Minnesota Senate: An Interesting Special Election?

While Oregon's tax vote today is the big prize, there's also a not uninteresting state Senate special election in Minnesota's 26th District. &...
by | January 26, 2010

While Oregon's tax vote today is the big prize, there's also a not uninteresting state Senate special election in Minnesota's 26th District.

"Not uninteresting," is, of course, a silly phrase that people use for things that are stuck teetering on the border between interesting and not interesting. This race isn't quite interesting for several reasons.

First of all, the practical significance of the vote is limited. Democrats hold a lopsided advantage in the Minnesota State Senate. The seat will be up again in November. Today's election won't appreciably change the balance of power for now or for the long-term, except to the extent that incumbency provides today's winner with a starting advantage for the November race.

What's more, going by the numbers, the chances of a party switch don't look all that high. The 26th, which is located South of the Twin Cities, opened up when the G.O.P. incumbent resigned. The district regularly votes more Republican than the state as a whole. John McCain won here, even as President Obama won the state by double digits. Especially in the current political climate, Republicans should be favored to hold this sort of seat.

But, I promised you a not uninteresting race and I plan to deliver. There are a few unusual dynamics which might make the race competitive.

One is that Republicans seem to have a fairly controversial nominee. Mike Parry apologized for remarks he made on Twitter, including calling Obama, "a power-hungry, arrogant black man." If he loses in this district, I think it will be fairly clear that Twitter cost him the election. Perhaps someone else knows of one, but I can't think of any instance so far where a Twittergaffe actually cost someone an election.

If Parry loses, it's not clear that Democrat Jason Engbrecht will win. The race also features Independence Party candidate Roy Srp (who, I believe, is running on an anti-vowel platform). Srp is the mayor of Waseca, which meant that as a third-party candidate he was the best-known of the three at the outset of the campaign.

The biggest reason I'll be watching this race, though, is that I'm curious in the political environment coming after the Massachusetts special election. Are Democrats doubly despondent or was Scott Brown's victory a wake-up call for them?

We certainly won't get anything approaching a full answer to that question in one election in one district in Minnesota. But, with lots of legislative special elections ahead, we should have some answer long before voters go to the polls in November.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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