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38 Days to Election Day: Minnesota

This writer counts Minnesota as one of a handful of strange states politically (Wisconsin and New Hampshire are two others). Often showing streaks of independence and progressivism or liberalism, they then reign it in by electing conservative replacements. One thing about them politically is that it often results in split delegations in Congress, although they often vote Democratic in presidential elections. After all, this is the state that gave us Jesse Ventura as a Governor. Redistricting this year, although not without some controversy, was largely trouble-free with give and take on both sides.

At one point, Romney thought he had an opening and chance in Minnesota, but that would be a Herculean task. In short, a Romney surge in the Rust Belt and neighboring states will likely not extend into Minnesota and Obama will take Minnesota’s 10 electoral votes.

In the Senate race, incumbent Democrat Amy Klobuchar seeks reelection. She is considered a rank and file Democrat based on her bill sponsorship. In terms of her voting record, she likewise comes off as more of a centrist making her a good fit for Minnesota- more so than her Democratic counterpart, Al Franken, who essentially stole the 2008 election through voter fraud. She will run against the Tea Party-backed Republican Kurt Bills, a member of the Minnesota house. He boasts solid conservative credentials and endorsements and serves as a good contrast to Klobuchar. However, polling of Minnesota voters indicate a good degree of approval of Klobuchar’s job in the Senate. Thus, it is highly unlikely Bills will even come close in this election.

Currently, the House delegation is evenly split with 4 Democrats and 4 Republicans. Tim Walz, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison and Colin Peterson- all Democrats are considered safe bets to be reelected. On the Republican side, only Erik Paulsen and Michelle Bachmann are assured reelection to Congress. Democrats thought they could challenge in the 2nd District with Paul Obemueller against Republican incumbent John Kline, but those chances now look slim for the Democratic Party.

Instead, the best House race in Minnesota will involve the 8th District. Covering the northeastern part of the state, it is anchored by Minnesota’s 4th largest city, Duluth. Republican incumbent Chip Cravaak was a beneficiary of the 2010 Republican wave of victories. He defeated David Oberstar in surprise fashion (this writer called the race for Cravaak in 2010) in a Democratic district. Oberstar had represented the 8th district since 1975. Giving the Democratic Party hope here is the fact that Cravaak defeated Oberstar by about 4,000 votes- not exactly a major mandate for Cravaak. In his favor, he is considered one of the more moderate Republicans in the House. That may eventually help him. Also helping Cravaak in 2010 was the presence of a third party candidate who siphoned about 6% of the vote from Oberstar. He does not have that luxury this year.

His Democratic opponent will be businessman Richard Nolan who overcame the better known and funded state senator Tarryl Clark. In reality, Clark probably would have been a slam dunk for the Democratic Party, but since Nolan won, that actually gives Cravaak a better fighting chance. Thus far, fundraising figures would seem to bear that out. Additionally, Republican PACs have been more forthcoming with money to Cravaak’s efforts than Democratic money to Nolan’s effort. Still, this is Minnesota and since I am viewing these races in a worst case scenario outlook for Republicans, it seems likely that Nolan will win this race in November. Also to be considered is the coat tail effects of Obama and Klobuchar in a district that leans Democratic.

However, there may be one saving grace for Cravaak and that is conservative turn out. And if there are two issues that can turn out conservatives en masse, it is gay marriage and voter identification laws. Both these issues will appear on the ballot this year in Minnesota. Unlike previous ballot initiatives in Minnesota which failed, this simply asks voters to determine that marriage is to be between a man and a woman and leaves open the possibility of civil unions. This question also has a major religious component in that the Catholic Church supports the initiative while practically every Protestant denomination in the state opposes it. Also standing in opposition is Democratic Governor Mark Dayton. Obama has weighed in against the measure while also stating that he would respect the voters of Minnesota’s decision. Recent polling on the issue indicates that it will barely pass with support settling somewhere in the 51% range. And its path to the ballot is also rife with controversy as proponents have charged the secretary of state, an opponent of the measure, with changing the title so as to mislead voters. Additionally, there are pending DOMA appeals circulating in the courts coming out of Minnesota. Even if the voters approve this measure, it is sure to end up in the courts.

The other issue is photo identification to vote. The state would provide such identification free of charge starting in 2013. Adding some confusion to the issue is a pending voter ID bill in the legislature being touted by the Democratic secretary of state for Minnesota called the “electronic poll book.” Under this law, a voter’s ID would be checked electronically at the polling place, in effect providing the photo identification. If their right to vote can be ascertained from the existing databases, then they would be issued a photo ID at that point. If they have existing state-issued photo ID, then it would be in that state database whether they have the ID on them or not. The advantages, according to the proponents of this alternative, is that it would allow one to vote if they did not change their address or if they no longer drive since their citizenship would be ascertained then and there. However, this begs the question as to whether they can vote in that particular district or not. Although “electronic poll books” may be great for statewide offices, they aren’t for district-specific voting.

In a case of true hypocrisy, the Minnesota ACLU, which opposes the law, offered a $1,000 prize if anyone could produce a case of double voting in the state of Minnesota. Dan McGrath, a member of Minnesota Majority, found a 2008 case where a woman voted and then voted in her daughter’s name on an absentee ballot. The ACLU agreed to pay the $1,000 if the case checked out. But now for the hypocrisy: they claim that because the instance of voter fraud probably occurred and was caught in the absence of a voter ID law, existing laws were sufficient to catch voter fraud and there is no need for this proposed law. In other words, damned if we do and damned if we don’t submit the evidence. Of course, Norm Coleman might have something to say about this.

The bottom line is that these issues will serve to increase conservative voter turnout which will help conservative candidates and make other races closer. But, that may not be enough to help Cravaak in his race. In redistricting, Bachmann’s Sixth Congressional district was changed slightly and pulled in some liberal-leaning areas. Her margins of victory have not been that great until 2010 when she, ironically, defeated the aforementioned Tarryl Clark. Also, her home does not lie within the district. The year 2014 looms large in Minnesota as Al Franken’s term is up for reelection. Given the fact that Bachmann’s district is changing against her favor and given her high political profile nationally and in Minnesota, she may prove a formidable opponent to Al Franken.

In conclusion: Obama will capture the 10 electoral votes out of Minnesota while Amy Klobucahr will win reelection to the Senate. Despite being seriously outspent and out-raised, if Kurt Bills makes this race even remotely “close,” his political profile will only increase in the state. Again, only because I look at it from a worst-case scenario, the Democrats will likely pick up a seat in the 8th District. If Cravaak prevails, then it would only be icing on the Republican cake.

Running totals thus far: Obama leads in the electoral vote count 88-31 while the Senate is tied 13-13 after looking at 13 states. In the House, Democrats lead Republicans 54-39 seats.

Next: Illinois

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