Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Election Analysis.  It was a busy primary night around Minnesota.  With the votes now cast, everything points toward the November general election and after a bit of a breather, I can only imagine how fast and furious things will be from Labor Day on through to election day.

There are usually some big surprises on primary night, but it's hard to see that there were many last evening.  My eyebrows went up a bit over Rick Nolan's relatively healthy margin in the 8th congressional district primary and while I never knew which horse to bet on in the Quist/Parry battle in the 1st congressional district, Quist's winning margin of over 8 percentage points surprised me as well.

In terms of legislative races, the one everyone was watching was in the Republican primary in Senate District 33, where State Representative Connie Doepke squared off against endorsed candidate David Osmek.  This was a hard fought battle, with Osmek coming out on top by 107 votes, which translated into a margin of about two percentage points.

Just down the road, there was also a highly-watched primary with incumbent Senator Julianne Ortman facing Bruce Schwichtenberg (take that spell check) in the Senate District 47 Republican primary.  Senator Ortman is the current chair of the Senate Tax Committee and most observers were surprised when she was denied her party's endorsement last spring by Schwichtenberg.  Last night, Ortman bested Schwichtenberg by just over 16 percentage points resulting from a 610 vote difference.

These two races showed a couple of things to me.  First, the outer ring metropolitan area districts are becoming extremely interesting (and more conservative) politically.  These are conservative districts that have been represented by solid conservatives.  While Senate District 33 changed fairly dramatically in reapportionment, Senate District 47 was less so affected.  What surprised me is that both Doepke and Ortman were assailed as not being conservative enough for their districts by their detractors.

The question will be out there as to why of the two incumbent legislators (although one was moving to a different seat) why did Ortman survive and Doepke come up short?  To me, the two factors central to the discussion are the nature of the reapportioned districts and the endorsement process.  Senate District 33 (Doepke versus Osmek) is a district that appears to be bifurcated between older, more established communities and communities that have expanded rapidly over the past two decades.  Representative Doepke carried the more established end of the district and Osmek the other half.  I don't have the demographics in front of me, but I'm guessing that in terms of per capita income, wealth, and age, these two ends of the district are markedly different.  All conservative (I think a Democrat ever winning this seat would be a sure sign of the endtimes), but different shades of the same color (that would be red). On the other hand, I believe Senator Ortman's district is a bit more monolithic in nature.

The other element in play is that of the endorsement.  It's important to remember that Osmek was endorsed by the Republican Party in Senate District 33 while the Senate District 47 Republican convention did not produce an endorsed candidate.  The endorsement process gets beat up quite a bit these days, with more and more people calling for their elimination and replacement with a primary system.  One can argue whether or not the endorsement was key to Osmek's victory, but I have a hard time believing that it did not give him a heightened legitimacy that helped boost his chances.  In the Ortman/Schwichtenberg race--with no endorsement--Schwichtenberg lacked a tool that would have elevated him against an incumbent.

Does this constitute for all of the difference?  No.  But I believe these two factors are the ones on which the races swung.

I would argue that the DFL endorsement in the 8th congressional district played a significant role in Rick Nolan's victory, especially in a three-way race.

I'm sure my theory could be disputed.  There are races where the endorsed candidate lost (Tom Dimond in Senate District 67, although it must be noted that the candidate whom Dimond defeated for the endorsement--incumbent Senator John Harrington--did not run after failing to garner the DFL endorsement).  But it looks like party endorsement meant a lot more this year than it has in the recent past.

There's always a great election story out there and I think this is my favorite one from primary night.  In Senate District 46, candidate Paul Scofield endorsed his opponent Roger Champagne during a League of Women Voters debate in late July.  Scofield had actually attempted to withdraw from the race, but missed the deadline for being removed from the ballot.  Despite his efforts to lose, Scofield won.

Here's the news story: 

And here are all the election results:

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