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100 Years of Minnesota Republican Gubernatorial Primaries

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Gopher State Republicans have not had a competitive gubernatorial primary since 1924

kurtzellers10.jpgDespite surviving a narrow plurality victory in 2010, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, like his fellow 2014 DFL ballot-mate Senator Al Franken, has become another quiet consensus favorite to win reelection among Washington's top prognosticators.

These political odds makers have not stopped four Minnesota Republicans from entering the race, however, with businessman Scott Honour, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, State Representative Kurt Zellers (pictured), and State Senator Dave Thompson all battling for the GOP nomination.

Whether or not the party will rally around a single candidate remains to be seen, although history suggests at least two Republicans will stick around until Primary Day.

In only four of the 38 GOP gubernatorial primaries held over the last 100 years has a GOP nominee gone unchallenged: in 1954 with C. Elmer Anderson, in 1960 and 1962 with Elmer Andersen, and in 1974 with John Johnson.

Crowning their candidate early has not exactly been successful for the Republican Party - with three of these four nominees losing the general election: Anderson in 1954, Andersen in 1962, and Johnson in 1974.

But would a competitive primary help the eventual GOP nominee?

That's hard to say, because Republicans have not had a competitive primary in a gubernatorial race in nearly 90 years.

A recent Smart Politics report examined the history of Minnesota U.S. Senate Republican primaries and observed that the party's 2012 contest - decided by 15 points - was its most competitive in over 75 years.

The same cannot be said for the most recent GOP gubernatorial primary in 2010.

After Marty Seifert abided by the party's endorsement of Tom Emmer and dropped out of the race, Emmer cruised to a 75-point win in a four-candidate field among lesser known Republicans.

The GOP has not had a gubernatorial primary decided by 15 points or fewer - let alone single digits - since 1924 when incumbent J.A.O. Preus opted not to run for a third term.

Preus' decision yielded an extremely competitive six-candidate field in which the winner, Theodore Christianson, carried only 22.8 percent of the vote - narrowly beating Ole Jacobson by 2.8 points.

George Leach was only 3.8 points back with 19 percent while Curtis Johnson was 4.5 points behind at 18.7 percent.

A fifth candidate also reached double digits - Julius Schmahl with 10.7 percent - followed by frequent candidate Franklin Ellsworth (in the third of his four gubernatorial campaigns) with 9.1 percent.

Since 1924, however, there has been little drama on primary day on the Republican side of the ballot.

The average victory margin has been 62.2 points across these 31 contests with only five races decided by less than 20 points:

· In 1930, Ray Chase defeated former governor J.A.A. Burnquist by 19.7 points in a six-candidate field.

· In 1938, Harold Stassen defeated Martin Nelson by 18.0 points in a four-candidate field.

· In 1942, incumbent Governor Stassen defeated Nelson again by 18.5 points in a three-candidate field.

· In 1948, incumbent Governor Luther Youngdahl defeated Stafford King by 18.0 points in a six-candidate field.

· In 1990, Jon Grunseth defeated Arne Carlson by 17.8 points in a six-candidate field. (Carlson would become the party's eventual nominee and win the general election after a scandal befell Grunseth who exited the race shortly before the election).

Overall, since 1912, the victorious GOP gubernatorial primary candidate has carried 73.6 percent of the vote and won by an average margin of 53.9 points.

Only once during this 100-year span has a sitting GOP governor lost a primary race: Adolph Eberhart was defeated by progressive Republican William Lee by 8.4 points in 1914.

Minnesota is one of two-dozen states to never have had a woman serve as governor, and female candidates have struggled to date in Republican gubernatorial primaries with all but two coming in last place:

· In 1952, Mrs. Peder Schmidt placed fourth out of six candidates with 0.8 percent.

· In 1966, Lorna Tarnowski placed last out of two candidates with 2.1 percent.

· In 1970, Tarnowski placed last out of four candidates with 1.6 percent.

· In 1986, Beatrice Mooney placed last out of five candidates with 1.9 percent.

· In 1990, Mary Jane Rachner placed fourth out of six candidates with 0.9 percent.

· In 1990, Mooney placed last out of six candidates with 0.5 percent.

· In 2006, Sue Jeffers placed last out of two candidates with 11.1 percent.

While there is currently no woman in the Republican gubernatorial field, State Senator Julie Rosen has been mulling a bid in recent weeks.

Minnesota Republican Gubernatorial Primary Election Results, 1912-2010

Year
Winner
1st
2nd
3rd
4th
5th
6th
MoV
Losing candidates
2010
Tom Emmer
82.4
7.6
6.6
3.4
 
 
74.8
Bob Carney, Leslie Davis, Ole Savior
2006
Tim Pawlenty (inc)
88.9
11.1
 
 
 
 
77.8
Sue Jeffers
2002
Tim Pawlenty 
88.6
11.4
 
 
 
 
77.2
Leslie Davis
1998
Norm Coleman
91.3
8.7
 
 
 
 
82.6
Bill Dahn
1994
Arne Carlson (inc)
66.5
33.5
 
 
 
