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Otremba Retirement Inches GOP Closer Towards Goal of House Takeover

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Republican presidential and gubernatorial candidates have won the conservative House District 11B by double-digit margins since 2002

When 7-term DFL State Representative Mary Ellen Otremba (HD 11B-Long Prairie) announced on Wednesday that she was retiring from the House of Representatives at the end of this term, the eyes of Minority Leader Kurt Zellers and the Republican Party of Minnesota got just a little bit bigger.

When Zellers took the reins from Marty Seifert in June of last year - well before the approval ratings of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party began to plunge - he spoke plainly of his goal to take back the House for the GOP in 2010.

Facing an 87-47 seat deficit and thus needing to net 21 seats is, of course, a tall order for Zellers.

The GOP has netted that many seats only one time since legislators resumed being elected on partisan ballots in the 1974 election cycle (in 1978, Republicans netted 32 seats and erased a 99-35 seat deficit into a 67-67 tie).

Even during the Republican Revolution of 1994, in which the DFL held a more similar partisan advantage heading into election day as they do today at 84-50, the GOP netted just 13 seats, bringing their deficit to eight seats at 71-63.

But now with Otremba's departure, two of the 18 seats won by the DFL in 2008 by less than 10 points are now open: Otremba's 4.9 victory in 2008 was the 7th narrowest DFL victory, while Jeremy Kalin's (DFL-North Branch) 6.6-point victory in HD 17B was the 13th narrowest DFL win.

On the Republican side, only 1 of the 15 districts won by the GOP by less than 10 points is currently open (Rob Eastlund of HD 17A-Cambridge, who carried his district by 9.6 points in 2008).

More retirements could come, although 2010 retirements so far are down for the House compared to 2006 and 2008.

But Otremba's retirement gives the Republicans another glimmer of hope, and makes the campaign of the GOP-endorsed Mary Franson from Alexandria a bit easier in a conservative House district that has been trending Republican in state House contests.

Despite the advantage of the Democratic tsunami, Representative Otremba faced the tightest general election campaign of her career in 2008, winning by just 4.9 points over Dave Kircher.

After winning the special election contest to fill the seat of her deceased husband Ken Otremba in 1997, Mary Ellen Otremba won reelection by 33.3 points in 1998, 33.9 points in 2000, 20.0 points after redistricting in 2002, 23.3 points in 2004, and 21.3 points in 2006.

Moreover, a Smart Politics analysis of statewide and district elections since redistricting in 2002 finds the voters in HD 11B to have demonstrated a significant GOP tilt vis-à-vis the performance of Republicans statewide.

Republican candidates for president, governor, and US Senate fared better in HD 17B by double-digit margins than they did statewide in every such contest since 2002.

· George W. Bush and John McCain each thoroughly dominated HD 11B, carrying the districts by 18.0 points in 2004 and 11.9 points in 2008 respectively. Those margins were 21.5 points and 22.1 points better than these GOP candidates did throughout the Gopher State.

· Tim Pawlenty also breezed through HD 11B in both of his election bids - by 22.0 points in 2002 and 14.3 points in 2006. Both exceeded by double digits his statewide margin of victory: by 14.1 points in '02 and 13.3 points in '06.

· The GOP tilt in 11B was also demonstrated across elections for the other three constitutional offices in Minnesota, with a larger margin of victory in the district (or narrower margin of loss) than the statewide performance for all offices in both the 2002 and 2006 election cycles: for Secretary of State (+8.8 in 2002, +17.6 in 2006), Auditor (+3.9 in 2002, +13.9 in 2006), and Attorney General (+5.1 in 2002, +11.8 in 2006).

· In US Senate contests, Norm Coleman carried 11B in both 2002 (by 13.6 points) and 2008 (by 14.2 points), or an average of 11.9 and 14.2 points better than he did statewide respectively. And while Amy Klobuchar carried the district in 2006, she did so by 13.6 fewer points (6.6) than her statewide victory margin (20.2).

· In US House races, HD 11B sits in Collin Peterson's 7th Congressional District. Peterson usually carried HD 11B by narrower margins than his 30.6, 32.2, 40.7, and 44.5-point victories across the 7th Congressional District from 2002 through 2008. In 2002, Peterson won by a slightly higher amount in 11B (31.4 points), but won by 2.1 points fewer in 2004 (30.1 points), 9.3 points fewer in 2006 31.4 points) and 6.0 points fewer in 2008 (38.5 points).

And as for Otremba's state House contests, her margin of victory vis-à-vis the DFL's performance in State House races statewide has declined in each election cycle since redistricting.

Otremba performed 21.3 points better than the DFL statewide average in 2002, followed by 18.9 points better in 2004, 10.8 points better in 2006, and 6.2 points worse in 2008.

GOP Tilt in Minnesota HD 11B in Statewide and District Elections by Office, 2002-2008

Office
2002
2004
2006
2008
Average
President
 
+21.5
 
+22.1
+21.8
Governor
+14.1
 
+13.3
 
+13.7
US Senate
+11.9
 
+13.6
+14.2
+13.2
Secretary of State
+8.8
 
+17.6
 
+13.2
Auditor
+3.9
 
+13.9
 
+8.9
Attorney General
+5.1
 
+11.8
 
+8.5
US House*
-0.8
+2.1
+9.3
+6.0
+4.2
State Senate
-18.7
 
+10.6
 
-4.1
State House
-21.3
-18.9
-10.8
+6.2
-11.2
Data reflects the difference between the margin of victory (or margin of loss) for Republican candidates in HD 11B and statewide totals. * For U.S. House contests, the difference is reflected against the district-wide 7th CD margin. ** For State House and State Senate races, the difference is tabulated against the total statewide margins for all 134 and 67 districts respectively. Election data compiled by Smart Politics.

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