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How Many Minnesota House 'Swing Districts' Will Return to the GOP in 2010?

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This week Smart Politics has issued two reports profiling the battle for the Minnesota House in 2010, first by documenting the barriers the GOP faces to cut into the the DFL's 40-seat advantage, and then by highlighting the 94 'stronghold' districts where the DFL and GOP have remained undefeated respectively since redistricting in 2002.

In the third part of the series, Smart Politics shines a light on the 40 'swing districts' across the Gopher State - those house districts that have been won by both Republicans and DFLers during the last four election cycles.

While recent electoral history suggests the momentum is all with the DFL, new House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers will be tested early - as recruiting strong GOP candidates in these 40 districts is of paramount importance if Republicans hope to get a meaningful seat at the table in 2011.

The DFL currently controls 35 of these 40 swing districts - all but District 28A in Red Wing (Tim Kelly), 31B in La Crescent (Gregory Davids), 37A in Apple Valley (Tara Mack), 51A in Blaine (Tim Sanders), and 52B in Stillwater (Matt Dean). Republicans won all 40 of these districts back in the 2002 general election, but then just 26 in 2004, 7 in 2006, and 5 in 2008.

Overall, the DFL has won 83 of these swing districts in special and general election matchups since 2002, compared to 80 victories for the Republicans.

But the DFL has not simply been picking off these swing districts in competitive races during the last few election cycles. Instead, there has been a gradual buildup in momentum towards the DFL in a significant number of these districts.

For example, the DFL has improved its standing in 24 of these 40 districts in every general election contest since 2002 - by either reducing its margin of loss or increasing its margin of victory in each subsequent election. The DFL now controls all of these 24 swing districts.

DFL Margin of Victory or Loss in 24 Minnesota House Swing Districts, 2002-2008

District
Area
State Rep.
'02
'04
'06
'08
02B
Park Rapids
Brita Sailer
-2.9
1.7
8.0
8.3
12A
Brainerd
John Ward
-13.7
-3.6
9.3
30.0
14B
St. Joseph
Larry Hosch
-33.8
4.1
14.7
34.3
16A
Princeton
Gail K. Jackson
-18.3
-8.6
-2.7
0.4
17B
North Branch
Jeremy Kalin
-16.0
-8.2
1.1
6.6
23A
North Mankato
Terry Morrow
-7.4
3.6
4.8
27.3
26B
Faribault
Patti Fritz
-4.6
2.0
3.9
15.6
27B
Austin
Jeanne Poppe
-2.5
3.3
12.8
32.1
29B
Rochester
Kim Norton
-35.3
-1.6
0.6
23.2
30A
Rochester
Tina Liebling
-6.6
1.7
5.7
23.8
30B
Plainview
Andy Welti
-41.8
2.6
3.8
11.2
38A
Eagan
Sandra Masin
-16.5
-7.5
0.4
5.0
38B
Eagan
Mike Obermueller
-18.9
-7.5
-1.0
2.5
40A
Burnsville
Will Morgan
-22.3
-2.3
6.5
12.0
41B
Bloomington
Paul Rosenthal
-27.5
-21.0
-6.8
5.6
42A
Minnetonka
Maria Ruud
-18.3
1.1
10.1
16.6
43B
Minnetonka
John Benson
-20.6
-4.7
7.9
11.2
45A
New Hope
Sandra Peterson
-11.1
3.9
14.7
17.4
47A
Champlin
Denise Dittrich
-22.2
4.3
8.0
18.9
49B
Coon Rapids
Jerry Newton
-15.8
-12.4
-8.8
13.4
50B
New Brighton
Kate Knuth
-10.6
-3.9
7.5
13.1
53A
Shoreview
Paul Gardner
-15.0
-8.6
0.3
4.7
54B
Vadnais Heights
Bev Scalze
-1.8
4.1
7.3
22.5
56B
Woodbury
Marsha Swails
-18.7
-9.2
2.3
10.1
Note: Data compiled by Smart Politics.

