For the statewide offices, they chose all Democrats. For the Minnesota House, they went for the GOP, picking individuals over party.
Republicans, who needed seven seats to flip control, instead toppled Democratic incumbents in 11 House districts. In six of those, voters chose Democrat Al Franken for the U.S. Senate, but then switched and chose Republican Jeff Johnson for the governor’s office. Gov. Mark Dayton largely made up the difference in strong Democratic districts.
A Star Tribune analysis showed nearly 450,000 voters — about a quarter of the electorate — chose one party’s candidate for a state House seat, but then switched to pick a different party’s candidate for U.S. Senate or governor. Whether intentional or not, voters broke the one-party control that has marked state politics for the past two years, with DFLers in control of all statewide offices and both branches of the Legislature.
Veteran Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, said voters simply pick the individuals they think are best for a particular post.
“They consider every pick,” said Davids, who will start his 12th term next year.
In Davids’ southern Minnesota district, voters chose Franken over Republican challenger Mike McFadden and overwhelmingly returned Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz to Congress. But they passed on Dayton, instead selecting Johnson. They then gave Davids, who has won and lost and won again, nearly 56 percent of the vote.
“It was amazingly ticket splitting,” he said.
Dayton, who has been in Minnesota politics for nearly four decades, knows the drill.
“We did very well in Ramsey, Hennepin and St. Louis counties, where I think almost every legislator is a Democrat,” he said. “And I did not so well in parts of greater Minnesota. It was very mixed in terms of support for us around the state, and that’s reflected in the legislative races.” But, he said, those races “come down to the individual people and the issues that are specific to those districts.”
The House flip
Tuesday marks the fourth time in eight years that voters have flipped control of the House.
When the Legislature reconvenes in January, 72 of the 134 seats will be filled by Republicans, a clear majority. That number may grow to 73, depending on one suburban seat that may go to a recount. The freshman class of newly elected members will have 21 Republicans and only five DFLers, who won open seats. Republicans lost not one House seat.
Nearly all of the DFLers who lost came from districts that went Republican in previous elections. Many voters in those areas had supported Republican Tom Emmer over Dayton four years ago and chose Republican Mitt Romney over President Obama in 2012.
“Longtime DFLers and some freshman DFLers in the rural areas were too closely tied to President Obama and the liberal leadership in Minneapolis and St. Paul,” said Ben Golnik, chairman of the Minnesota Jobs Coalition. The coalition spent over $1 million to win a Republican House.
“It sucks — and I don’t like the word ‘sucks’ — it sucks when you have to go out on somebody else’s terms,” an emotional Rep. John Ward told Democrats in Baxter after he lost his seat. “I gave everything I had for eight years, serving you, representing you and doing the best job I could, and I don’t have any regrets whatsoever. None.”
In 2012, Ward’s district voted for a ban on same-sex marriage. After that measure failed, Ward joined his colleagues in supporting legalization. While seven of the 11 Democrats who fell followed a similar pattern, marriage votes seemed not to be a determining factor in many of the races. DFL Rep. Patti Fritz, of Faribault, voted against legalization and still lost her seat.
For the state’s usually enthusiastic voters, there was too little in the lackluster election to even get them to the polls.
Just half of the electorate, fewer than 2 million people, ended up casting ballots on Tuesday. Nearly 56 percent of voters went to the polls in 2010 and nearly 60 percent turned out in 2006.
After recent elections, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has congratulated the state for its high voting strength. On Wednesday, he simply thanked election judges for their work.
The turnout drops were particularly stark in outstate Minnesota. In 20 of the state’s counties, largely far from the metro area, 10 percent fewer voters came to the polls to vote compared with previous midterm elections.
The low turnout came in a year when Minnesota made it easier than ever to vote. A new absentee ballot law allowed all voters to cast ballots long before Election Day. A record number of people availed themselves of early voting, but that did not make up for those who did not vote.
Star Tribune staff writers Jennifer Brooks and Patrick Condon contributed to this report.
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Twitter: @RachelSB
Glenn Howatt Twitter: @GlennHowatt