What to watch for in Minnesota's legislative races this year

Republicans enter next week's midterm election with advantages in Minnesota's legislative chambers. But historical patterns — and a Star Tribune analysis — suggest defending those majorities may prove difficult, particularly in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

Control of the Legislature tends to blow with the up-ballot winds, due in large part to a couple dozen swing seats in greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities suburbs.

During presidential election years, the winner's party routinely has captured majorities in the Minnesota Legislature — only to lose them during midterm election years, due in part to voter backlash.

Control of the Minnesota House routinely changes hands
The party of the incumbent president often loses seats during midterm election years.

This gives hope to Democrats, as November's midterm could be positioned to follow past trends. The DFL only needs to flip 11 seats from GOP control to retake the House.

An unusual but critical special election in the Minnesota Senate will also determine control of that chamber, which has been split evenly between parties since earlier this year. Republican Jeff Howe and DFL candidate Joe Perske are facing off in that St. Cloud-area race, which is in a district that historically has leaned Republican.

The Star Tribune has analyzed these races and isolated which legislative contests to watch most closely on Election Night.

Races to watch

In a chamber representing 134 districts, 68 are needed to hold a majority. Currently Republicans have 77 seats, compared to 57 for the DFL.

Polling is rare in Minnesota's legislative contests, but looking at each district's partisan voting trends and the last presidential election's results can suggest how competitive these races might be.

At least 19 races are in possibly vulnerable districts
Several competitive legislative seats are in districts that voted for the opposite party's presidential candidate in 2016. Sorting districts by their Cook Partisan Voting Index and presidential vote margins shows those in politically polarized areas may be poised to flip.
⇦ More Democratic | More Republican ⇨

open seat rematch

A Star Tribune analysis shows seven DFL-held seats in districts won by Donald Trump in 2016, versus 12 GOP-held seats in districts won by Hillary Clinton. A handful of others had close margins for both presidential and legislative races.

Many of the 24 open seats without incumbents or the 17 rematches from two years ago may also be worth watching.

These rankings use President Trump's vote margins from 2016, along with the Cook Partisan Voting Index (CPVI), which rates each district's political lean based on averages from the past two presidential contests.

Watching the rural and suburban votes

Geography also matters in these races, especially since Minnesota's urban/rural political divide became even more pronounced after 2016.

Districts in Minnesota's Iron Range and Southern Minnesota voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in 2016. Inversely, many suburban districts that often vote Republican were won by Hillary Clinton by significant margins.

It's no accident that those regions are home to major battleground districts in the U.S. House of Representatives as well. How those races swing in November may affect the outcomes of these competitive legislative districts.

Keep an eye on the Iron Range and the suburbs
Several seats in the Iron Range, along with a number in the Twin Cities suburbs, are in districts that voted for the opposing party's presidential candidate in 2016, and are also mostly located in hotly-contested Congressional districts.
DFL DFL Watching GOP GOP Watching

Of course, statewide elections could also have an effect, particularly depending upon whether each party's candidate for governor and the U.S. Senate can shore up a geographically diverse enough coalition to win.

And just as control of the U.S. House of Representatives is closely tied to presidential approval ratings, similar trends have been found in Minnesota's legislative races.

National polling averages show President Donald Trump at a 42 percent job approval rating, while a recent Star Tribune/MPR News Minnesota Poll has him at 39 percent in Minnesota.

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