 
33.0
Allen Quist
1990
Jon Grunseth*
49.4
31.6
16.9
0.9
0.7
0.5
17.8
Arne Carlson, Doug Kelley, Mary Jane Rachner, Samuel Faulk, Beatrice Mooney
1986
Cal Ludeman
76.9
16.0
2.8
2.4
1.9
 
60.9
James Lindau, Wallace Brattrud, Douglas Williams, Beatrice Mooney
1982
Wheelock Whitney
60.1
34.2
5.8
 
 
 
25.9
Lou Wangberg, Harold Stassen
1978
Al Quie
83.6
16.4
 
 
 
 
67.1
Bob Johnson
1974
John Johnson
100.0
 
 
 
 
 
100.0
 
1970
Douglas Head
87.5
8.2
2.6
1.6
 
 
79.3
John Peterson, Paul Moshier, Mrs. Lorna Tarnowski
1966
Harold LeVander
97.9
2.1
 
 
 
 
95.9
Mrs. Lorna Tarnowski
1962
Elmer Andersen (inc)
100.0
 
 
 
 
 
100.0
 
1960
Elmer Andersen
100.0
 
 
 
 
 
100.0
 
1958
George MacKinnon
85.3
14.7
 
 
 
 
70.6
Glenn Brown
1956
Ancher Nelsen
94.4
4.1
1.5
 
 
 
90.3
Walt Werner, Paul Indykiewicz
1954
C. Elmer Anderson (inc)
100.0
 
 
 
 
 
100.0
 
1952
C. Elmer Anderson (inc)
70.4
26.2
1.6
0.8
0.5
0.5
44.2
Stafford King, J.C. Peterson, Mrs. Peder Schmidt, August Scramstad, Paul Indykiewicz
1950
Luther Youngdahl (inc)
89.8
3.9
3.0
1.8
1.5
 
85.9
Walter Olson, A.B. Gilbert, August Scramstad, John Haluska
1948
Luther Youngdahl (inc)
57.8
39.8
0.7
0.6
0.5
0.5
18.0
Stafford King, William Daley, W.J. Werner, Gene Cooper, Goldie Davis
1946
Luther Youngdahl 
64.6
33.1
2.3
 
 
 
31.5
Hjalmar Petersen, Ed. Hickenlooper
1944
Edward Thye (inc)
88.9
8.7
2.4
 
 
 
80.2
John Peterson, James Scarsdale
1942
Harold Stassen (inc)
53.3
34.8
11.9
 
 
 
18.5
Martin Nelson, John Alexander
1940
Harold Stassen (inc)
89.9
7.2
2.9
 
 
 
82.7
Ernest Jacobson, A.B. Gilbert
1938
Harold Stassen 
47.4
29.4
21.9
1.3
 
 
18.0
Martin Nelson, George Leach, Harson Northrup
1936
Martin Nelson
86.4
13.6
 
 
 
 
72.8
A.B. Gilbert
1934
Martin Nelson
73.5
10.9
8.4
7.1
 
 
62.6
A.B. Gilbert, Edgar Bernard, Knute Sandum
1932
Earle Brown
73.8
26.2
 
 
 
 
47.6
Franklin Ellsworth
1930
Ray Chase
45.8
26.1
18.8
4.0
3.1
2.2
19.7
J.A.A. Burnquist, N.J. Holmberg, Albert Lagerstedt, Paul Dehnel, Eivind Klaveness
1928
Theodore Christianson  (inc)
77.5
22.5
 
 
 
 
55.0
George Simpson
1926
Theodore Christianson  (inc)
69.8
30.2
 
 
 
 
39.6
George Leach
1924
Theodore Christianson
22.8
20.0
19.0
18.3
10.7
9.1
2.8
Ole Jacobson, George Leach, Curtis Johnson, Julius Schmahl, Franklin Ellsworth
1922
J.A.O. Preus (inc)
63.4
36.6
 
 
 
 
26.8
Franklin Ellsworth
1920
J.A.O. Preus 
43.5
41.0
8.9
2.5
2.4
1.6
2.5
Henrik Shipstead, Tom Frankson, Franklin Ellsworth, Samuel Iverson, Thomas Keefe
1918
J.A.A. Burnquist (inc)
57.0
43.0
 
 
 
 
14.0
Charles Lindbergh
1916
J.A.A. Burnquist (inc)
76.0
24.0
 
 
 
 
52.0
Samuel Iverson
1914
William Lee
52.6
44.2
3.1
 
 
 
8.4
Adolph Eberhart (inc), Elwood Raab
1912
Adolph Eberhart (inc)
38.0
24.7
18.5
7.5
7.3
4.0
13.3
William Lee, Edward Young, L.C. Spooner, Sam Gordon, Martin Falk
* Replaced on the general election ballot by Arne Carlson. Table compiled by Smart Politics with information provided by the Minnesota Secretary of State and Legislative Manuals.

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2 Comments


  • Mr. Ostermeier:

    I believe Edward C. Slettedahl opposed Gov. C. Elmer Anderson in the 1954 GOP Gubernatorial primary. Do you have any indication that he withdrew before the September 14th primary that year?

  • Yes - the 1955 Minnesota Legislative Manual lists Anderson as the only candidate in the GOP primary that cycle. There were eight candidates on the ballot for Lieutenant Governor, however.

  • Leave a comment


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