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Coleman Victory Would Be the Greatest GOP Senate Triumph in Minnesota History

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Earlier this month Smart Politics examined how a victory by Norm Coleman would mark the first time since 1940 that a Republican has been elected Senator from the Gopher State in a presidential election year in which a Democrat was sent to the White House.

That study examined the Coleman victory against the backdrop of the national political environment. But when examining other measures that capture the political temperature of the 2008 election within the Gopher State, a strong case can be made that a Coleman victory would be the most remarkable GOP U.S. Senate triumph in Minnesota history.

Since popular vote U.S. Senate elections began in Minnesota in 1912, the state has elected 4 Republicans to the Senate whilst also casting its electoral votes for the Democratic presidential nominee. Three of those cases involved incumbent GOP Senators, like Coleman in 2008: Dave Durenberger in 1988 (3rd term), Rudy Boschwitz in 1984 (2nd term), and Henrik Shipstead in 1940 (4th term).

But if Coleman retains his Senate seat, he would have emerged victorious in the face of a much tougher hurdle at the top of the ticket:

· In 2008, Barack Obama carried Minnesota by 10.2 points.
· In 1988, Michael Dukakis won Minnesota by 7.0 points.
· In 1984, Walter Mondale carried Minnesota by 0.2 points.
· In 1940, FDR won Minnesota by 3.8 points.

The only other instance in which a Republican was elected U.S. Senator in a year in which the Gopher State supported a Democratic presidential nominee was 1936. However, in that year (in which FDR carried the Gopher State by 30.8 points), Minnesota had two Senate elections on the ballot. Republican Guy V. Howard won the special election to serve out only the last two months of the term ending January 3, 1937 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Republican Thomas D. Schall on December 22, 1935. (Farmer-Laborite Ernest Lundeen won the regular election).

In other words, a Coleman victory would mark the first time in Gopher State history that a Republican candidate won a full-term U.S. Senate seat whilst the state cast its electoral votes for a Democrat by double-digits.

There is also a second measure by which a Coleman victory would be historically “odds-defying,? and that is evident by examining the balance of power in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

The 2008 election will give the DFL a 40-seat advantage in the House, 87 to 47 seats. No Republican has been elected Senator in light of such a lopsided state legislative landslide in favor of the DFL since that party’s merger in 1944.

In three previous elections, GOP Senators were elected in the face of DFL majorities down the ballot in legislative House races across the state:

· In 1994, Republican Rod Grams won election while the DFL carried the House by 8 seats, 71 to 63.
· In 1988, Dave Durenberger won a third term as the DFL garnered a 28-seat advantage in the House, 81 to 53.
· In 1982, Durenberger won his second term in the face of a 20-seat DFL advantage statewide, 77 to 57 seats.

In light of this historical evidence, if Norm Coleman emerges victorious from the recount in the face of a double-digit win in Minnesota by Barack Obama and a 40-seat throttling of the GOP in state legislative races, the Senator can probably lay claim to the most impressive Senate victory for a Republican in Gopher State history.

Previous post: MN Senate Recount: Challenges in Franken Territory On the Rise
Next post: Smart Politics to Live Blog Conference on MN Redistricting

2 Comments


  • Eric, your hypothesis is sheer nonsense. If Coleman wins, it will be by the tiniest of margins in a three-way race. Whoever wins, he will have the smallest share of the vote since renegade Thomas Schall was elected in another three-way race in 1930 after beating the establishment Republican candidate in the primary. And Schall went on to become the most hated senator. (Time Magazine, December 30, 1935)

    How this can be a considered a "triumph" for Republicans is unclear. (A bare victory, yes.) It is more plausible that the election gives Coleman another six years to plan his exit. It should be obvious to all that had the DFL run anyone but Franken, he or she would have won handily. That includes Mike Ciresi, Judi Dutcher, Priscilla Lord-Faris ... even what's-his-name the anti-war activist.

    I also have no clue how this can be construed as a greater victory for Republicans than either 1942 or 1978, when they won both senate seats, the latter year with a majority for each and running no incumbents. If Monty offered you both Hubert Humphrey's and Walter Mondale's seats at once with majorities by running electorally inexperienced candidates, would you really take a chance on what was behind door number 2?

  • > I also have no clue how this can be construed as a greater
    > victory for Republicans than either 1942 or 1978, when
    > they won both senate seats, the latter year with a majority
    > for each and running no incumbents.

    It is quite simple why 2008 is more noteworthy - especially compared to your 1978 example.

    In 1978 there was a Republican wave in the Gopher State. The GOP picked up a net 37 seats in the MN House of Representatives, from 30 to 67 seats. Republicans also took back the governorship with Al Quie. During this 'wave election' it should not be surprising at all that the Republicans would win these Senate seats. In 2008 there were none of those variables in the GOP's favor nationally or statewide.

    You are also misrepresenting the 1942 election - the Republicans did not win two full-term Senate seats that November. One race was a special election for the unexpired term ending January 3, 1943 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Farmer-Laborite Ernest Lundeen on August 31, 1940. The vacancy had been filled until the special election by the appointment of Republican Joseph H. Ball on October 14, 1940. Ball won the full-term election and Arthur E. Nelson got to serve for the remaining two months of Lundeen's seat. In other words, Republican continuity was simply maintained from Ball to Nelson back to Ball.

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