Minnesota State Capitol (mnprairieroots.wordpress.com).
by Tony Petrangelo
Nov 5, 2012, 5:00 PM

Legislative races to watch on election night

In this post I will endeavor to provide a round-up, as these things are typically described, of the top Legislative races to watch on election night. You’ll notice that I didn’t specify a number of races that I will list. Yes, my snobbery runs deep.

I’ve instead divided the races that I have included into three categories of races, in descending order of importance.

For my complete Legislative Race Ratings check out the LeftMN 2012 Election Resources page.

The Top Tier


Senate: Sen. Tom Saxhaug v Sen. John Carlson
House A: Rep. John Persell v Rep. Larry Howes
House B: Rep. Tom Anzelc v Rep. Carolyn McElfatrick

This is the big one, six incumbents enter, and only three get to keep being incumbents.

Each of these six incumbents has a viable path to victory, but this is traditionally an area where the DFL wins. That previous sentence may sound weird, since there is nothing traditional about this Senate district.

Redistricting hit this part of the state the hardest, which is why we have this six incumbent battle royale district. The DFL may have the slight edge in all three of these races, but they are probably close enough that they could all go either way.

We discussed this race with Aaron Brown, of MinnesotaBrown.com, on the LeftMN Radio Hour this past Sunday. Our conversation with him begins at around the 21 minute mark.


Senate: Rep. Keith Downey v Melisa Franzen
House A: Ron Erhardt v Bill Glahn
House B: Paul Rosenthal v Terry Jacobson

In contrast to Senate district five, Senate district 49 features precisely zero incumbents running for re-election. Rep. Keith Downey, who is no stranger to these electronic pages, is not running for re-election, but rather is seeking a promotion to the Senate.

The DFL did a great job of candidate recruitment in this Edina-centric Senate district. They snagged two former Representatives (one of them a former Republican) to run for the house seats and a dynamic newcomer for the Senate seat.

The Senate race in SD49, between the aforementioned Keith Downey, and the aforementioned dynamic newcomer Melisa Franzen, has been the most expensive in the entire state, as both candidates have raised and spent piles of money.

And that’s not even counting the independent expenditures on both sides.

Word on the street though, is that Edina is one of those suburban places where the Marriage amendment is not playing well at all, and since everyone knows who put that on the ballot, it’s dragging down all of the down ballot Republicans.

If the DFL is going to take back the house and the Senate, it’s this district, and districts like it, that they will need to do well in.


Senate: Sen. Ted Daley v Jim Carlson
House A: Rep. Diane Anderson v Sandra Masin
House B: Rep. Doug Wardlow v Laurie Halverson

In contrast to Edina’s lack of incumbents running for re-election, Eagan based Senate district 51 is chocked full of incumbents. And former incumbents.

There are two rematches from the 2010 cycle, Ted Daley v Jim Carlson and Diane Anderson v Sandra Masin (whom also faced off in 2008). There may have even been a third rematch, except the guy who lost to Doug Wardlow, Mike Obermueller, is now running for congress.

The Wardlow-Halverson race has some not so superficial (and superficial) similarities with the Downey-Franzen race in Edina. Both communities, Edina and Eagan, are of the fiscal conservative, social liberal mold (welcome to suburbia!). And while both Downey and Wardlow are fiscal conservatives, they are also social conservatives. You might even say that they are severely socially conservative.

In this context it’s hard to see how the DFL could have gotten two better candidates to run for the state legislature against these two then the ones they got.

A clean sweep by the DFL of this Senate district certainly seems like a possibility, but it will likely come down to the Wardlow-Halverson race.

The Second Tier


Senate: Sen. John Pederson v Jerry McCarter
House A: Rep. Steve Gottwalt v Anne Nolan
House B: Rep. King Banaian v Zachary Dorholt

Senator John Pederson and Rep. King Banaian were both swept into office in the Tea Party wave of 2010, and both are seen as vulnerable in this swingy, St. Cloud based district. Pederson won with 460 votes in 2010, and Banaian was elected by just 12 votes, despite the unprecedented GOP wave.

The A side of this district is better for the GOP, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that it could be competitive.


Senate: Sen. Pam Wolf v Alice Johnson
House A: Jerry Newton v Mandy Benz
House B: Rep. Tim Sanders v John Chlebeck

This is another district that has seen a bunch of independent expenditures for legislative races. Senator Pam Wolf was washed into office in the Tea Party wave of 2010, defeating longtime Senator Don Betzold by six points after losing to him in 2008 by nine. She now faces former Representative Alice Johnson in what looks to be a total toss-up.

This districts has a noticeable partisan split between the two house sides, with the A side being the more Democratic of the two. And its one that the DFL will need to win on their way to a house majority.


Senate: Rep. Bev Scalze v April King
House A: Barb Yarusso v Russ Bertsch
House B: Jason Isaacson v Ken Rubenzer

Rep. Bev Scalze was the only incumbent of any kind to get drawn into this new district and she has used the opportunity to run for Senate. This whole district is slightly DFL leaning, and given that and her current status as a Representative, the Senate race should be one that favors the DFL.

The thing with that slight DFL lean though is that the Democrats are not divided evenly throughout the district and are instead concentrated more on the B side. This makes that race Likely DFL, but the A side more of a coin flip.


Senate: Greg Clausen v Pat Hall
House A: Rep. Tara Mack v Roberta Gibbons
House B: Jeff Wilfahrt v Anna Wills

This could be a district in which the DFL wins the Senate race and loses both House races. Greg Clausen is facing off against the founder of True Light Covenant Church and brother of Minnesota State Senator Dan Hall. And while this district has a slight GOP lean, Clausen seems to be just the type of Democrat to do well there.

On the house side the picture is more marginal for Democrats. The more DFL friendly of the two districts, the A side, also has an incumbent Republican, Tara Mack. And on the B side Jeff Wilfahrt is running against a partisan headwind that may or may not be strong enough to keep him from winning.

A DFL sweep of this district though, or even picking up one of the house seats, would be a huge step towards winning back the state house.

One more


Senate: Sen. David Hann v Laurie McKendry
House A: Rep. Kirk Stensrud v Yvonne Selcer
House B: Rep. Jenifer Loon v Tori Hill

The Senate race in district 48 wasn’t really on anyone’s radar until it was recently revealed that the esteemed Senator Hann works for a Health Insurance company. Something that he has previously not disclosed and which is particularly relevant considering his position as Chairman of the Health and Human Services committee.

In direct contrast, a race that has been on everyone’s radar is the A side, where there has been a veritable barrage of independent expenditures and campaign dirty tricks in an effort to derail Yvonne Selcer’s campaign.

A DFL win in the Senate race here would really be icing on the cake if they take back the state Senate.

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