Minnesota voters from Shakopee to Virginia will find a less-publicized list of names on their August primary ballot sandwiched between candidates for governor and Congress.
In 21 Minnesota House districts, two or more candidates from the same party filed to run for the same legislative seat. Many of those Tuesday primary bouts are not particularly contentious, with a number of candidates filing but not campaigning. But in some House races, including ones in Minneapolis, the suburbs and on the Iron Range, the battle is on.
“This election is not like any election that I’ve seen before,” said Republican Rep. Bob Loonan, who is seeking re-election in Shakopee against GOP-endorsed candidate Erik Mortensen. Loonan said outside groups are spending tens of thousands of dollars on the race and are distributing negative mailers.
For both parties, having strong candidates advance to the November general election is important. Republicans have the majority in both the state House and Senate and are determined to retain control of the Legislature — particularly with an unpredictable governor’s race. DFLers, however, say they see a path to flip 11 seats and take over the House.
This week’s primaries likely will not affect which party wins the majority in November, said House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. But in some places they could determine who represents a district, he said.
One of the seats where Daudt expects the winner of the GOP primary to end up at the State Capitol is in northern Anoka County. Incumbent Rep. Cal Bahr from East Bethel and the former legislator he unseated, Tom Hackbarth of Cedar, are facing off there.
Hackbarth said he decided to run again because he has some unfinished work at the Capitol.
He said he wants to eliminate the tax on Social Security benefits and create a “world-class shooting range” for high school trap shooting tournaments. Bahr said he would defend Second Amendment rights and rein in the Metropolitan Council’s power as a regional planning agency.
“It’s critical that we elect good, solid candidates,” Bahr said — ones who can win in November and take action at the Capitol. Republican state lawmakers need to propose and pass bills that excite voters over the next two years, which will pay off in higher voter turnout and support in the 2020 election, he said.
Busy ballots in heart of Mpls.
In the heart of Minneapolis, two open seats have drawn particularly long lists of DFL candidates. Five DFLers filed to run for the seat that includes the Phillips and Whittier neighborhoods south of downtown, previously held by retiring Rep. Karen Clark. Seven DFLers are running for state Rep. Ilhan Omar’s open seat, which includes the University of Minnesota and surrounding neighborhoods.
The number of DFL candidates who filed to run is unusual and is partly in response to President Donald Trump’s actions, House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman said.
“The amount of energy from DFLers this year is astonishing and wonderful,” Hortman said.
Candidates in Omar’s district — where the DFL is nearly guaranteed a win — have spent the past couple months making their big push to get voters’ support. They are championing progressive causes, like a $15 statewide minimum wage and criticizing Trump’s travel ban on certain predominantly Muslim countries.
Meanwhile on the Iron Range, the DFL discussion looks very different. Shaun Hainey and Dave Lislegard are competing for the sprawling district that DFL Rep. Jason Metsa has represented for three terms.
“We have kind of a different breed of Democrat up here. I’m a Democrat and have been a member of the party for about 18 years. But I support the Second Amendment, am pro-mining, I’m for responsible assistance programs,” said Hainey, the DFL-endorsed candidate and a St. Louis County real estate appraiser.
Lislegard is the mayor of Aurora and works in business relations. A former steelworker, he has received numerous union endorsements. His campaign website features a photo of him in a “We Support Mining” T-shirt. If elected, he said he would focus on growing the natural resource and mining-based economy, along with other priorities like investing in education and addressing the opioid crisis.
While the area went for Trump in 2016, voters tend to elect DFLers to the Legislature, Hainey said. He expects either he or Lislegard would beat Republican candidate Skeeter Tomczak.
It’s less certain which party will take DFL Rep. Erin Maye Quade’s seat in November. When Maye Quade joined Rep. Erin Murphy’s gubernatorial ticket in June, five DFLers filed to run for her open Apple Valley seat.
DFLers say support has coalesced behind their party’s endorsed candidate, Robert Bierman. But the situation could still benefit GOP candidate Matt Lundin, Daudt said.
“I don’t know that [Bierman] is all that well known, so I think it sets us up well to be competitive there in the general” election, Daudt said.
In the Shakopee-area race, where either Loonan or Mortensen will compete with former Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke in November, the GOP candidates feel confident the seat will stay in Republican hands. But Hortman said she wouldn’t be so certain.
“I think he’s got a real shot,” she said of DFLer Tabke. “That community is changing quickly demographically.”
Mortensen, a small-business owner, said he would bring an independent, pro-free market approach to the State Capitol. He decided to challenge Loonan out of a belief that Loonan’s voting record isn’t conservative enough. Mortensen said his campaign has knocked on about 3,000 doors and is seeing the benefits of the Republican Party’s endorsement.
“There are a good chunk of people every night that say, ‘Yeah, I want to go with the endorsed candidate because they trust the local party made a good decision, and there must be some reason why they chose not to endorse Bob,” Mortensen said.
Loonan, however, said the endorsement process is in trouble. At all levels of government, from the governor’s race to Congress to the Minnesota House, people like him are not abiding by the outcome of local and state endorsing conventions — resulting in contested primaries.
“I think it’s antiquated,” he said. “And we’re in a time now where this should go out to the greatest amount of people if you want true representation.”