But despite the DFL steamroller gradually flattening its Republican competition through these swing districts, many are still ripe for the picking for the GOP in 2010, particularly if the party can catch a pro-Republican national tailwind or ride a successful GOP gubernatorial candidacy along the way.

Twenty-four of the 40 swing districts still have a net average margin of victory for the Republicans, when taking the long view across all four election cycles since 2002.

In fact, Republicans hold a net double-digit margin of victory advantage in four districts currently held by the DFL: District 37B in Apple Valley (Phillip Sterner, 38.9 points), 41B in Bloomington (Paul Rosenthal, 12.4 points), 26A in Owatonna (Kory Kath, 11.5 points), and 01A in Thief River Falls (Dave Olin, 10.8 points).

The most interesting case is Representative Sterner, who won his open seat in 2008 by 5.2 points against Republican Judy Lindsay, just one election cycle removed after GOPer Dennis Ozment ran uncontested on his way to a 96.9-point victory. Ozment had also won the district by 29.5 points in 2004 and 34.4 points in 2002.

Representative Sterner has already demonstrated a decidedly measured voting record in the House. For example, in February, Sterner was the lone DFLer to vote with the Republican caucus on the House State and Local Government Reform, Technology and Elections Committee, when the DFLers voted down Republican Tom Emmer and Mary Kiffmeyer's "Voter Integrity Act of 2009" by a vote of 11 to 8. The bill would have required residents to show a valid state-issued ID before voting.

Representative Rosenthal is another high profile target for the Republicans. Rosenthal was able to take advantage of the open District 41B seat after Override 6 alumnus Neil Peterson was denied his party's endorsement last year. Republicans had won the conservative Bloomington district by 27.5 points in 2002 and 21.0 points in 2004. Rosenthal then turned a 6.8-point loss against Peterson in 2006 to a 5.6-point victory over Jan Schneider in 2008.

Rosenthal's voting record has not gone unnoticed by the GOP leadership. Back in February, former House Minority Leader Marty Siefert characterized Rosenthal's early voting record in the House thusly:

"You can just take Paul Rosenthal's button with the Republicans and just put a paper clip in it and send him back to Bloomington. He's just going to vote with us on everything because he can, not because he necessarily believes it's the right thing or wrong thing."

Minnesota House Swing Districts with a Net GOP Margin of Victory Advantage, 2002-2008

Rank
District
Area
State Rep.
Party
MoV
1
37B*
Apple Valley
Phillip Sterner
DFL
38.9
2
41B
Bloomington
Paul Rosenthal
DFL
12.4
3
26A
Owatonna
Kory Kath
DFL
11.5
4
01A
Thief River Falls
Dave Olin
DFL
10.8
5
40A
Burnsville
Will Morgan
DFL
8.8
6
37A
Apple Valley
Tara Mack
GOP
8.4
7
16A
Princeton
Gail Kulich Jackson
DFL
7.3
8
38B
Eagan
Mike Obermueller
DFL
6.2
9
30B
Plainview
Andy Welti
DFL
6.1
10
49B
Coon Rapids
Jerry Newton
DFL
5.9
11
12B
Little Falls
Al Doty
DFL
5.6
12
28A
Red Wing
Tim Kelly
GOP
5.5
13
52B
Stillwater
Matt Dean
GOP
5.0
14
53A
Shoreview
Paul Gardner
DFL
4.7
15
38A
Eagan
Sandra Masin
DFL
4.6
16
51A
Blaine
Tim Sanders
GOP
4.6
17
17B
North Branch
Jeremy Kalin
DFL
4.1
18
27A
Albert Lea
Robin Brown
DFL
4.1
19
56B
Woodbury
Marsha Swails
DFL
3.9
20
31B
La Crescent
Gregory Davids
GOP
3.4
21
29B
Rochester
Kim Norton
DFL
3.3
22
43B
Minnetonka
John Benson
DFL
1.5
23
47A
Champlin
Denise Dittrich
DFL
1.3
24
56A
Woodbury
Julie Bunn
DFL
0.7
* Republican candidate unchallenged in 2006. Data compiled by Smart Politics.

