Minnesota Key to Democratic Hopes of Blue Wave

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – In a major battleground state for November’s midterm elections, Minnesota voters in Tuesday’s primary election will narrow the field for two U.S. Senate seats, eight House spots and the governorship.

Whatever the outcome of the election, 2018 has already earned a spot in Minnesota history. More than 29,000 absentee ballots have been cast – a 151 percent increase from 2016, according to Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon.

U.S. Senator Al Franken’s sudden resignation over sexual harassment allegations led Governor Mark Dayton to appoint his then-lieutenant Tina Smith to fill the spot temporarily.

Smith, a Democrat, announced early on that she would seek to hold the seat. Her main primary opponent is Richard Painter, an ex-Republican and former ethics lawyer for the George W. Bush administration who switched parties after becoming a vocal critic of President Donald Trump.

On the Republican side, Minnesota Senator Karin Housley is the clear frontrunner to win her party’s nomination Tuesday and go up against Smith or Painter in the general election for Franken’s old seat.

Minnesota’s other U.S. Senate seat is also on the ballot this year, as Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar is up for re-election. State lawmaker Jim Newberger is the favorite to win the Republican nomination Tuesday to face her in the fall.

Governor Dayton, a Democrat, is not seeking re-election after two terms, leaving the race for the state’s highest office wide open. Many candidates from both major parties announced, but it has dwindled down to a tight race that leans Democratic.

Democrat Tim Walz, a former school teacher who has represented southern Minnesota in the 1st Congressional District, is now running for governor, leaving a vacancy in the district for the first time since 2006.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson decided to run for governor after she failed to secure thestate’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party endorsement for attorney general at the party’s convention in June.

The third Democratic candidate for governor is state lawmaker Erin Murphy, who won the official DFL endorsement for the position. Murphy is a registered nurse who served as majority leader in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 2013 to 2015.

On the Republican side, Tim Pawlenty, who served as governor from 2003 to 2011, seeks to win a third term in his old job. Tuesday’s primary election will pit Pawlenty against Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, who won the party’s endorsement after Pawlenty skipped the convention.

In this Dec. 2, 2016, file photo, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., listens during a forum on the future of the Democratic Party, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

All of the state’s eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are on the ballot this year. Four of those races are labeled toss ups by the Cook Political Report – that same number of toss-up contests as California, which has 53 congressional districts.

Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota’s 5th District decided to run for attorney general, and four Democrats are competing to replace him. The party’s endorsement went to Ilhan Omar, a Muslim woman who became the first Somali-American elected to office in the U.S. after winning a seat in the Minnesota House two years ago. The winner of Tuesday’s DFL primary will likely win the general election for the reliably blue district, which includes Minneapolis.

Ellison leads the pack on the Democratic side in the race to replace Swanson as Minnesota attorney general. However, he has been accused of abusing an ex-girlfriend. He denies the allegations. Two Republicans are seeking their party’s nomination for attorney general: Former lawmakers Doug Wardlow and Bob Lessard.

In the 1st Congressional District, the race to replace gubernatorial candidate Walz features likely DFL nominee Dan Feehan and two Republicans fighting for their party’s nomination, Jim Hagedorn and state lawmaker Carla Nelson.

In the 8th Congressional District, which covers the northeastern part of the state, Democrat Rick Nolan is also departing because of his candidacy for lieutenant governor in Swanson’s bid for the governorship.

Pete Stauber, who has been endorsed by President Trump, aims to beat out Harry Robb Welty for the Republican nomination. The group of Democrats competing in the 8th District includes former Duluth TV news anchor Michelle Lee, North Branch Mayor Kirsten Kennedy, state lawmaker Jason Metsa and former legislator Joe Radinovich.

Five-term Republican incumbent Erik Paulsen of the 3rd Congressional District took office in 2009 and has won his re-election campaigns comfortably despite representing a district that has voted Democratic in presidential elections since 2008 and favors DFL state legislators.

Tuesday’s primary will determine which Democrat will face Paulsen in November’s general election. Businessman Dean Phillips has vastly outraised investment manager Adam Jennings and won the party’s nomination, making him the favorite. The 3rd District is a critical contest in the fall and could demonstrate where cracks lie in the Republican base.

The fourth U.S. House seat in Minnesota that is seen as a toss up for the general election is the 2nd District, which is held by Republican Jason Lewis, a former talk radio host.

Lewis will be up against Democratic challenger Angie Craig, a former health care executive who is running unopposed in her party’s primary, in a rematch of the 2016 election.

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