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Will GOP Controversy Put 16th Senate District In Play for the DFL?

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Minnesota blogs have been buzzing in recent days in light of state Representative Mark Olson’s endorsement by the Republican Party for the special election in Senate District 16 held this November. The election is being held to fill Betsy Wergin’s seat, who was appointed to the Public Utilities Commission.

Controversy has arisen largely because Olson, who decided not to run for his own House seat in 2008, was convicted of domestic assault in 2007 and the GOP could have endorsed Republican Alison Krueger in the primary held next month.

Putting the motivations of the GOP’s decision aside for the moment (as well as the motivations behind the recent postings by left and right leaning bloggers on the endorsement), the fallout from GOP officeholders has been swift and heavy: the Republican Senate caucus is supporting Krueger and stated, should Olson win the primary on September 9th, he will not be welcomed into the caucus. (Olson was expelled from the House GOP caucus last year).

The question Smart Politics asks is whether or not an Olson victory next month in the primary would put the reliably GOP district in play for the DFL?

Because 2006 was a banner election year for the DFL statewide, its candidates obviously improved substantially in SD-16, compared to similar races in 2002. In the state Senate contest, the DFL reduced a 22.7-point loss in 2002 to a 14.8-point loss in 2006. The DFL also gained 9 points in the gubernatorial race in the district and 23 points in the U.S. Senate race.

But this is not news – the DFL performed stronger nearly everywhere in Minnesota. The question is whether or not the pro-DFL trend in Senate District 16 was higher or lower than the average bump the DFL received across the state.

Smart Politics therefore examined the net difference of the margin of victory in SD-16 compared to the statewide margin of victory in key races in 2002 and 2006.

· In the race for Governor in 2006, the 16th Senate District voted 19.4 points higher (20.4 points) than Republican Tim Pawlenty’s statewide margin of victory (1 point). Back In 2002, the district voted 21.3 points higher than Pawlenty’s statewide margin of victory. In short, there was a net 2-point swing for the DFL in the district in 2006 beyond the average movement for the DFL statewide.

· In the U.S. Senate race, the results were virtually identical: in 2006 the 16th District voted Republican by a margin of 19.4 points higher than the statewide average – down from 21.1 points in 2002. Again, this is nearly a two-point bump for the DFL in this reliably Republican district above the statewide average.

The DFL’s seat margin in the Senate is so large that the importance of this special election is largely in its symbolic value: will Republican primary voters back the Party’s candidate, or will they support Krueger, the alternative?

In the event Olson should actually win the primary, given the momentum for the DFL at the margins in the district and its modestly competitive 15-point race in 2006, the DFL just might gain yet another Senate seat this fall.

Previous post: Will Minnesotans Turn Out On Primary Day?
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Remains of the Data

No Free Passes: States With 2 Major Party Candidates in Every US House Race

Indiana has now placed candidates from both major parties on the ballot in a nation-best 189 consecutive U.S. House races, with New Hampshire, Minnesota, Idaho, and Montana also north of 100 in a row.

Political Crumbs

Gubernatorial Highs and Lows

Two sitting governors currently hold the record for the highest gubernatorial vote ever received in their respective states by a non-incumbent: Republican Matt Mead of Wyoming (65.7 percent in 2010) and outgoing GOPer Dave Heineman of Nebraska (73.4 percent in 2006). Republican Gary Herbert of Utah had not previously won a gubernatorial contest when he notched a state record 64.1 percent for his first victory in 2010, but was an incumbent at the time after ascending to the position in 2009 after the early departure of Jon Huntsman. Meanwhile, two sitting governors hold the record in their states for the lowest mark ever recorded by a winning gubernatorial candidate (incumbent or otherwise): independent-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (36.1 percent in 2010) and Democrat Terry McAuliffe of Virginia (47.8 percent in 2013).


An Idaho Six Pack

Two-term Idaho Republican Governor Butch Otter only polled at 39 percent in a recent PPP survey of the state's 2014 race - just four points ahead of Democratic businessman A.J. Balukoff. Otter's low numbers reflect his own struggles as a candidate (witness his weak primary win against State Senator Russ Fulcher) combined with the opportunity for disgruntled Idahoans to cast their votes for one of four third party and independent candidates, who collectively received the support of 12 percent of likely voters: Libertarian John Bujak, the Constitution Party's Steve Pankey, and independents Jill Humble and Pro-Life (aka Marvin Richardson). The six candidate options in a gubernatorial race sets an all-time record in the Gem State across the 46 elections conducted since statehood. The previous high water mark of five candidates was reached in seven previous cycles: 1902, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1914, 1966, and 2010.


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