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2018 Battleground Election Preview: Minnesota

By Max Rieper | September 6, 2018

Minnesota Election Preview Map

Minnesota is one of 10 states that are most likely to see a change in party control in one or both state legislative chambers after elections on November 6. The Minnesota Senate is currently tied 33-33 between Republicans and Democrats, with Republican Lieutenant Governor Michelle Fischbach breaking ties when necessary. There is one vacant seat in a Republican-leaning district that will hold a special election in November, the only state Senate race this year. State Representatives Jeff Howe (R) will face Stearns County Commissioner Joe Perske (D) in a race that will determine control of the chamber.

Republicans currently hold a 77-57 advantage in the House, with all 134 seats up for election in 2018. Republicans have a lot of suburban swing districts to defend, and a big night for Democrats could put control of the chamber in play.

In the governor’s race, incumbent Governor Mark Dayton, who in 2010 became the first Democrat to win the governorship in Minnesota since 1986, has declined to run for a third term. Dayton’s predecessor, Tim Pawlenty, hoped to win his old job back this fall, but was defeated in the Republican primary by Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson.

Johnson has been the nominee before, losing to Dayton in 2014 with 44 percent of the vote. Johnson won the GOP nomination this year by running to the right of Pawlenty, and was aided by an endorsement by President Donald Trump. Trump narrowly lost the state in 2016 by less than 50,000 votes, but his approval rate now stands at 38 percent among Minnesota voters. Johnson has vowed to cut spending on human services and welfare and has called for a moratorium on refugee resettlement in the state.

His opponent will be U.S. Representative Tim Walz, who won a three-way Democratic primary race over state Attorney General Lori Swanson and state Representative Erin Murphy. Walz is running on a liberal platform that includes supporting universal single-payer health care, legalizing recreational marijuana, and raising the gas tax to pay for infrastructure. A poll in early August showed Walz with a 40-33 advantage, though more than a quarter of voters were undecided.

Another notable state race is attorney general, which has attracted U.S. Representative Keith Ellison to run as the Democratic nominee, vowing to use the office to take on President Trump. His opponent is Republican candidate Doug Wardlow, currently the counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal non-profit. Despite being a late entry into the race, Ellison has been able to raise more money than his opponents, but has been saddled by allegations of abuse from a former girlfriend.

Minnesota voters will also decide on lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state auditor, and four seats on the Minnesota Supreme Court, including the chief justice.

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