Is Minnesota Evidence of a GOP Wave?

With one week to go before the election, public sentiment seems to be breaking in the Republicans’ favor. Time will tell: projections depend on turnout models, and the Democrats are making hysterical efforts to turn out their base, as well as counting on voter fraud in key states. But will 2014 be just a satisfactory year for the GOP, or will there be a wave that includes unexpected victories?

I have generally leaned to the former view, but here in Minnesota there has been some interesting poll movement. Republican Jeff Johnson has now pulled to within seven points of Governor Mark Dayton, 45%-38%, according to the Star Tribune Minnesota Poll. The same poll has Al Franken’s lead over Mike McFadden down to single digits at 48%-39%. Normally one wouldn’t get excited about trailing by “only” seven or nine points, but it is striking that neither Dayton nor Franken can get to 50% support, just days before the election.

Moreover, this poll’s methodology may or may not forecast turnout accurately. Traditionally, Minnesota’s midterm electorate is almost like a different state: Republicans do much better in non-presidential years. Further, northern Minnesota, for generations a DFL stronghold, has been trending strongly Republican. The most recent poll in Minnesota’s 8th District shows Power Line Pick Stewart Mills with a stunning eight-point lead over incumbent Rick Nolan. The Democrats haven’t given up on Nolan, and are still spending vast amounts of money to smear Mills on television. But the Star Tribune’s editorial board gave a clear sign which way the wind is blowing when it endorsed Mills. The Star Tribune is a Democratic Party newspaper, but it always endorses a few Republicans who are shoo-ins, like John Kline in the 2nd District and Erik Paulsen in the 3rd. Its endorsement of Mills suggests that the paper believes he is destined to win.

The reason it is so difficult for Republicans to win statewide races in Minnesota is that the party is moribund in the cities, and increasingly in inner-tier suburbs. When Democrats win 90-10 or 85-15 in the cities, there aren’t enough votes in the rest of the state to catch up. But of course, that depends on turnout. I may have missed it, but for what it is worth, I haven’t noticed any great surge of enthusiasm in Minneapolis or St. Paul for Democrats like Franken and Dayton, both unusually weak incumbents. So who knows? Maybe there will be a wave. If so, let it begin here.

It is not too late to contribute to Jeff Johnson, Mike McFadden, Stewart Mills or Torrey Westrom, who is running a strong race against long-time incumbent Collin Peterson in the 7th District.

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