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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.

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