Minnesota Senate District 11 Special Election candidates Michelle Lee, Stu Lourey and Rep. Jason Rarick
by Tony Petrangelo
Jan 9, 2019, 7:00 AM

Minnesota Senate District 11 Bonus Election Preview

On Thursday January 3rd Governor-elect Tim Walz announced the appointment of now former State Senator Tony Lourey as the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Within 24-hours five candidates had jumped into the race to succeed him in the State Senate with another two joining the following week. Of the seven, two are DFLers and four are Republicans, insuring that there will be a contested primary for two of the major parties.

The timeframe in which these candidates have to campaign is preposterously short, the primary is on January 22nd (only 19 days after the announcement of Lourey as commish) and the general is two weeks later on February 5th.

A little bit about Senate district 11

Minnesota Senate district 11 is contained entirely within the 8th congressional district and straddles I35 from Pine City in the south to Cloquet in the north, sharing a border with Wisconsin on most of its eastern side.

Map of Minnesota Senate District 11

full page map

While I haven’t yet released the 2019 version of hPVI, Senate district 11 comes in at R+3.

In 2018 Tim Walz beat Jeff Johnson in the district 48.4% – 47.3%. In the A-side house race DFLer Mike Sundin won with 58.3% of the vote, while on the B-side Republican Jason Rarick got 59.7%. If you combine the results the two DFLers who ran in districts A & B got 33 more votes than the two Republicans, 16,698 – 16,665.

In 2016 Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the district by 13 points, 52.5% – 39.3%. At the same time, now former Senator Tony Lourey won by 9 points, 54.5% – 45.4%.

A little bit about the candidates

On the DFL side is former Senator Tony Lourey’s son Stu Lourey (@StuLourey), legislative aide to US Senator Tina Smith, and Michelle Lee (@noozelady) a former Duluth news anchor and second place finisher in the 2018 DFL primary to succeed Rick Nolan in the eighth congressional district.

On the Republican side is the Representative of the B side of the district in the house, Jason Rarick (@RepRarick), Pine City Mayor Carl Pederson and eighth congressional district deputy chair, Justin Krych. Also running is Matthias Shir of whom I could find little information.

Last, and certainly not the least on-brand, is the candidate of the newly minted major party Legal Marijuana Now, John “Sparky” Birrenbach.

Previewing the primaries

The DFL primary, which looks to be the more interesting of the two primaries, features a match-up between two people who already have name recognition throughout the district, Stu Lourey and Michelle Lee. Lourey is trying to become the third generation of Lourey to represent this area in the state Senate after his father Tony Lourey and his grandmother Becky Lourey. Lee is known in the district from being a TV news anchor in Duluth for thirty years

Although Lee has never held elective office, she has run in an election before, in the eighth congressional district primary last August. In that race she finished second to Joe Radinovich with 27.5%, beating out Jason Metsa and Kirsten Kennedy, people who had actually won elections before.

While Lee lost that race to Radinovich by 16.6%, she only lost Senate district 11 by 3.6% and actually won the more DFL leaning A-side by 6.1%. Of course, it makes sense that a candidate would do well in their home district, so it’s hard to know how these numbers will translate to a state Senate primary against another well-known name from the district.

The Republican primary appears to be a bit more cut and dried. Jason Rarick, who has already received the party endorsement in this race, is the incumbent representative of the B-side and ran over four points ahead of Republican Gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson in the last election. Running against three other candidates I don’t suspect he will have much trouble getting to the general election.

UPDATE: The three Republicans not named Jason Rarick dropped out before the deadline to do so on Wednesday meaning there won’t be a GOP primary and Jason Rarick and “Sparky” will take on the winner of the DFL primary.

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