Although Donald Trump narrowly lost the state of Minnesota to Hillary Clinton, Minnesota Republicans achieved remarkable results in legislative races. Republicans amplified their majority to an unprecedented number for a presidential-year election in the state House of Representatives and captured a one-vote majority in the state Senate (again, in a presidential election year when the turnout advantage usually accrues to Democrats). The results in the state Senate were striking as well. As Patrick Coolican put it in the Star Tribune: “Senate Republicans have endured the indignities of minority status for all but two of the past 44 years[.]” (Unfortunately, Senate Minority Leader David Hann did not survive his own race.)
At MinnPost, Brianna Biershbach takes a look in “How Minnesota Republicans pulled off the biggest surprise of the election season.” Biershbach is good on some of the nuts and bolts that went into the House results. With an eye to the House legislative races in particular, I want to take a look myself in two or three posts to convey a sense of the wave that hit Minnesota on election day and the issue that accounted for it more than any other.
The presidential race both helped and hurt Republicans running their own races across the state. House Republicans, for example, were prepared for Trump being a drag at the top of the ticket (which he proved to be in the suburbs) or a boost (which he proved to be in rural Minnesota).
Obamacare premium rate hikes hit big time in Minnesota, which has gone all in on Obamacare courtesy of Governor Mark Dayton. In mid-October Governor Dayton professed himself shocked that the Affordable Care Act is “no longer affordable.” Thanks, guy. Gee, who could have seen it coming?
Dayton sought to create some distance between Democrats standing for election to the legislature and the unfolding catastrophe of Obamacare. He decried the Obamacare rate hikes that percolated through Minnesota’s state health insurance exchange as though he were an innocent bystander. He thinks we’re really, really stupid and, like President Obama, he’s got the electoral success to prove it.
On Power Line I noted ten days before the election that I had come across a VW in the parking lot of a small shopping center within shouting distance of the ancestral homes of Tom Friedman, the Coen brothers and (aargh!) Al Franken in suburban Minneapolis. The owner of the VW was a casualty of Obamacare, Minnesota style. He was testifying (photo below) and, suffice it to say, he wasn’t buying what Minnesota Democrats were selling this year.
The homemade window sticker refers to HealthPartners, a major local health insurance carrier on the Minnesota Obamacare exchange and the individual market. The VW owner was unhappy with Dayton et al. HealthPartners isn’t too thrilled either. Outside the Twin Cities and St. Cloud metropolitan areas, HealthPartners has pulled out of individual market coverage for next year.
The Ms. I found on the VW in St. Louis Park proved to be a harbinger. Health insurance costs in fact emerged as the top issue in the closing weeks of the campaign. Below is an ad that ran in the final week. The ad featured a family in Goodhue County facing skyrocketing health care costs. The group that produced it spent $500,000 in television advertising on it. The ad was viewed widely over the last week of the campaign. Note that it says vote against Democrats; it assisted Republicans generally.
Dayton’s admission that the Affordable Care Act (a/k/a Obamacare) was “not affordable” following the huge rate hikes announced on October 1 crippled Democrats. In addition, open enrollment began on November 1, a week before election day.
Republican candidates were also helped by the ads supporting Republican Third District Rep. Erik Paulsen and national groups attacking Democratic congressional candidates Angie Craig (Second District, defeated by Jason Lewis for an open seat)/Terri Bonoff (Third District, defeated by Paulsen)/Rick Nolan (Eighth District incumbent who narrowly defeated Stewart Mills) on Obamacare.
Health care is a traditionally Democratic issue. The Obamacare catastrophe turned it into a huge advantage for GOP candidates this year. For Republicans to have won on the issue of health insurance is as improbable as Democrats winning on the issue of taxes. In Minnesota, the world turned upside down this year courtesy of Barack Obama and Mark Dayton.