Monday, August 17, 2020

Race of the Day- Minnesota U.S. Senate

Minnesota U.S. Senate
78 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Blue State (Midwest)
Outlook: Likely Democrat

Republicans are frequently bullish about their chances in Minnesota for high profile races, typically bolstered by polls that look fairly close. However, despite finishing fairly close in 2016, the state has still not voted for a Republican Presidential nominee since 1972 or for a U.S. Senator in 2002. That year saw a Republican victory under unusual circumstances following the death of the incumbent.
Six years later, in a highly controversial election fight that lasted months after the vote, Democrat Al Franken, the former comedic actor, unseated Republican Norm Coleman. Many felt that the election was stolen due to a steady trickle of "suddenly found" votes for Franken. It looked like the Democrat would be in the Senate for a long time, but in 2018, during this second term, Franken was pressured to resign due to multiple allegations of unwanted advances towards women, most of them party activists. The Senator bitterly professed his innocence but felt he had no choice but to step down. After that, the state's then DFL Governor Mark Dayton appointed his Lt. Governor and former Chief of Staff Tina Smith to fill the vacancy. Smith had to run in a special election that year and despite GOP hopes of a possible upset, she defeated her opponent 53-42.

Smith still might be getting to know the voters of her state a bit as she seeks her first full term. Minnesota is definitely considered a traditionally Democrat leaning state. The woman that Smith beat in 2018, State Senator Karin Housley turned down the chance for a rematch and several other prominent Republicans also declined to run, including Mike Lindell, the ubiquitous "My Pillow" guy who is a strong supporter of Donald Trump.

 In last week's primary Smith easily dispatched four DFL opponents and on the other side, the new GOP nominee also held four other little known Republicans to single digits. The nomination went to Jason Lewis. He had lost a Congressional race thirty years ago before entering the world of conservative talk radio and hosting a nationally syndicated show based out of the Twin Cities.
In 2016, Trump ran better in parts of Minnesota than expected and Lewis won a bit of an upset bid for Congress from a district where the Republican had retired and many expected to see it go blue. He was perhaps helped by a third party candidate who took eight percent of the vote, allowing Lewis to win 47-45. For two years, as Lewis sat in Congress, Democrats kept uncovering more of the controversial things he had said on his radio show over the years, that apparently they did not have access to or cared to use against him during the initial election. The 2018 midterms were harder for Republicans and in a two way race against the same Democrat female he defeated last time, the freshman lost his seat 53-47.

 Even before his one term in the House, Lewis had teased a potential Senate candidacy before. As 2020 approached and no other Republican looked anxious to run against Smith, Lewis announced his candidacy and was basically the defacto choice for the party early on.

While Minnesota looks increasingly competitive (oddly more so lately at the federal level than the state level),. Lewis has been pegged by many as too divisive and too far to the right to have a real chance of winning. Trump only lost the state by a point though and his fans seem to think he can actually flip it in 2020 and point to the potential for a backlash against recent rioting in Minneapolis and the "Defund the Police" movement. While some polls have showed solid leads for both Joe Biden and Tina Smith in the state, a recent one showed very close matchups and Smith barely ahead of her challenger.

There will have to be more similar polls to indicate if something is really afoot in Minnesota. I seem to recall many polls over the years showing the GOP in better shape than they wound up being on Election Day. I think Trump is probably going to lose Minnesota by a few points more than he lost it last time, and that the Senate race may turn out to be more of an afterthought. Lewis needs to do something to demonstrate that he can break through in the state at a time when a bunch of incumbent Senate Republicans are struggling elsewhere in more conservative states. Crazy things have happened before in politics though, and definitely so in Minnesota.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far:

9 D (3 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Lean, 2 Tossup) 
9 R (2 Safe, 3 Likely, 3 Lean, 1 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:

44 Democrats (35 holdovers, 3 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Lean, 2 Tossup)
39 Republicans (30 holdovers, 2 Safe, 3 Likely, 3 Lean, 1 Tossup)


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