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Will the DFL Reach 90 Seats in the Minnesota House?

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As detailed in a report released today that I co-authored with Larry Jacobs at the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, the DFL is fighting to reach a veto-proof 90 seat supermajority in this November’s election.

Gaining a net five seats would mean the DFL (which already has a veto-proof majority in the Senate) could neutralize Governor Pawlenty’s veto pen. The Governor has effectively battled the Democratic majorities by making 70 vetoes in his 6 years in office and 54 of them since 2007, when the DFL assumed control of both chambers. (Only Arne Carlson issued more total vetoes since 1939 and no Minnesota governor used the veto as often in one year as Pawlenty did in 2008 [34].

From the report:

In 2008, 22 percent of House districts that had been controlled by Republicans will have no incumbent running for re-election (11 of 49). By contrast, only 7 percent of DFL-controlled seats are open (6 of 85). Put another way, Republicans have nearly twice as many open seats to defend even though the DFL has far more total House seats to protect.

Although the open GOP seats may present opportunities for the DFL, the Democrats face their own challenge in reelecting its members who won in districts that lean Republican. In particular, Democrats won 32 seats in 2006 that were carried by Governor Pawlenty; 16 of these seats are held by first-term Representatives, and 12 of those are in districts that were won by both the Governor in 2006 and President Bush in 2004.

Nine DFL seats seem especially vulnerable because they are being defended by first-term members who may not yet have served long enough to develop the kind of strong personal bond that is necessary to win over constituents in districts that historically vote Republican.

Democrats Al Doty (12B) and Jeremy Kalin (17B) face particularly daunting odds as they are running in districts that gave double-digit winning margins to Governor Pawlenty in 2006 and President Bush in 2004. Moreover, five first term Democrats are defending seats that Pawlenty won convincingly in 2006 and that the President also carried in 2004 (53A, 56B, 56A, 29B, and 37A). Another DFL seat (12A) is being defended by a first-termer in a district that broke for Bush by double digits and that the Governor also won. In addition, the decision of a first-term Democrat to step down created an open seat in a district (51A) where majorities voted for Bush in 2004 and for Pawlenty in 2006.

Overall, the DFL will have its hands full and may well lose some seats that it currently controls. It will be defending 27 districts that were decided by less than 10 points in 2006 compared to just 17 districts for the GOP.

The history of Minnesota House elections has been quite dynamic; large majorities can be short-lived. Large Democratic majorities through the late 1980s were followed by a Republican surge that narrowed DFL majorities after the 1994 and 1996 elections and produced Republican majorities from 1998 through 2004. The DFL regained the majority in 2006.

Previous post: Election Profile: Minnesota's 3rd Congressional District (2008)
Next post: Election Profile: Minnesota's 4th Congressional District (2008)

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