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Putting a Bow on the 2008 Minnesota U.S. Senate Contest (A Historical Analysis)

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With Governor Tim Pawlenty and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie signing the election certificate for the U.S. Senate seat on Tuesday evening, the 2008 Election is, after a 238-day wait, at last in the books.

The 2008 U.S. Senate Election is noteworthy, of course, for its historic narrow margin of victory and for setting a Gopher State record for the longest period with only one U.S. Senator.

But there are other interesting statistical findings from the election-that-would-never-end.

First, the 42.0 percent of the vote won by Al Franken marks the second lowest percentage tallied by a winner in a Minnesota U.S. Senate race out of the 37 general and special elections held since popular vote elections were introduced in the Gopher State in 1912.

Only Republican Thomas D. Schall, with 37.6 percent of the vote won during his successful 1930 reelection campaign, has headed to the nation's capitol with a lower percentage of the statewide vote.

Since the DFL merger in 1944, the previous low-water mark for a winning candidate was the 48.8 percent won by Mark Dayton in 2000 in his defeat of 1-term GOP incumbent Rod Grams.

Overall, 11 of Minnesota's 37 Senate races have been won by just a plurality of the vote, although only 4 since the DFL merger: 1916 (Frank B. Kellogg), 1922 (Henrik Shipstead), 1924 (Thomas D. Schall), 1930 (Schall), 1934 (Shipstead), 1936 (Guy V. Howard, in a special election), 1942 (Jospeh H. Ball), 1994 (Rod Grams), 2000 (Mark Dayton), 2002 (Coleman), and 2008 (Franken).

Largest Percentage of the Vote Received by Victorious Minnesota U.S. Senate Candidates, 1912-2008

Rank
Year
Candidate
Party
Percent
1
1976
Hubert H. Humphrey
DFL
67.5
2
1928
Henrik Shipstead
Farmer-Labor
65.4
3
1912
Knute Nelson
Republican
62.8
4
1936
Ernest Lundeen
Farmer-Labor
62.2
5
1978*
Dave Durenberger
Republican
61.5
6
1964
Eugene J. McCarthy
DFL
60.3
7
1918
Knute Nelson
Republican
60.0
8
1948
Hubert H. Humphrey
DFL
59.8
9
1946
Edward J. Thye
Republican
58.9
10
2006
Amy Klobuchar
DFL
58.1
10
1984
Rudy Boschwitz
Republican
58.1
12
1970
Hubert H. Humphrey
DFL
57.8
13
1960
Hubert H. Humphrey
DFL
57.5
13
1923*
Magnus Johnson
Farmer-Labor
57.5
15
1972
Walter F. Mondale
DFL
56.7
16
1978
Rudy Boschwitz
Republican
56.6
16
1952
Edward J. Thye
Republican
56.6
18
1954
Hubert H. Humphrey
DFL
56.4
19
1988
Dave Durenberger
Republican
56.2
20
1942*
Arthur E. Nelson
Republican
56.1
21
1966
Walter F. Mondale
DFL
53.9
22
1940
Henrik Shipstead
Republican
53.0
23
1958
Eugene J. McCarthy
DFL
52.9
24
1982
Dave Durgenberger
Republican
52.6
25
1990
Paul Wellstone
DFL
50.4
26
1996
Paul Wellstone
DFL
50.3
27
1934
Henrik Shipstead
Farmer-Labor
49.9
28
2002
Norm Coleman
Republican
49.5
29
1994
Rod Grams
Republican
49.1
30
2000
Mark Dayton
DFL
48.8
31
1916
Frank B. Kellogg
Republican
48.6
32
1922
Henrik Shipstead
Farmer-Labor
47.1
33
1942
Joseph H. Ball
Republican
47.0
34
1924
Thomas D. Schall
Republican
46.5
35
1936*
Guy V. Howard
Republican
42.9
36
2008
Al Franken
DFL
42.0
37
1930
Thomas D. Schall
Republican
37.6
* Denotes special election contest. Data compiled by Smart Politics.

However, despite Franken's historically low vote percentage, there have been a dozen U.S. Senate candidates in Minnesota who have won a larger percentage of the vote than Norm Coleman, and still lost their respective contest.

Coleman's 42.0 percent of the vote ranks as the 13th highest second place finish in Gopher State history, out of 37 elections conducted since 1912.

Republican Rudy Boschwitz, in his failed 1990 reelection campaign against Paul Wellstone, has the distinction of winning the largest percentage of the vote for a second place candidate (47.8 percent).

In fact, several other second place finishers during the past few decades have earned a larger percentage of the vote than Coleman, such as Walter Mondale in 2002 (47.3 percent), Mark Dayton in 1982 (46.6 percent), Ann Wynia in 1994 (44.1 percent), and Rod Grams in 2000 (43.3 percent).

In other words, while the closeness of the 2008 election made the loss more difficult to swallow for Coleman supporters, there were, proportionally, more disappointed voters in several other Senate contests in Minnesota history.

