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Why DFLers Can Stop Agonizing Over Losing to Paulsen and Bachmann

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As Barack Obama's victory in Minnesota was never in doubt, the DFL had three main priorities in the 2008 election: 1) Win Norm Coleman's U.S. Senate seat, 2) pick up at least one U.S. House seat (either Jim Ramstad's open 3rd CD seat or Michele Bachmann's 6th CD seat), and 3) pick up a net 5 seats in the state House to reach a veto-proof 90 seats.

Winning 90 seats in the House was a tall order for the DFL, having only done so twice previously since the Party's formation (in 1974 and 1976), so their failure to net 5 seats came as no surprise to this blog. As such, with Al Franken currently considered the favorite to emerge as the victor in the U.S. Senate race, the DFL's inability to pick up either the 3rd or 6th CD seat is considered the biggest failure of the Party last November (though it would be trumped should Norm Coleman manage to retain his U.S. Senate seat).

The DFL's loss of both of these Congressional seats stands out, in part, because 2008 was a Democratic wave election year, with the Democratic Party picking up 26 U.S. House seats across the country (and losing 5 others), bringing its total representation to 257 members in the lower chamber.

But is it fair to call the DFL's inability to win these seats a failure of the Party or its candidates? Were these truly blown opportunities? While some DFLers are disappointed they did not carry both districts, that was completely unrealistic: the DFL has never won 7 House seats in any election year.

The fact is the DFL's current delegation to the U.S. House (standing at 5 out of 8 members) is fairly reflective of the partisan temperature of the country as a whole - as it should be for a state only a light shade bluer than a true, toss-up battleground state.

As evidence, Smart Politics examined the percentage of U.S. House seats won by the DFL in Minnesota's congressional delegation and the percentage of U.S. House seats won by the Democratic Party nationwide during the last 33 elections, dating back to the DFL merger in 1944.

For the past 14 elections, going back to the mid-term elections of 1982, Minnesota has sent a greater percentage of Democrats in its delegation to D.C. than has the country overall. The DFL has won 65.2 percent of seats during that span, compared to just 54.1 percent for the Democratic Party nationwide.

For example, in 2008, the DFL won 5 of 8 races, or 62.5 percent, which is just 3.4 points higher than the 59.1 percent of seats won by the Democratic Party across the country last November. As such, the current partisan leanings of Minnesota's U.S. House delegation is fairly representative of the nation as a whole. Had the DFL won either the 3rd or 6th CD race, the state's delegation (at 75 percent) would have been much 'bluer' than that of the U.S. House overall.

Minnesota's congressional delegation was at its bluest, relative to the nation as a whole, from 1994 through 1998, when the DFL won 75 percent of U.S. House contests each year (6 of 8 seats) - more than 26 points higher than the national average for the Democratic Party.

This bluer-than-average trend stands in stark contrast to the 1944-1980 period, when the state's delegation tilted more Republican than the nation as a whole in 17 of 19 elections (1954 and 1956 being the only exceptions). The DFL won only 43.8 percent of U.S. House contests in Minnesota during this 38-year span, compared to 58.0 percent for the Democratic Party nationwide.

Of course, there is no pronouncement that dictates Minnesota must skew towards the national average or aspire to reflect the partisan mean of the country.

However, as a battleground state, it should not come as a surprise that a state which elected a Republican to the Governor's mansion two times this decade as well as a U.S. Senator (at least) once, should also be tracking fairly closely with the partisan leanings of the country in U.S. House races: Minnesota is only skewing slightly more Democratic, by single digits, in each of the last four election cycles.

In short, this data gives permission to DFLers to stop beating themselves up for losing the 3rd and 6th Congressional Districts last November; Minnesota, as this blog frequently maintains, is not Massachusetts.

Minnesota DFL vs. National Democratic Party Representation in the U.S. House, 1944-2008

Year
% MN DFL Delegation
% Democrats in U.S. House
Difference
2008
62.5
59.1
3.4
2006
62.5
53.6
8.9
2004
50.0
46.4
3.6
2002
50.0
46.9
3.1
2000
62.5
48.7
13.8
1998
75.0
48.5
26.5
1996
75.0
47.4
27.6
1994
75.0
46.9
28.1
1992
75.0
59.3
15.7
1990
75.0
61.4
13.6
1988
62.5
59.8
2.7
1986
62.5
59.3
3.2
1984
62.5
58.2
4.3
1982
62.5
61.8
0.7
1980
37.5
55.6
-18.1
1978
50.0
63.7
-13.7
1976
62.5
67.1
-4.6
1974
62.5
66.9
-4.4
1972
50.0
55.6
-5.6
1970
50.0
58.6
-8.6
1968
37.5
55.9
-18.4
1966
37.5
56.8
-19.3
1964
50.0
67.8
-17.8
1962
50.0
59.5
-9.5
1960
33.3
60.5
-27.1
1958
40.0
65.1
-25.1
1956
55.6
53.8
1.8
1954
55.6
53.3
2.2
1952
44.4
49.0
-4.5
1950
44.4
54.0
-9.6
1948
44.4
60.5
-16.0
1946
11.1
43.2
-32.1
1944
22.2
55.6
-33.4



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