It’s easy to chalk up Republican Mike Parry’s special election win Tuesday in state Senate District 26 as Minnesota politics as usual. Voters in that southeastern Minnesota region have been reliably electing Republicans during nearly all of Minnesota’s 152 years of statehood.
But this election also must be seen in two larger contexts, one national, one state. The national political climate has been chilling rapidly for Democrats in recent months, as last week’s special election in Massachusetts illustrates.
And in Minnesota, three-party politics remains in force, and, as District 26 showed again, tends to work in Republican favor. Parry, a Waseca businessman, got 43 percent of the vote, compared with 36.5 percent for DFLer Jason Engbrecht, a St Olaf College professor, and 20 percent for Independence Party candidate Roy Srp, Waseca’s mayor.
It’s notable that Srp was well known and ran an active and visible campaign, but could not crack the 20-percent threshold. Count that as a sign that even when populist anger is stirring in the country, the barrier to an Independence Party resurgence in Minnesota is high. IP Gov. Jesse Ventura's election in 1998 looks more with each passing year like an anomaly rather than the start of a trend.
Fans of instant runoff voting were quick to point out that had Srp’s voters been allowed to express a second choice, the outcome may have been different. But as long as one of the two big parties is the consistent victor in three-way elections in which a plurality wins, that party will mightily resist a statewide change to majority rule via instant runoff.