Largest Percentage of the Vote Received by 2nd Place Candidates in Minnesota U.S. Senate Elections, 1912-2008

Rank
Year
Candidate
Party
Percent
1
1990
Rudy Boschwitz
Republican
47.8
2
2002
Walter Mondale
DFL
47.3
3
1982
Mark Dayton
DFL
46.6
3
1958
Edward J. Thye
Republican
46.6
5
1924
Magnus Johnson
Farmer-Labor
45.5
6
1966
Robert A. Forsythe
Republican
45.2
7
1994
Ann Wynia
DFL
44.1
8
2000
Rod Grams
Republican
43.3
9
1972
Phil Hansen
Republican
42.9
10
1952
William E. Carlson
DFL
42.5
11
1960
P. Kenneth Peterson
Republican
42.2
12
1954
Val Bjornson
Republican
42.1
13
2008
Norm Coleman
Republican
42.0
14
1970
Clark MacGregor
Republican
41.6
15
1996
Rudy Boschwitz
Republican
41.3
15
1984
Joan Anderson Growe
DFL
41.3
17
1988
Hubert H. Humphrey II
DFL
40.9
18
1978
Wendell Anderson
DFL
40.4
19
1918
Willis G. Calderwood
National
40.0
20
1948
Joseph H. Ball
Republican
39.8
20
1946
Theodore Jorgensen
DFL
39.8
22
1964
Wheelock Whitney
Republican
39.3
23
1923*
Jacob Aall Ottesen Preus
Republican
38.7
24
2006
Mark Kennedy
Republican
37.9
25
1936
Theodore Christianson
Republican
37.8
26
1912
Daniel William Lawler
Democrat
37.2
27
1930
Einar Hoidale
Democrat
36.1
28
1922
Frank B. Kellogg
Republican
35.0
29
1978*
Bob Short
DFL
34.6
30
1928
Arthur E. Nelson
Republican
33.7
31
1916
Daniel W. Lawler
Democrat
30.8
32
1934
Einar Hoidale
Democrat
29.2
33
1936*
N.J. Holmberg
Independent
28.4
34
1942
Elmer A. Benson
Farmer-Labor
28.2
35
1942*
Al Hansen
Farmer-Labor
26.7
36
1940
Elmer A. Benson
Farmer-Labor
25.7
37
1976
Jerry Brekke
Republican
25.0
* Denotes special election contest. Data compiled by Smart Politics.

Of course, the performance of Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley had a major impact on the 2008 Senate election.

Barkley's 15.2 percent is the largest percentage a third-party candidate has received in a Gopher State Senatorial contest since the DFL merger in 1944. In fact, it more than doubles the previous post-merger record (Barkley's 7.0 percent on the Reform ticket in 1996).

Overall, however, Barkley's performance is just the 15th best from a third-party candidate in Minnesota Senate elections. In addition to 10 Farmer-Laborite candidacies, Barkley's 2008 mark was bested by Willis G. Calderwood twice (40.0 percent in 1918 on the National ticket, and 20.6 percent in 1916 on the Prohibition ticket), Independent candidate N.J. Holmberg in 1936 (28.4 percent), and Independent Progressive candidate Andrew O. Devold in 1936 (20.0 percent).

In total, 31 third-party candidates have earned at least 1 percent of the vote in Minnesota U.S. Senate elections since 1912.

Largest Third-Party Vote Percentage in Minnesota U.S. Senate Elections, 1912-2008

Rank
Year
Candidate
Party
Percent
1
1928
Henrik Shipstead
Farmer-Labor
65.4
2
1936
Ernest Lundeen
Farmer-Labor
62.2
3
1923*
Magnus Johnson
Farmer-Labor
57.5
4
1934
Henrik Shipstead
Farmer-Labor
49.9
5
1922
Henrik Shipstead
Farmer-Labor
47.1
6
1924
Magnus Johnson
Farmer-Labor
45.5
7
1918
Willis G. Calderwood
National
40.0
8
1936*
N. J. Holmberg
Independent
28.4
9
1942
Elmer A. Benson
Farmer-Labor
28.2
10
1942*
Al Hansen
Farmer-Labor
26.7
11
1940
Elmer A. Benson
Farmer-Labor
25.7
12
1930
Ernest Lundeen
Farmer-Labor
22.9
13
1916
Willis G. Calderwood
Prohibition
20.6
14
1936*
Andrew O. Devold
Independent Progressive
20.0
15
2008
Dean Barkley
Independence
15.2
16
1942
Martin A. Nelson
Independent
14.4
17
1936*
John G. Alexander
Independent
8.7
18
1996
Dean Barkley
Reform
7.0
19
1976
Paul Helm
American
6.6
20
2000
James Gibson
Independence
5.8
21
1994
Dean Barkley
Independence
5.4
22
2006
Robert Fitzgerald
Independence
3.2
23
1978*
Paul Helm
American
2.9
24
1930
Charles A. Lund
Independent
2.6
25
1988
Polly Mann
Progressive Issues
2.1
26
2002
Jim Moore
Independence
2.0
27
1990
Russell B. Bentley
Grassroots
1.7
28
1978
Sal Carlone
American
1.5
29
1946
Grace Carlson
Revolutionary Workers Party
1.3
30
1954
Francis Patrick Ryan
Liberal Independent
1.1
31
1924
Merle Birmingham
Beer-Wine Independent
1.0
* Denotes special election contest. Data compiled by Smart Politics.

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