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Unpopular candidates, no statewide races, new early voting make for rare election in MN

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Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. FNS photo2 / 2

Lawmaker pay amendment on ballot

While most Minnesota voters focus on presidential politics with interest in local, legislative and congressional races, they also will decide whether state lawmakers should set their own salaries.

A constitutional amendment proposal on the ballot would establish a 16-member independent commission to decide how much lawmakers are paid. They would vote for raises, lower pay or keep the status quo.

Minnesota legislators balk at giving themselves raises, a vote that could be the political death penalty. They have not seen raises since 1999, their pay static at $31,140 (although leaders do get a bit more).

However, representatives also get $66 every day they work for expenses and senators receive $86. They also may receive housing and technology payments.

When someone does not vote for or against the amendment, it counts as a "no" vote.

ST. PAUL — The Nov. 8 election will be rare.

The big difference from other elections, obvious to anyone paying attention, is two unpopular presidential candidates sit atop the ballot.

In Minnesota, the only statewide race is a little-followed one for Supreme Court justice. Once every 12 years the ballot is void of a statewide political race. There is no governor contest, no mention of U.S. senator, attorney general, state auditor or secretary of state.

The political ballot jumps from president to U.S. House, where a trio of heated races get plenty of attention — and money.

Perhaps most important to Minnesota voters, every one of the 201 legislative seats are up for election.

Each voter can pick just one state representative and one Senate candidate, but as a whole Minnesota voters will decide if Republicans remain in control of at least one legislative body or if they give Gov. Mark Dayton his wish to have fellow Democrats control the House and Senate, giving him a better chance of passing his wishes during his final two years in office.

The rarest factor of all in the election run-up is that things are so strangely unpredictable that people usually in the know are making no predictions about how things will turn out.

"In general, it feels like it is 50-50 all over the place," Minnesota Republican Chairman Keith Downey said.

Not only are there plenty of close races, but the election year rarities make it difficult to predict who will vote and the presidential race with someone like Republican Donald Trump, who could attract voters who normally do not go to the polls, makes trusting polls tough.

Downey said Republicans may get support from Trump voters who seldom go to the polls, which could help the GOP up and down the ballot. Democrats, meanwhile, "are having to work really hard to motivate their base" in light of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's well-publicized email and other problems.

Not so, Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party said.

Minnesota Democrats became complacent given the fact that it appeared Clinton would continue the party tradition of taking Minnesota, the chairman said. However, Martin said, the late-October announcement that the FBI was looking into more Clinton emails prompted an influx of donations and volunteering by Democrats who had been sitting out the campaign.

"It has reinvigorated our base," Martin said. "In a weird way, it is going to backfire on Republicans."

Getting out supporters on Election Day is key for both parties, and Democrats long have had the upper hand in using data to target their voters. Downey admitted that in some areas Democrats still lead in that effort, but "we have been building for weeks now for a final eight-day get-out-the-vote effort" that he said will be the GOP's best yet.

Downey said Republican-leaning groups are financing the get-out-the-vote effort, even as the party faces financial problems.

Martin, however, sees a different Republican Party. He predicted the GOP will suffer because while the Clinton campaign is working with other Democrats to get out the vote, that is not the case with Trump.

"It's completely absent," Martin said of a Trump effort to get voters to the polls.

Millions of dollars, mostly from organizations other than the candidates' campaigns, are spilling into legislative districts. Much of that money goes to rip apart one candidate in each race.

However, far more money is headed to contested U.S. House races, including the 8th Congressional District's race between U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Stewart Mills in what will be one of the most expensive congressional races in the country, if not the most expensive.

Besides the Mills-Nolan race in northeast, north central and east central Minnesota, U.S. House races that have attracted national attention are one in the western Twin Cities between Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen and Democratic state Sen. Terri Bonoff and an open seat in the southern Twin Cities and areas south between Republican Jason Lewis and Democrat Angie Craig.

More than 400,000 Minnesotans already cast ballots in the first presidential election under the state's early-voting law.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.