As for the DFL, they have built a net average margin of victory in just 16 of the 40 districts since 2002, and only two by double-digit margins - District 44A in St. Louis Park (Steve Simon, 21.9 points) and 27B in Austin (Jeanne Poppe, 11.4 points).

Minnesota House Swing Districts with a Net DFL Margin of Victory Advantage, 2002-2008

Rank
District
Area
State Rep.
MoV
1
44A
St. Louis Park
Steve Simon
21.9
2
27B
Austin
Jeanne Poppe
11.4
3
04A
Bemidji
John Persell
9.2
4
54B
Vadnais Heights
Bev Scalze
8.0
5
23A
North Mankato
Terry Morrow
7.1
6
45A
New Hope
Sandra Peterson
6.2
7
30A
Rochester
Tina Liebling
6.2
8
12A
Brainerd
John Ward
5.5
9
14B
St. Joseph
Larry Hosch
4.8
10
26B
Faribault
Patti Fritz
4.2
11
47B
Brooklyn Park
Melissa Hortman
3.8
12
02B
Park Rapids
Brita Sailer
3.8
13
42A
Minnetonka
Maria Ruud
2.4
14
50B
New Brighton
Kate Knuth
1.5
15
25B
Northfield
David Bly
1.1
16
08B
Mora
Tim Faust
0.2
Note: Data compiled by Smart Politics.

However, even though the DFL only netted two seats in the House in 2008, they amassed an impressive number of decisive victories in the state's swing districts.

In fact, the DFL won half of these 40 swing districts by double-digit margins last November, including eight by more than 22 points.

DFL Margin of Victory in Minnesota House Swing Districts, 2008

District
Area
State Rep.
MoV
44A
St. Louis Park
Steve Simon
37.3
14B
St. Joseph
Larry Hosch
34.3
27B
Austin
Jeanne Poppe
32.1
12A
Brainerd
John Ward
30.0
23A
North Mankato
Terry Morrow
27.3
30A
Rochester
Tina Liebling
23.8
29B
Rochester
Kim Norton
23.2
54B
Vadnais Heights
Bev Scalze
22.5
47A
Champlin
Denise Dittrich
18.9
45A
New Hope
Sandra Peterson
17.4
42A
Minnetonka
Maria Ruud
16.6
26B
Faribault
Patti Fritz
15.6
27A
Albert Lea
Robin Brown
15.4
26A
Owatonna
Kory Kath
13.9
49B
Coon Rapids
Jerry Newton
13.4
50B
New Brighton
Kate Knuth
13.1
40A
Burnsville
Will Morgan
12.0
43B
Minnetonka
John Benson
11.2
30B
Plainview
Andy Welti
11.2
56B
Woodbury
Marsha Swails
10.1
47B
Brooklyn Park
Melissa Hortman
9.7
02B
Park Rapids
Brita Sailer
8.3
04A
Bemidji
John Persell
8.1
25B
Northfield
David Bly
6.8
17B
North Branch
Jeremy Kalin
6.6
56A
Woodbury
Julie Bunn
5.6
41B
Bloomington
Paul Rosenthal
5.6
37B
Apple Valley
Phillip Sterner
5.2
01A
Thief River Falls
Dave Olin
5.0
38A
Eagan
Sandra Masin
5.0
53A
Shoreview
Paul Gardner
4.7
38B
Eagan
Mike Obermueller
2.5
08B
Mora
Tim Faust
1.5
16A
Princeton
Gail Kulich Jackson
0.4
12B
Little Falls
Al Doty
0.4
Note: Data compiled by Smart Politics.

As for the five Republicans who still control Minnesota House swing districts, Matt Dean won his District 52B race by 11.3 points in 2008, Tara Mack (37A) and Tim Sanders (51A) each won by 4.6 points, Tim Kelly (28A) won by 3.8 points, and Gregory Davids (31B) won by 2.1 points.

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Previous post: Obama Approval Rating Holds in Minnesota, Plummets in Iowa and Wisconsin
Next post: A Profile of Minnesota's Swing and Stronghold State Senate Districts

1 Comment


  • just remember the name UTZ. You may need to rewrite this swing district story.

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