counsel to President George W. Bush. The winner of the DFL primary will likely square off with the Republican endorsed candidate State Senator Karin Housley (R-St. Mary’s Point) for the right to serve the remaining two years of Franken’s term.

The Race for Governor

Following her shocking defeat in the attorney general’s endorsement, Swanson surprised many by eschewing the expected primary campaign in favor of a gubernatorial bid. While Swanson was long known to be considering running for governor, most people believed that door had closed when she announced her intention last spring to run for her current position. Even more surprising, Swanson announced that retiring Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN 8) would be her running mate.

The Swanson/Nolan ticket turns its attention to the primary where it will face the DFL-endorsed ticket of former Rep. Erin Murphy and state Rep. Erin Maye-Quade (DFL-Apple Valley) as well as Rep. Tim Walz and state Rep. Peggy Flanagan (DFL-St. Louis Park).

On the Republican side, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson secured the GOP endorsement for the second consecutive election. Johnson unsuccessfully challenged Gov. Mark Dayton in 2014, losing 50.1 percent to 44.5 percent. Johnson and his running mate Donna Bergstrom of Duluth will face two-term former governor and past candidate for president, Tim Pawlenty in the Republican primary. Pawlenty will be joined on the ticket by former Minnesota Senate President and current Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville).

DFL Primary for Attorney General Creates Openings Down Ticket
Following Swanson’s decision to run for governor, a number of DFLers rushed to file for the office. Most notably, Congressman and Democratic National Committee deputy Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN 5) announced a campaign for the position of the state’s top prosecutor. He will join DFL-endorsed attorney Matt Pelikan, state Rep. Deb Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center), former Commissioner of Commerce Mike Rothman, and former Ramsey County Attorney Tom Foley.

Former state Rep. Doug Wardlow (R-Eagan) won the Republican endorsement for attorney general and will face former state Sen. Bob Lessard (R-International) in the primary.

Rep. Ellison’s decision to run for attorney general set off a secondary scramble as candidates seeking his seat in Congress. Among the candidates seeking the DFL nomination are state Sens. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Minneapolis) and Patricia Torres-Rey (DFL-Minneapolis), State Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-Minneapolis), and former Speaker of the House and 2010 DFL-endorsed candidate for governor Margaret Anderson Kelliher (DFL-Minneapolis). In a strongly Democratic seat, the winner of the August primary will likely defeat GOP candidate Jennifer Zielinski in November.

The DFL will hold an endorsing convention for the seat on Sunday, June 17, 2018

Control of Both Chambers of Minnesota Legislature at State

In addition to all 134 seats in the Minnesota House of Representatives being up this November, the majority in the Minnesota Senate hinges on a single special election being held just northeast of the Twin Cities. Having ascended to the position of lieutenant governor following Sen. Smith’s appointment to the U.S. Senate, State Senator Michelle Fischbach formally took her oath of office in late May and announced her resignation from the Minnesota Senate. Prior to Fischbach’s resignation, Senate Republicans held a 34-33 majority. With the balance of power now even at 33 seats each, all eyes turn toward the Senate District 13 special election, which pits Republican State Rep. Jeff Howe (R-Rockville) against Stearns County Commissioner and former mayor of Sartell Joe Perske, who is running as a Democrat. The seat is considered strongly Republican, but with such high stakes, both parties are expected to spend significant energy on the campaign.

2018 Election Dates
Statewide Primary – Tuesday, Aug. 14
General Election – Tuesday, Nov. 6


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