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Will Minnesota Have the Most Competitive Gubernatorial Race in the Nation for the 2nd Consecutive Election Cycle?

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Gopher State could follow the nation's closest gubernatorial race in 2006 and closest Senate race in 2008 with another nail-biter in 2010

The release of a new SurveyUSA poll late last week provides more evidence that the Minnesota gubernatorial race may go down to the wire once again in 2010.

That poll found Republican endorsee Tom Emmer leading (Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Matt Entenza) or trailing (Mark Dayton) each DFL hopeful within the margin of error - with no candidate receiving 40 percent of the vote. (Approximately 1 in 5 Minnesotans are still undecided).

Independence Party endorsee Tom Horner received 12 percent in all three matchup polls against Emmer and each DFLer.

Back in 2006, Minnesota's gubernatorial election between Tim Pawlenty, Mike Hatch, and Peter Hutchinson was the most narrowly decided among the 36 such contests that year - with Pawlenty winning by just 1 point.

In 2008, the Gopher State was famously home to the most closely contested (and expensive) U.S. Senate race in the country, with Al Franken nipping Norm Coleman by a few hundred votes in a race that took more than seven months to decide through a recount and various court challenges.

And now the political stars seem to be aligning once again in 2010 for Minnesota to be the center of attention on Election Day: (national) momentum towards the GOP in a Democratic-leaning state mixed with a strong third party candidacy is a prescription for a late night watching returns come in.

But will Minnesota be the most competitive gubernatorial race across the country this year?

If it does, it would be quite a rarity.

A Smart Politics analysis of more than 900 gubernatorial elections across six decades finds that if Minnesota notches the most competitive race again in 2010, it will be the first state to do so in nearly 60 years.

All but five states (Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia) hold their gubernatorial elections in even-numbered years, with the majority of these states conducting such elections every four years.

Since the end of World War II, only one of these 45 states has had the nation's most competitive gubernatorial race in back-to-back elections for that state: Michigan (1950, 1952).

In 1950 and 1952, Democrat Soapy Williams of Michigan won the 2nd and 3rd of his six terms in office, by a combined 0.36 percent.

In 1950, Williams edged out his Republican opponent Harry Kelly by just 1,154 votes out of nearly 1.9 million cast, or a victory margin of 0.06 percent. Two years later, Williams defeated GOPer Frederick Alger by 8,618 votes out of nearly 2.9 million votes cast (0.30 percent).

So what are the odds Minnesota's race will be the most competitive across the country once again in 2010?

Early polls find the Gopher State among a handful around the country with likely major party nominees unable to command a lead outside of the poll's margin of error, including California, Maryland, Connecticut, Colorado, Ohio, Georgia, New Mexico, and Michigan.

Contests in Maine, Oregon, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Florida - all with GOPers holding single-digit advantages - could tighten as well.

Minnesota has already notched one other closest-in-the-nation gubernatorial race since World War II with the fabled 1962 contest (and subsequent recount) between Democratic challenger Karl Rolvaag and Republican incumbent Elmer Andersen.

Rolvaag (pictured) won by just 91 votes (0.00 percent) - the narrowest margin of victory of the 35 gubernatorial contests on the ballot that year.

Most Competitive Gubernatorial Elections in Even-Numbered Years, 1946-2008

Year
State
MoV
2008
North Carolina
3.4
2006
Minnesota
1.0
2004
Washington
0.0
2002
Alabama
0.2
2000
Missouri
0.9
1998
Colorado
0.6
1996
West Virginia
5.8
1994
Alaska
0.3
1992
Montana
2.7
1990
Arizona
0.4
1988
Rhode Island
1.7
1986
Idaho
0.9
1984
Vermont
1.6
1982
Illinois
0.1
1980
Arkansas
3.9
1978
Texas
0.7
1976
Missouri
0.7
1974
Alaska
0.3
1972
Illinois
1.7
1970
Maine
0.3
1968
New Mexico
0.9
1966
Georgia
0.3
1964
Massachusetts
1.0
1962
Minnesota
0.0
1960
New Mexico
0.7
1958
Nebraska
0.4
1956
Rhode Island
0.2
1954
New York
0.2
1952
Michigan
0.3
1950
Michigan
0.1
1948
Connecticut
0.3
1946
Ohio
1.8
Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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73 Months and Counting

January's preliminary Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show Minnesota's unemployment rate of 3.7 percent was once again lower than Wisconsin's 5.0 percent. That marks the 73rd consecutive month in which Minnesota has boasted a lower jobless rate than its neighbor to the east dating back to January 2009 including each of the last 67 months by at least one point. The Gopher State has now edged Wisconsin in the employment border battle for 204 of the last 216 months dating back to February 1997. Wisconsin only managed a lower unemployment rate than Minnesota for the 12 months of 2008 during this 18-year span.


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