House district 5A representative John Persell (
by Tony Petrangelo
Dec 9, 2019, 7:00 AM

Who are the most vulnerable members of the Minnesota House of Representatives?

For a number of years DailyKos Elections has computed the House Vulnerability Index (HVI), a metric that endeavors to rank current members of the US House of Representatives according to how vulnerable they are in the next election.

The way the index works is fairly simple, all the Democrats (and Republicans) are ordered and ranked in two different categories; the partisan voting index (PVI) of their district and the margin of victory of their last election (for this category open seats are given a rank of 0). The two ranks are added together, the resulting combined rank score is ordered and voila, you have a House vulnerability index.

Lets look at an example. According to this method, Minnesota’s Seventh District Representative Collin Peterson is the 8th most vulnerable Democrat going into the 2020 elections. He represents the second least Democratic (or second most Republican) district in the entire Democratic caucus according to PVI and his margin of victory in 2018 was the 17th closest.

2nd in PVI plus 17th in margin equals a total rank score (this is what DailyKos Elections calls the House vulnerability Index, HVI) of 19. An HVI of 19 is the eighth lowest HVI among Democrats in the House.

In this post I’m going to do the same thing, but for the Minnesota House of Representatives instead of the US House of Representatives.

To reiterate what this list is, it’s a list of the most vulnerable incumbents/districts. The only information the metric contains concerns the district and when applicable the incumbent. The vulnerability metric lacks any information about fundraising or the opposition candidate. This is simply a, rather crude but effective, list of which incumbents (or which districts in the case of open seats) are most vulnerable.

A couple things to note; for these lists I’m using hPVI instead of PVI, and the actual PVI number is formatted in the context of the list so that on the list of most vulnerable Republicans a positive PVI means a Republican leaning district while on the list of most vulnerable DFLers a positive PVI means a DFL leaning district.

First we’ll look at the ten most vulnerable Republicans, presented below in table form:

district name hPVI Margin rPVI rMargin Score
37B Nolan West 0.0 153 1 2 3
47B Greg Boe 0.9 117 3 1 4
54B Tony Jurgens 0.7 422 2 3 5
14A Tama Theis 3.6 731 5 4 9
38A Linda Runbeck 3.7 2142 6 10 16
26B Nels Pierson 4.7 1640 10 8 18
25A Duane Quam 5.2 1419 13 6 19
21A Barb Haley 2.7 2696 4 15 19
5B Sandy Layman 7.5 803 15 5 20
39A Bob Dettmer 3.9 2485 7 13 20

Nolan West (37B), Greg Boe (47B) and Tony Jurgens (54B) each represent toss-up districts and just barely eked out victories in 2018 (Jurgens 422 vote victory was slightly over 2% of the vote). The three of them represent the DFLs best chances at gaining additional districts (or offsetting the possible loss of districts) in the next election.

Beyond that things get murky.

Tama Theis in 14A, ranked as the fourth most vulnerable Republican, is probably only vulnerable in the case of a DFL wave or a talented opposition candidate. Her district’s hPVI of 3.6 suggests that all things being equal she has a 75% chance of getting re-elected. It might be a bit higher than this though, as Theis has over-performed the top-of-the-ticket by three points the last two cycles.

Beyond Tama Theis the murkiness gets murkier.

Linda Runbeck (38A), Barb Haley (21A) and Bob Dettmer (39A) are all in districts with not too strong of a partisan lean, but they all won their last elections by wide margins.

Sandy Layman (5B) won her last election by just over four points, but 5B went from supporting Dayton by seven points in 2014 to supporting Jeff Johnson by seven points in 2018, with a 20 point Trump win sandwiched between.

Nels Pierson (26B) and Duane Quam (25A) are in similar situations to Tama Theis, only more so, both won by larger margins and both in more conservative districts.

Next up, the ten most vulnerable Democrats, also presented in table form:

district name hPVI Margin rPVI rMargin Score
5A John Persell -3.2 11 2 1 3
33B Kelly Morrison 0.2 216 5 3 8
39B Michelle Christensen 1.1 137 9 2 11
55A Brad Tabke -0.2 602 4 7 11
56A Open 2.8 12 0 12
38B Ami Wazlawik 1.0 386 8 6 14
36A Zack Stephenson 0.4 881 6 9 15
56B Open 3.8 18 0 18
27B Jeanne Poppe -0.4 2204 3 17 20
4B Paul Marquart -8.3 3176 1 21 22

Given that the last election featured Minnesota House DFLers winning 20 seats from Republicans and gaining control of the chamber, it’s not particularly surprising that the list of vulnerable DFLers would look juicier than the list of vulnerable Republicans.

John Persell, who was re-elected to the 5A seat by a mere 11 votes after losing in 2016 and is in a Republican leaning district (Trump won the district by 12, but Walz won it by 1), is the most vulnerable DFLer.

After that there are seven suburban districts on the list, five with incumbents and two that are open following the retirements of Hunter Cantrell in 56A and Alice Mann in 56B.

The two open seats are the most DFL leaning districts on the list and are only on the list because of the lack of an incumbent. In addition to the two open House seats, Senate district 56 is also the home of one of the most vulnerable Republican State Senators, Dan Hall. All of which means the people of Senate district 56 are in for a litmageddon (armageddon, but for political lit) in 2020.

The other five suburban districts are all of the same type, neutral partisan leans and incumbents who narrowly won in 2018.

The next two names on the list are Jeanne Poppe and Paul Marquart and while both are in districts that should be winnable for the GOP, neither are likely to lose their seats anytime soon.

Rep. Poppe was first elected in 2004 by 3 points and that’s the closest race she has been in, the next closest was in 2016 when she won by seven points. And when it comes to outperforming a districts partisan lean, Rep. Marquart is sui generis. In 2018 Rep. Marquart got 59% of the vote in 4B and Tim Walz got 43%. In 2016 Rep. Marquart got 54% of the vote in 4B and Hillary Clinton got 35%. In fact, here’s a fun little table:

Year Paul Marquart Top-of-the-Ticket Difference
2018 58.9% 43.3% 15.6%
2016 53.9% 35.1% 18.8%
2014 65.8% 48.5% 17.3%
2012 65.2% 46.5% 18.7%
Average 17.6%

In the last four election cycles Paul Marquart has averaged over-performing the top-of-the-ticket (President/Governor) by 17.6% in his district. So even though he’s in a district with an eight point Republican lean, the idea of Paul Marquart being vulnerable is a bit far-fetched.

Assuming that the four members of the rebel Republican House faction creatively known as The New Republicans™ can be relied on for the purposes of forming a majority, the GOP would need to win nine seats in 2020 to take back control. Based on this crude analysis that will be a difficult task.

Republicans in Minnesota have made large gains in rural Minnesota over the last two cycles, but they have basically maxed out their outstate advantage while the DFL still has room to grow in the suburbs. If the next cycle is anything like the previous two then the three most vulnerable GOPers become favorites to lose while most of the vulnerable DFLers become favorites to hold onto their seats.

If the trends of the last two election cycles continue into this cycle it’s hard to see how the GOP wins the house back in 2020, there are a couple of additional rural seats they can pick up, but about as many suburban seats they could still lose. The big question is what happens to the suburbs and outstate districts when Donald Trump is no longer President, will the trends of the last few cycles continue or will a reversion be in store?

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