Thursday, February 27, 2014

MN-LEG: Republican Intra-Party Races

This post covers the Republican endorsement contests, both open seats and challenges to incumbents. Cross posted at Red Racing Horses with some additional commentary. To read about the results of two Republican intra-party races in 30B and 31A, click this link.

[Note: My ratings system is Safe, Likely, Lean and Tossup].

8B: Will other incumbents fall to endorsement challenges? Right now the incumbent most in danger is two-term Rep. Mary Franson, who previously grabbed national media attention for some inappropriate remarks. Franson is not facing a challenge over the very real concern that she won by one single vote in 2012 in a district Romney won with over 57% (after a recount, that victory margin expanded to 12 votes). Instead, she is facing a challenge from her right, with former Otter Tail County Republican Chairwoman Sue Nelson (who resigned to run) attacking Franson on support for industrial hemp and the Kelly amendment to the gay marriage bill that would have labeled all marriages as civil unions.

The endorsing convention has not yet been scheduled but is slated for sometime in April. I rate this race a Tossup, Tilt Nelson.

12A: On paper, this western Minnesota seat held by Rep. Jay McNamar (DFL) is winnable for Republicans. Romney took 51.5% of the vote here in 2012, and state Senator Torrey Westrom won 60.8% of the vote (Westrom is now running for MN-07). However, Collin Peterson crushed with 65% in this district, and McNamar edged out his Republican opponent by just over 1% in a three-way race.

Two Republicans have announced bids. One is former Browns Valley (pop. 570) Mayor Jeff Backer, who previously ran for state Senate in 2010. The other candidate is Nancy Taffe of Morris (pop. over 5200). Like with many outstate districts, I do not have a sense of who has an edge in this race. On social media it looks like Backer has already been knocking on doors (no idea how well he is targeting), but Taffe, being from Stevens County, has a certain population base working in her favor. The endorsing convention is March 22nd.

26B: State Rep. Mike Benson is throwing a Hail Mary pass on a run for MN-01, leaving his rural Olmsted County seat open. Only one Republican has announced, Rochester realtor Nels Pierson. Pierson managed former US Rep. Gil Gutknecht's losing re-election campaign in 2006 and state Senator Carla Nelson's 2002 bid.

This seat is safe Republican in a midterm electorate. In 2012, Romney took 53.4% here, and Benson won with 57.1% of the vote. However, this seat may be worth keeping an eye on in the future. The endorsing convention is March 1st. I rate this race Safe Pierson.

27A: This southern Minnesota seat in Freeborn County (Albert Lea) is held by state Rep. Shannon Savick (DFL). Although Savick won by less than three points in 2012, this seat is probably out of reach for a Republican without a wave behind his or her back. 2012 was a three-way race, with Savick boasting a 3% edge over her Republican opponent, state Rep. Rich Murray, in a three-way race (for context, Romney took only 42% of the vote). Savick is the former mayor of Wells (pop. almost 2300).

Nevertheless, two Republicans are taking a crack at the seat. One is gun dealer Milan Hart, whose business was targeted for a tough ATF audit in 2011, while the other is grade school teacher Peggy Bennett. I have little inside information on who is favored in this seat, so I will not make a rating. The endorsing convention is March 22nd.

34B: State Rep. and former Speaker Kurt Zellers is running for Governor and will be gunning for the August primary, so his Maple Grove-based seat is open. Osseo (pop. 2400) School Board member Dean Henke is running, as is local attorney Dennis Smith. Smith is from Maple Grove (pop. 64,400, obviously not all in the district), giving him a stronger population base than Henke. Further, Smith initially served as Treasurer for Zellers' campaign (that role is now filled by state Rep. Joe Hoppe). Zellers also made sure to stop by Smith's campaign kickoff, so both details together imply that Smith will be Zellers' favored candidate. Smith briefly ran for the legislature in 2012 before redistricting settled the lines. The endorsing convention is March 22nd. I rate this race Lean Smith.

