Like Wagner’s music

In 1978, Minnesota Republicans ousted an incumbent Democratic governor and picked up two senate seats; 1978 became famous as the year of “the Minnesota massacre.” While not quite a “Minnesota massacre” in reverse, the outcome of the election yesterday represents a substantial defeat for Minnesota Republicans.
Not only did we fail to carry the state for President Bush (who lost here by roughly the same 60,000-vote margin that he did in 2000), but we also lost the substantial 81-53 Republican majority that we had won in the Minnesota state House of Representatives in 2002. After last night, that majority is hanging by a thread at 68-66.
While state Republicans expected that their majority in the state House would shrink by four or five seats, I think it’s fair to say that no one anticipated the magnitude of the Democrats’ pickup in the state House. The AP story on the state House races is “Democrats win big, pull nearly even in House with one race outstanding.”
What happened? The losses hurt. Among the defeated is state Rep. Lynda Boudreau, targeted by the Democrats for her crucial role in helping to enact Minnesota’s concealed-carry gun law in the past legislative session. There’s no way to put a happy face on the defeat of a warrior like Boudreau.
As Mark Twain said of Wagner’s music, however, it’s not as bad as it sounds. First, with respect to the presidential contest, the virtually identical margin of the Bush loss in Minnesota in 2000 and 2004 conceals significant progress by state Republicans. In 2000, Minnesota was the site of one of Ralph Nader’s best performances; Nader won five percent of the vote (126,000 votes) statewide. This year, although Nader was on the ballot in Minnesota, he was a nonfactor; his angry voters went for Kerry.
Nevertheless, Republicans increased the number of votes for Bush by 230,000 votes, a number sufficient to keep Kerry’s margin of victory here to the same three percent by which Gore edged Bush. This was not an insignificant accomplishment, and it provides ground for optimism.
In the state House races, Republicans simply lost the ground they had gained in 2002. They are now back where they were in 2000, with the same 68-66 majority. Disappointing but not devastating. Moreover, Congressman Mark Kennedy held off a strong, well-funded challenge by celebrity newcomer Patty Wetterling. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports the outcome of the race in “Kennedy wins 6th District contest over Wetterling.”
In 2006, Minnesota’s popular Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty figures to be on the top of the ticket while the Democrats seek to defend the seat of Minnesota’s disgraceful Senator Mark Dayton. Accordingly, we’ll do more than lick our wounds until 2006. We’ll aim to regain the ground lost this year, exploit the Democrats’ vulnerabilities with Dayton (Kennedy himself might be a formidable challenger to Dayton), and build on the expanded base that the president and our efforts on his behalf leave us with this year.


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