Wake up, election nears
ST. PAUL -- It has been a pretty fall with Minnesotans spending time outdoors, reading about Ebola and engaging in real-life experiences ranging from their children's sports to figuring out ways to afford life.
ST. PAUL - It has been a pretty fall with Minnesotans spending time outdoors, reading about Ebola and engaging in real-life experiences ranging from their children’s sports to figuring out ways to afford life.
Other than complaining about a spate of negative campaign television commercials and mailings, which have increased in recent days, signs are that voters are not as tuned in to Tuesday’s election as they could be.
“Generally, it has been a sleepy election,” Chairman Ken Martin of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party said.
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said his office is hearing words of surprise from Minnesotans: “Oh, there’s an election.”
Voter attention often is tough to grab in elections without a president on the ballot, like happens Tuesday. But there also have been relatively few political issues that attracted much interest.
“I think national polling and other surveys would say that interest in this election is average and maybe even a little below average,” state Republican Chairman Keith Downey said. “I don’t know the cause of that for sure, but it seems to be No.1, there just aren’t any major, defining issues.”
Ritchie predicted that about 60 percent of Minnesota’s 3 million registered voters will cast ballots either Tuesday or in early voting that has been allowed for weeks. Even at 60 percent, compared to more than 75 percent in presidential years, Ritchie said Minnesota still will lead the country in turnout.
Those who do vote will pick people to lead state and local government.
At the top of the ticket, Democratic incumbents have leads in polls. U.S. Sen. Al Franken is trying to fend off a challenge by Republican Mike McFadden and Gov. Mark Dayton is battling Republican Jeff Johnson.
While Downey said there are major issues like terrorism and health care, they do not seem to be taking hold across the country. In Minnesota, he added, the all-politics-is-local cliche seems to be in force.
On the Iron Range, Downey said, voters are looking to who will best support mining. In the massive western Minnesota 7th Congressional District, “it is all about the ag community,” the chairman added.
In the inner cities, people want better performing schools, he said, while businesses everywhere search for ways to keep up with increasing costs.
Downey said the key to turnout this year may be races for the 134 state House seats, local elections that could draw more attention in the dozen or so districts where close races are expected.
Martin, on the other hand, said the top races will drive turnout. While insiders see “a hotly contested race for the (House) majority,” he said, average voters probably are not noticing much difference from other years other than more legislative candidate mailers, radio commercials and cable television spots.
Representatives are elected every two years, while senators generally serve four years. If Dayton were to win his second term as governor, Republicans’ only hope of having much of a say in state government is to retake the House two years after they lost House and Senate majorities, giving Democrats full control of the Legislature and governor’s office.
The GOP needs to win a net of seven seats to take over the House.
The only statewide race without an incumbent is secretary of state, where Democrat Ritchie is leaving after two four-year terms. The Democratic candidate, state Rep. Steve Simon, faces former Republican Rep. Dan Severson in what has been a quiet race.
Two U.S. House races have not been so quiet.
Polls and political observers indicate that Republican upstart Stewart Mills is pretty much tied with Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan in the 8th Congressional District, taking in northeast and east-central Minnesota.
In western Minnesota, 24-year veteran Rep. Collin Peterson, a moderate Democrat, faces his toughest battle in years. Republican state Sen. Torrey Westrom trails Peterson in the polls, but he attracted outside interests and millions of dollars on his behalf after many observers thought the incumbent would retire.
Republicans face problems at the top of the ballot.
“Clearly, we have two incumbents with good name ID ... with massive war chests,” Downey said about Franken and Dayton.
His party is working its way out of financial problems, but is expected to have the strongest get-out-the-vote effort in some time.
Democrats, meanwhile, have brought in big names like Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, first lady Michelle Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to rally party members.
Democrats tend to be less faithful at turning out in years without a presidential contest, so DFL leaders are doing what they can to get people to the polls Tuesday, or before via early balloting. A 30-city bus tour that winds up election eve is key to rallying supporters.
“The races will be close,” Martin predicted. “I am not worried about the Republicans. I think the real obstacle this year is Democrats. If Democrats stay home like they have in past midterm elections, we could lose some key races.”
For the first time this year, Minnesotans can legally vote before Election Day without an excuse such as they plan to be away from home. Ritchie said he does not know if that is bringing more people into the voting process or just allowing some people who would have voted Tuesday to cast ballots early.
As almost always happens, political campaigns have overshadowed judicial ones. But two of Dayton’s Supreme Court appointees face opposition.
Justice Wilhelmina Wright is challenged by John Hancock, a recently retired agent with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Nebraska who said he planned to move to Brainerd, Minn.
Justice David Lillehaug faces Michelle MacDonald, who has gained occasional publicity for battles with the Republican Party, which endorsed her but whose leaders are not happy that she did not reveal that she had been charged with drunken driving.
On the ballot
Below are the statewide and U.S. House candidates on Minnesotans’ Tuesday ballots. (i) indicates incumbent.
Independence, Steve Carlson; Republican, Mike McFadden, Democrat, Al Franken (i); Libertarian, Heather Johnson
Independence, Hannah Nicollet; Republican, Jeff Johnson; Democrat, Mark Dayton (i); Libertarian, Chris Holbrook; Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis, Chris Wright
Secretary of State
Independence, Bob Helland; Republican, Dan Severson; Democrat, Steve Simon; Libertarian, Bob Odden
Independence, Patrick Dean; Republican, Randy Gilbert; Democrat, Rebecca Otto (i); Libertarian, Keegan Iversen; Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis, Judith Schwartzbacker
Independence, Brandan Borgos; Republican, Scott Newman; Democrat, Lori Swanson (i); Libertarian, Mary O’Connor; Green, Andy Dawkins; Legal Marijuana Now, Dan Vacek
Supreme Court justice 2
John Hancock, Wilhelmina Wright (i)
Supreme Court justice 3
Michelle MacDonald, David Lillehaug (i)
Appeals Court judge 1
John Rodenberg (i)
Appeals Court judge 3
Carol Hooten (i)
Appeals Court judge 4
John Smith (i)
Appeals Court judge 9
Michael Kirk (i)
Appeals Court judge 10
Edward Cleary (i)
Appeals Court judge 12
Margaret Chutich (i)
Appeals Court judge 15
Kevin Ross (i)
1st Congressional District
Republican, Jim Hagedorn; Democrat, Tim Walz (i)
2nd Congressional District
Independence, Paula Overby; Republican, John Kline (i); Democrat, Mike Obermueller
3rd Congressional District
Republican, Erik Paulson (i); Democrat, Sharon Sund
4th Congressional District
Independence, Dave Thomas; Republican, Sharna Wahlgren; Democrat, Betty McCollum (i)
5th Congressional District
Independence, Lee Bauer; Republican, Doug Daggett; Democrat, Keith Ellison (i)
6th Congressional District
Independence, John Denney; Republican, Tom Emmer; Democrat, Joe Perske
7th Congressional District
Republican, Torrey Westrom; Democrat, Collin Peterson (i)
8th Congressional District
Republican, Stewart Mills; Democrat, Rick Nolan (i); Green, Ray “Skip” Sandman
Information about Tuesday’s election, including finding who is running and where to vote, is at www.mnvotes.org .