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MN Senate Election Analysis, Part 2: Norm Coleman’s Metro Slide

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On Monday, Smart Politics examined the margin of victory and loss in each county between the DFL candidates in the 2006 gubernatorial and 2008 U.S. Senate races, and found Al Franken most severely underperformed in the Northern counties of the Gopher State vis-à-vis Mike Hatch.

Today, in the second part of the series, Smart Politics focuses on the geographic region of the state that contributed most to putting Norm Coleman in the position he is in today: lawyered up and nervously awaiting the results of a high-profile recount.

By examining the margin of victory or loss in each county across the state between Republican Tim Pawlenty in the 2006 gubernatorial contest and Coleman in the 2008 U.S. Senate race, it is clear that a moderate slide in the metro area did the greatest damage to Coleman’s vote tally.

Overall, across the state, Coleman actually improved on Pawlenty’s performance in most counties: Coleman increased the margin of victory (or decreased the margin of loss) for the GOP in 50 of the state’s 87 counties from 2006. Franken improved on Hatch's performance in just 32 counties, and 5 counties saw no measurable change.

However, even though the drops were modest, Coleman was clearly hurt by the ground he lost in each of the 7 metro counties from Pawlenty’s 2006 performance – including those that are GOP-leaning. The 1-term GOP incumbent lost 8 points off Pawlenty's victory margin in Carver County, 5 points in Scott, 3 points in Dakota, 2 points in Washington, and 1 point in Anoka County. Coleman also endured an increased margin of loss by 4 points in Hennepin County and 1 point in Ramsey County.

Now, this may seem like only moderate ground lost for Coleman, considering the multitude of counties in which Franken’s margin of victory or loss was double-digits worse than Mike Hatch in 2006. In fact, Coleman dropped off from Pawlenty’s margin of victory or loss by double-digits in just one county across the entire state: Steele (by 10 points). Franken, on the other hand, endured double-digit drop-offs in thirteen counties: Freeborn, Carlton, Hubbard, Polk, St. Louis, Pennington, Marshall, Lake, Lake of the Woods, Kittson, Clearwater, Koochiching, and Red Lake.

The problem for Coleman, of course, is that the seven metro counties are densely populated. As such, Franken was able to offset double-digit dips in many counties simply by bettering Hatch’s performance in Hennepin County by 4 points.

What further compounds Coleman’s metro problem is that election turnout in this presidential election year (77.9 percent) was obviously much higher than when Pawlenty ran in 2006 (59.5 percent): a 30.9 percent increase. That means the increased deficits Coleman suffered in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties were multiplied, and the victory margins Coleman enjoyed in Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Scott, and Washington Counties were not fully maximized. More to the point, voter turnout in the Metro region was disproportionately higher in the 2008 U.S. Senate race than in the 2006 gubernatorial election. Voter turnout increased 30.9 percent statewide from 2006 to 2008, but increased by 33.7 percent in the metro region:

Scott: +41.9 percent
Carver: +35.8 percent
Anoka: +35.6 percent
Dakota: +34.1 percent
Hennepin: +33.7 percent
Ramsey: +31.8 percent
Washington: +30.3 percent

The metro region accounted for 55 percent of the statewide votes in the U.S. Senate race in 2008, compared to 53.9 percent of the gubernatorial votes in 2006. And, more importantly, the Democratic strongholds of Hennepin and Ramsey counties accounted for 30.5 percent of the 2008 Senate vote statewide, compared to 29.9 percent of the gubernatorial vote in 2006.

In an election decided by a few hundred votes, this disproportionately higher turnout in Hennepin and Ramsey counties in 2008 may ultimately be the deciding factor in the race.

Previous post: MN Senate Election Analysis, Part 1: Franken Underperforms in Northern Minnesota
Next post: Smart Politics On WCCO-TV's "Good Question": Obama and His Blackberry

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