After the end of the legislative session, completion of state party conventions and with the primary election just around the corner, interest in the 2014 state election has picked up. In November, we will elect a US Senator, our governor, and the entire state house of representatives. Everyone but the state senate will be on the ballot.
While the 2014 election will be headlined by the reelection efforts of Governor Mark Dayton and U S Senator Al Franken, the real action for our association and its political action committee MIIAPAC, will occur in the state house elections. Democrats now hold a 73 - 61 majority. Republicans need only seven seats to gain back control of the House. A Republican take-over of the House would dramatically alter the politics at the state capitol as well as our and the industry's legislative program next year.
Eighty-five percent of the House races are in seats that very seldom change hands. Democrats continue to be strong in the central Twin Cities and the Northeast part of the state. Republicans tend to run well in the suburbs and the southern and southeastern part of the state. Control of the House may come down to the races in less than twenty legislative districts.
As we begin to attempt to handicap the House races, here are a few things to consider.
Minnesota generally leads the nation in voter turn-out during presidential elections. However, without a presidential race, voter turnout can drop as lows as 55% (as it did in 2010). The drop in voters comes largely from women, people of color, and new voters. Mid-term voters tend to be older, whiter and more conservative. Advantage Republicans.
Often mid-term elections are seen as a referendum on the party in office. President Obama's ratings in the state have consistently fallen and you can expect Republicans to try to capitalize on this, especially as it relates to the Affordable Care Act. Recent polling has the President's Minnesota approval at 43 percent, but his disapproval at 50 percent, not good for an incumbent. Advantage Republicans.
The 2012 election saw a big swing in House seats to Democrats. In fact, the DFL took almost all the competitive seats available to them. It looks like the Republican momentum around the country and the mid-term voter turnout will make that difficult to repeat. In fact, pundits at the capitol expect voter turnout alone to cost the Democrats three to four house seats. Advantage Republicans.
Fourteen house members have decided to retire and ten of these are Republicans. Open seats are generally easier to swing than incumbent seats. But this year most of these retirements are in what look to be fairly safe districts. Advantage Democrats.
Top of the Ticket
While it is very early in the election cycle, the top of the Democratic ticket led by two incumbents may deter a major Republican tidal wave. Governor Dayton and Al Franken appear to, at this time, have somewhat comfortable (but not insurmountable) leads against their Republican challengers. With Republicans fighting it out for the top of ticket in the primary election, the Democrats will be able to better define their message while conserving their resources. I am somewhat torn on the logic that a contested primary helps statewide candidates by expanding their exposure to voters. Lots of time and valuable resources will be expended to get the nomination. Will there be enough left for a tough general election fight? Advantage Democrats.
The Democrats and their allied independent expenditure organizations easily outspent the Republicans in 2012. There were also very good at directing their resources around key races including the race for governor. After the election, we discovered that the Republican Party was broke and in fact in debt. While the Republicans have turned the corner, they are still not as flush as the incumbent party. You can again expect the Democratic groups to outspend their Republican counterparts. Some Republican allied independent expenditure organizations have learned from their Democratic counterparts about coordinated messaging and will have a more targeted effort in 2014. If the Republican independent expenditures are strategic, by-pass the statewide races, and funnel resources to only the key house swing seats, their impact could be significant. It will be difficult to maintain such discipline. Advantage Democrats.
Governor Dayton and the House Democrats are likely to run on their record. They did raise taxes per their 2012 campaign pledge, but were able to pass tax reductions this year. They passed the minimum wage, a large capital spending bill, anti-bullying legislation, gay marriage, and left the capitol with a state surplus. The Republicans will be hard presses to attack on state finances but could argue that the size and scope of tax increases coupled with the bump in the minimum wage will crippled the state economy. They could also attack Democrats on social issues. But maybe their best strategy is to attack on health care and the shaky roll-out of MNsure. Advantage unknown.
With all the aforementioned political points, many races will come down to who has recruited the best candidates for key House races. Our leaders will begin to meet with both caucus leaders to hear more about their candidates, but you can expect each to embellish their chances a great deal. Advantage to be determined.