Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Minnesota U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

August 29, 2006
70 Days Until Election Day

Minnesota U.S. Senate

Status: Democrat Open
2004 Presidential Result: Blue State (Midwest)

Outlook: Tossup (D)

The Senate contest in the Land of 10,000 Lakes has seen Republican hopes for a pick up ebb and flow throughout the past year plus.

Initially, Republicans were bullish about taking on freshman Democrat Senator Mark Dayton, who had made several missteps during his term in office and appeared to be highly vulnerable. Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, Dayton would go on to announce that he would not seek reelection. Many Republicans were enthused that their chances would be further enhanced in an open seat election when Democrats would have a contentious nomination process, while others in the GOP realized that Dayton’s decision might have actually been bad news, as the DFL could potentially have a far stronger nominee in this competitive state.

For quite a while, it did appear that the Democrats would have a hard time uniting behind a candidate and that the eventual nominee would have to emerge from a mid-September primary, short of funds and with a short time to make a case for the general elections. For their part, Republicans fairly quickly united behind the candidacy of Congressman Mark Kennedy, after clearing the field for him. Political analysts from around the country considered the Senate contest in Minnesota one of the likeliest in either party to change hands.
However, as Republicans have fallen in national polls over the past years, GOP confidence as to victory in this race has taken some hits at times too. One by one, potential and announced candidates for the Senate seat within the DFL have dropped out of the race until only Hennepin County Amy Klobuchar remained. The fact that the DFL endorsed Klobuchar’s nomination is all but guaranteed is a big advantage over what could have been, including the prospect of her competing in a primary with multiple free-spending millionaire opponents.

While polls in 2005 showed Kennedy to be in a strong position to win the election well over a year from the voting, just about all polls this year have had Klobuchar ahead, usually by just a few points or so, but by as much as 19 points (with 19 percent also undecided) in a July Minneapolis Star Tribune poll. That particular poll has been shown to have a record of overstating support for Democrats though and many in both parties have decided to take it with a grain of salt. The Rasmussen Reports polls on this race have shown some fluctuation with Klobuchar’s lead expanding from 3 to 12 points within a month, but the most recent survey is said to the lead now back down to 7 points.

If the election were held today, most would expect Klobuchar to win, and she has to be considered at least a slight favorite for November as well, but it would be unwise to expect anything other than a very tight result 70 days from now. Kennedy is well funded and has shown the ability to win federal office against tough opponents in a competitive part of the state (albeit one that is more Republican than Minnesota in general.)

Kennedy has been stressing his “independence” in Washington while Klobuchar has been trying very hard to tie her Republican opponent in with the Bush Administration and portraying him as a sort of rubber stamp for the White House, during a sixth-year midterm election in a state that the Republican President has never carried.

Considering a political environment that is expected to be a tough one in federal races in blue states, Kennedy’s hopes for victory may very well depend on something as important as making himself a more attractive and personally likeable alternative to the Democrat. Klobuchar has been reported to not always be the easiest person to work with and there was some buzz about the fact that several of her Hennepin County colleagues had gone out of their way to support another DFL candidate earlier in the year.

While Kennedy does not have a dynamic personality, he does not have the image of being overly polarizing, either politically or personally. If he can score against Klobuchar during televised debates, he could improve his chances of winning. Minnesota has a history of electing an eclectic group candidates from the left, center, and right, who manage to make a greater personal connection with voters than their opponent does. Minnesota has a reputation as a Democrat stronghold, that has recently seen Republican inroads, but ideology is often not the deciding factor when the state goes to vote.

While independent and third party candidates are not expected to play as big of a role in this race as they usually do in Minnesota Gubernatorial contests, most of the support that the Green and Independence nominees receive in this Senate race will probably hurt the Democrats more than the Republicans and in a very close race, any little bit may matter.

All things considered, the Democrats are in better shape for this race than many had believed they ultimately would be. However, the contest is very far from a done deal and Kennedy has managed to remain within striking distance. Some still think that this remains the most likely opportunity for a Republican pickup while others in the party have become more excited about prospects in a handful of other states. In a year though, when Senate Republicans are playing far more defense than offense, the party is just grateful to have a race like this when the Democrats will need to sweat as the incumbent party.

Anybody have any comments, either in agreement or disagreement? They have been slow here lately, but I think my psyche can take it.

Kennedy campaign link:


2006 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 9 D, 3 R
Post-election Senate balance of power predicted thus far: 36 D, 43 R