“Hello, One Minnesota!” DFLer Tim Walz shouted in salute to supporters Tuesday night as he celebrated victory in the Minnesota governor’s race. They cheered in response, recognizing the phrase as the First District congressman’s gubernatorial campaign slogan. We hope those words come to signify much more in the next four years.
Walz’s campaign theme refers to what has become a major problem for this state. For several decades, political, cultural and demographic forces have conspired to drive a wedge between rural- and urban-dwelling Minnesotans. As a result, Minnesota policymakers have struggled to reach and sustain a consensus about how best to share and distribute resources for the whole state’s benefit. One of Minnesota’s best man-made assets — a robust and functional state government — has become weaker and less reliable.
Walz, who lives in Mankato, has vowed to try to ease those tensions. Unfortunately, Tuesday’s results may have made them worse. This election revealed both a deepening regional divide and the growing political dominance of the metro area.
DFLers took control of the Minnesota House by making gains primarily in the metro area’s suburban ring. Only in St. Cloud and in Bemidji — where the District 5A race appears headed for a legally mandated recount — did DFLers take seats from Republicans in greater Minnesota.
Lopsided results in many districts suggest that many of Minnesota’s Republican “red” places have become more loyal to the GOP, while DFL “blue” districts are bluer than ever. Some Minneapolis and St. Paul DFLers were re-elected with more than 85 percent of the vote, while in places as far-flung as Little Falls, Luverne and Roseau, GOP winners won majorities in excess of 65 percent.
Tuesday’s shuffle of the state’s congressional delegation tells the same story. Democrats lost two of the three greater Minnesota congressional seats they had held for years, while picking up two seats in the Twin Cities suburbs that not long ago were safe territory for Republicans. The state’s most popular Democrat, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, won a third term with 60 percent of the vote but nevertheless was bested by Republican challenger Jim Newberger in 35 of the state’s 87 counties.
Walz won by carrying just 22 counties. He and other DFLers have their work cut out for them to convince voters in the other 65 that their new DFL governor and House majority have their interests at heart.
The converse is true as well. Republicans have a long way to go to persuade urban dwellers that their party’s agenda aligns with urban interests. Given that nearly all of the state’s population growth in coming decades is forecast to occur in the metro area, the Minnesota Republican Party has an existential reason to enhance its appeal in the metro area.
Democracy is diminished when large regions of the state are dominated by one party. Minnesotans deserve two competitive major parties that both seek to serve the whole state. Both parties have work to do to be seen as committed to that goal. Fortunately, Minnesota has a governor-elect who has made closing the rural-urban divide his signature priority.