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Election Profile: Minnesota U.S. Senate

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Smart Politics is running a series of election profiles of all the Upper Midwestern U.S. Senate and U.S. House races leading up to the November 4th elections. The series will culminate with Smart Politics' official projections. The twenty-fifth profile in the series is Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race.

Candidates:
Republican: Norm Coleman (1-term incumbent)
DFL: Al Franken
Independence: Dean Barkley
Libertarian: Charles Aldrich
Constitution: James Niemackl

History:
Norm Coleman defeated Walter Mondale in the high-profile 2002 Senate campaign in which Minnesotans endured the tragic death of 2-term DFL incumbent Paul Wellstone in a plane crash just weeks before the election. Coleman won by 2.2 points – with votes for candidates from the Green Party, Independence Party, and Wellstone himself (3 percent) totaling more than Coleman’s victory margin.

Since popular vote elections for U.S. Senators began in Minnesota in 1912, Republicans have won 18 of 36 contests, including 7 of the last 11 elections dating back to 1978. The DFL has won 13 Senate races – including a stretch of 8 in a row from 1954 to 1976. The Farmer-Labor Party won 5 of 7 contests between 1922 and 1936.

Senator Coleman serves on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. The Senator is running a campaign that touts his bipartisan credentials and ability to work across the aisle to solve the nation’s problems: the tagline of his campaign website reads, “Bringing people together to get things done.? According to Congressional Quarterly's vote tracking of party unity, Coleman has been the third least partisan of the 14 members of the Minnesota delegation to D.C. since 2003. Coleman has voted with the GOP just 79 percent of the time in his career (Mark Dayton and Amy Klobuchar, at 93 percent, were much more 'party loyalists'). Only Representatives Collin Peterson and Jim Ramstad voted less with their party leadership since 2003. Coleman is running on a platform to balance the federal budget in five years, to reduce the costs of higher education, to achieve greater energy independence, to support increased federal funding of veteran’s benefits, and to make health care more affordable and accessible.

Author and mass media personality Al Franken is campaigning to “fight for the middle class.? Franken backs a $5,000 tax credit for higher education, universal health care, a greater investment in renewable energy, increased benefits for veterans, and to immediately begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. Franken criticized the financial bailout bill and states he would not have voted for it.

Dean Barkley, founder of Minnesota’s Independence Party, was appointed by Governor Jesse Ventura to serve out the remaining two months of Wellstone’s term in 2002-2003. Barkley ran on the Independence Party ticket for the U.S. Senate in 1994, receiving 5.4 percent, and 1996, winning 7.0 percent. Barkley has pledged to serve no more than two terms if elected, and has railed against political polarization in the country. Barkley says will neither caucus with the Democrats nor the Republicans, though he is confident he would receive committee assignments.

Libertarian Charles Aldrich, an industrial engineer, ran for House District 40A back in 2004, receiving 3.2 percent of the vote in that legislative race. Aldrich is campaigning on a traditional Libertarian platform of lower taxes and less government. Adrich also supports more domestic oil drilling and eliminating federal taxes and fees on renewable energy for the next five years. He opposes subsidies for corn-based ethanol.

James Niemackl, a detective in the Hopkins Police Department, is running on the Constitution Party ticket. Niemackl is running on a platform to “restore the rights and liberties guaranteed in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.? Niemackl favors making abortion illegal and seeks a timely end to the war in Iraq. Niemakcl opposed the $700 billion financial rescue plan.

Outlook:
Minnesota’s 2008 U.S. Senate race is the most expensive U.S. Senate race in state history and the most expensive across the nation in Election 2008. High profile Republicans (Rudy Giuliani) and Democrats (Hillary Clinton) have been brought into the Gopher State in the closing weeks of the campaign to rally for their respective party’s nominee. Franken has led in the vast majority of polls conducted since early October. However, given the DFL nominee’s high unfavorability numbers, and a strong third-party candidate in the mix, Franken is far from assured that he will successfully upend Coleman’s re-election bid. Polls have generally shown Barkley to be winning about one-third of the independent vote, and to be drawing more support from Democrats than Republicans. Unless the contest is decided by a razor’s edge, Coleman will likely be unaffected by the right-of-center Libertarian and Constitution Party candidacies: Libertarian and Constitution Party candidates have never received more than 0.3 percent of the vote in any U.S. Senate election in Gopher State history.

Previous post: Election Profile: Minnesota's 8th Congressional District (2008)
Next post: Third CD Race in Minnesota Stil Deadlocked

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