District 21 race may sway SenateMinnesota voters tune in to presidential debates, discuss constitutional amendments and follow eight U.S. House races. But the biggest impact on state residents could be decided lower on the ballot, where all 201 state House and Senate seats will be listed Nov. 6.
By: Don Davis and Danielle Killey, The Republican Eagle
ST. PAUL — Minnesota voters tune in to presidential debates, discuss constitutional amendments and follow eight U.S. House races. But the biggest impact on state residents could be decided lower on the ballot, where all 201 state House and Senate seats will be listed Nov. 6.
Legislators are the people who make decisions that immediately affect Minnesotans. Who Minnesotans elect to the Legislature is important, House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said.
“It matters if your legislator is willing to fight for your local district,” Dean said.
And, he said, it matters what party is in control.
For the past two years, Minnesota’s Legislature has been controlled by Republicans for the first time in nearly four decades. Democratic-Farmer-Laborites are out to regain at least one chamber in an election that by all accounts could wind up with close legislative splits.
Sen. John Howe of Red Wing, seeking re-election, said he believes the state Legislature will stay more or less the same.
“Minnesota has a history of balance,” Howe said. “With the governor’s office being DFL, I think the general public would want a GOP-controlled House and Senate.”
The most widespread statewide campaign is a behind-the-scenes effort by the four legislative caucuses. It is made more important this year after new district lines threw some incumbents into the same districts, created open districts and gave many lawmakers territory they have not represented before.
Almost half of Republican lawmakers statewide are in their first term. First-term legislators usually are more vulnerable. Incumbents have an advantage because they generally are better known than challengers, although that advantage is weaker in a year like this when they face new voters in new districts.
District 21, which extends from Red Wing past Wabasha and Gooview, got a new name but otherwise remained largely the same after redistricting.
Senate candidate Matt Schmit said he has been out talking to people in the district to get his name out.
“It’s a matter of getting out there and introducing myself to people,” he said, adding “We feel like we’ve got some momentum.”
Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, co-leader of the Senate GOP campaign, said she knows people are watching the Howe-Schmit race, but since Howe was Red Wing mayor and now has served a term in the Senate he is well known.
“People know who I am, they know my record, they know I’ve been involved in the community,” Howe said.
Last week, Gov. Mark Dayton visited Red Wing to support the Schmit campaign, though Howe said the governor told him he didn’t believe it would significantly impact the race.
Both Schmit and Howe said in the less than two weeks before the election they will focus on door-knocking, talking with voters and getting their messages out “positively.”
@Sub heads:Ballot questions
@Normal1: Statewide, however, other issues are getting more attention that the Legislature. Those include the presidential contest, in which most polls show Democratic President Barack Obama beating Republican Mitt Romney in Minnesota.
What normally would be the second-most-watched race would be for U.S. Senate. However, incumbent Democrat Amy Klobuchar holds commanding leads in the polls and a massive advantage in campaign contributions over Republican Kurt Bills.
Also attracting attention are a pair of proposed constitutional amendments, especially one that would ban gay marriages. The other one would require Minnesotans to show photographic identification before voting.
Republicans say strong Democratic candidates at the top of the ticket will not influence most voters when they get to legislative races. However, Democrats contend that a strong campaign against the amendments could produce a heavier vote for their candidates, such as college students turning out to oppose the voter ID proposal.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the top of the ticket could help his candidates.
“In some ways, elections are shaped more in Washington, D.C., than they have ever been,” Bakk said. “Obama has got to do better or there will be some impact in our races.”
Since Democrats traditionally are less consistent at showing up at the polls, if Obama draws them out, Democrats down the line could benefit.
In the Minnesota House, Republicans won the majority two years ago by a combined 682 votes, a fact House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, uses to show that House control could flip.
Democrats lost every close race in 2010, and Thissen said a few votes could spell the difference again this year.
Republicans control the House 72-61, with an open seat. The Senate GOP is in charge 37-29, also with a vacant seat.
Regardless of anything else, legislative leaders say they are hearing the get-along message loud and clear from voters. Local candidates also agreed.
Howe noted his record of working with DFL governor Dayton and others outside his party.
“There is a genuine dissatisfaction with the state government shutdown and with gridlock generally,” Schmit said. “Having knocked on 20,000 doors I can tell you Minnesotans do not feel well represented by either party right now.”