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Will Republicans Win Murphy's Open 28th Senate District Seat?

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Retirement of Senator Steve Murphy Puts DFL Seat in play again for the GOP in '10

Five-term DFL Senator Steve Murphy's announcement last week that he would not seek reelection in the fall puts in serious jeopardy the DFL's ability to hold a blue seat it has held in red territory for a generation.

A Smart Politics analysis of the statewide and district races conducted since redistricting in 2002 finds Murphy's 28th Senate District is not only Republican-leaning in and of itself, but it is decidedly more so than the Gopher State as a whole. GOP candidates have enjoyed a higher margin of victory in the 28th SD (or a lower margin of loss) in 23 of 23 statewide and district races over the last four election cycles.

SD28 may appear on the surface to be a bona fide 'battleground' district, as it was carried by Barack Obama in 2008, by DFLers Mike Hatch (2002) and Lori Swanson (2006) in their respective races for Attorney General, by Rebecca Otto for State Auditor in 2006, and by Amy Klobuchar for U.S. Senate in 2006. The district also registered more DFL than GOP votes for U.S. Representative in 2008 (the 28th is situated in the 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts).

The GOP, meanwhile, carried the district in the 2004 Presidential race, the 2002 and 2006 gubernatorial contests, the 2002 and 2006 Secretary of State elections, the 2002 and 2008 U.S. Senate races, and the 2002 election for State Auditor.

Republicans have also won 8 of 9 general and special election races for State Representative in the district since 2002, capturing 56.8 percent of all votes for State Representative during this span, compared to 43.1 percent for DFLers. (Buoyed, in part, by former Senator Steve Sviggum's gaudy margin of victories in 2002, 2004, and 2006).

Even with an incumbency advantage, Senator Murphy himself had to struggle with fairly competitive matchups in his successful bids for 4th and 5th terms. Murphy won by just 4.9 points over Gary Iocco in 2002 and by 9.0 points over eventual GOP HD 28B Representative Steve Drazkowski during the first Democratic tsunami year of 2006.

Moreover, Republicans have consistently fared much better in the 28th than they have statewide across all offices:

· In presidential races, George W. Bush performed +6.6 points better against John Kerry in the 28th district than he did statewide. And while McCain lost the district in 2008, he performed 8.5 points better than his statewide margin of loss.

· In U.S. Senate contests, Republican Norm Coleman's margin of victory in the 28th was 2.9 points larger in 2002 than his statewide victory and 4.5 points better in his 2008 loss. In 2006, GOPer Mark Kennedy lost the 28th district by 5.4 fewer points than he did the Gopher State overall.

· In gubernatorial contests, Tim Pawlenty carried the district in both 2002 and 2006, and performed 8.3 points better against the DFL than his statewide margin in 2002 and 7.1 points better in 2006.

· Likewise, GOP candidates for Secretary of State (+2.6, +7.6), Attorney General (+5.2, +5.5), and State Auditor (+2.4, +5.3) turned in stronger performances against their DFL opponents in the 28th than they did statewide in 2002 and 2006 respectively.

· In general election matchups for State Representative (in HD 28A and 28B), GOP candidates enjoyed significantly better margins against their DFL rivals in SD 28 than they did statewide: +22.0 collectively in 2002, +22.5 in 2004, +19.7 in 2006, and +18.0 in 2008.

· In U.S. House elections, the collective margin of votes for GOP candidates vis-à-vis their Democratic opponents was +17.2 points better in the 28th than statewide in 2002, +22.6 in 2004, +16.5 in 2006, and +13.3 in 2008.

In short, any momentum picked up by the Republican Party in the Gopher State in 2010 should highlight even more strongly the GOP advantage in the 28th SD.

One-term GOP Red Wing Mayor John Howe is currently viewed as the likely GOP nominee for Murphy's open seat.

GOP - DFL Differential by Office in Minnesota Senate District 28 vs. Statewide Margin

Office
2002
2004
2006
2008
President
 
+6.6
 
+8.5
US Senate
+2.9
 
+5.4
+4.5
Governor
+8.3
 
+7.1
 
Secretary of State
+2.6
 
+7.6
 
Attorney General
+5.2
 
+5.5
 
Auditor
+2.4
 
+5.3
 
US Representative*
+17.2
+22.6
+16.5
+13.3
State Senator
+1.3
 
+4.0
 
State Representative**
+22.0
+22.5
+19.7
+18.0
Data compiled by Smart Politics. * Combines votes in 28th SD for 1st CD and 2nd CD races.** Combines votes in 28th SD for HD 28A and HD 28B. Differential in legislative races determined by using the statewide averages across all candidates for such offices.

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Political Crumbs

Small Club in St. Paul

Mark Dayton is one of just three Minnesotans ever elected to three different statewide offices. Dayton, of course, had previously served as State Auditor (1991-1995) and U.S. Senator (2001-2007) before winning the governorship in 2010. At that time, he joined Republicans Edward Thye and J.A.A. Burnquist on this very short list. Burnquist was elected governor in 1914 but then became governor after the death of Democrat Winfield Hammond in 1915. He then won the gubernatorial elections of 1916 and 1918 and eight terms as attorney general two decades later (1939-1955). Thye was similarly first elected lieutenant governor of the Gopher State and became governor after the resignation of fellow GOPer Harold Stasson in 1943. Thye won one additional full term as governor in 1944 and then two terms to the U.S. Senate (1947-1959). Twenty Minnesotans have been elected to two different statewide offices.


Respect Your Elders?

With retirement announcements this year by veteran U.S. Representatives such as 30-term Democrat John Dingell of Michigan, 20-term Democrat George Miller of California, and 18-term Republican Tom Petri of Wisconsin, it is no surprise that retirees from the 113th Congress are one of the most experienced cohorts in recent decades. Overall, these 24 exiting members of the House have served an average of 11.0 terms - the second longest tenure among retirees across the last 18 cycles since 1980. Only the U.S. Representatives retiring in 2006 had more experience, averaging 11.9 terms. (In that cycle, 10 of the 11 retiring members served at least 10 terms, with GOPer Bill Jenkins of Tennessee the lone exception at just five). Even without the aforementioned Dingell, the average length of service in the chamber of the remaining 23 retirees in 2014 is 10.2 terms - which would still be the third highest since 1980 behind the 2006 and 2012 (10.5 terms) cycles.


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