35A: State Rep. Jim Abeler (R) is running for US Senate, leaving his blood-red Anoka County state House seat open. Don Huizenga is running here. He is active in local party leadership and known for running on the Ron Paul slate for RNC delegate in 2012. After an initial tie with Rep. Michele Bachmann at the 2012 state convention, Huizenga declined a runoff and let Bachmann take the spot as a unity gesture. I give some solid nerd points to Huizenga, who in his stump speech reads from Cicero (yes, the Roman orator)'s guide to winning an election. Another Republican is also running, Humphrey School graduate Abigail Whelan. Although she is from the district, she lacks political connections within the area, having worked with Senator John Pederson (a moderate from St Cloud) and former Senator Mike Jungbauer in the past. The endorsing convention is March 1st. I rate this seat Lean Huizenga.

47A: State Rep. Ernie Leidiger is hanging it up in this Carver County seat after two terms. The frontrunner in this race is Jim Nash, Mayor of Waconia (pop. almost 12k). Businessman Jacob Frey is also running. The seat itself is safe Republican; Romney and Leidiger both won with over 62% of the vote.The endorsing convention is March 1st.  I rate this race Likely Nash.

49A: Edina is the poster child of once rock-red southwestern suburbs rapidly turning blue in Minnesota. Romney took only 46.6% of the vote here in 2012 (then state Rep. Keith Downey took 48% in the state Senate race). Octogenarian incumbent state Rep. Ron Erhardt (R then I now DFL) is running for re-election. While Erhardt is a darn good candidate for Democrats who outperformed his ticket in 2012 (mainly because of his prior tenure in this seat as a Republican), Republicans have two candidates running for the seat. The first is Polly Peterson Bowles, a one-time Miss Minnesota, former member of the Metropolitan Council under then-Gov. Arne Carlson (R?), and a 2012 candidate for the Republican endorsement. The other candidate is Dario Anselmo, who recently sold his cafe and decided to run for the seat. Anselmo raised a good deal of money out of the gate, $20,000 in 2013; Peterson Bowles has not yet reported any contributions. I have also been told, second-hand, that Anselmo is a fairly impressive speaker. I rate this race Lean Anselmo.The endorsing convention is March 15th.

53B: After state Rep. Andrea Kieffer announced her retirement from this Woodbury-based seat, the media began squawking that it was because of gay marriage in a fun game of telephone that played out on Twitter like this:
Person 1: Why did she retire?
Person 2: Why did she retire after she voted for gay marriage?
Person 3: Andrea Kieffer retired because she voted for gay marriage.
Person 4: The Republicans hate gay people!!!
And so it goes. Anyway, Kieffer later gave the real reasons to the press (a big part of it was the fact her daughter suffers from mitochondrial disease). The race to succeed her is dominated by one person, Kelly Fenton. Fenton managed former state Senator Ted Lillie's upset victory in 2010 and served as Deputy Chair of the MNGOP before resigning to run in December. Her fundraising out of the gate has been impressive, raking in over $11k between November and January and raising more since then. Two different candidates considered running for the endorsement, but Fenton cleared the field. I rate this contest safe Fenton.

This is a classic swing seat- Romney took 51.8% in 2012, while Kieffer won re-election with 54.8% last cycle. However, in a midterm electorate with a strong candidate, it is hard to see this seat flipping DFL (although Democrats have a decent candidate in Kay Hendrickson, a member of the Woodbury Planning Commission). More analysis of this seat to come when I look at the general election.

56A: Yesterday Marty Seifert's gubernatorial campaign confirmed that two-term state Rep. Pam Myhra as his running mate. The campaign told the Star Tribune that Myhra will not run for re-election to her House seat. While SD 56 has a BPOU convention on March 1st, the short notice will presumably lead to an endorsing convention being scheduled for a later date.

Romney took 50.7% in this district, while Myhra won 53.9% of the vote. Down ballot the district is more Republican, so this race should start at Lean Republican. But Myhra had already begun fundraising for 2014, raising $15,840 last year with a little over $2k cash on hand.

58A: Longtime state Rep. Mary Liz Holberg announced her retirement at the SD 58 (Lakeville) BPOU convention last Saturday. Looks like an endorsing convention will come later, and right now I have not heard names floating down the Great Mentioner (readers: who will run or should run?). Holberg won re-election with 59% of the vote in 2012. Don't expect the next Republican to maintain those margins in a Democratic year (Romney underperformed Holberg with almost 56% here), but in a midterm electorate this seat should not be a part of the playing field. So far no candidates have announced a run, although businessman and activist Jon Koznick's name has been floated as a possibility. The endorsing convention has yet to be scheduled.

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