Midterm elections are often unkind to the president’s party, and Democrats nationally and the DFL Party here in Minnesota believe they can exploit President Donald Trump’s sagging approval rating and the divisions he has caused in his own party.
But Ben Golnik, the Minnesota House GOP’s chief of staff and top political operative, remains confident his team will maintain its significant majority in the House, which now stands at 77-57.
According to an analysis from a DFL operative, the House currently has 73 districts with a GOP tilt and 61 with a DFL advantage. That means the DFL must win in some Republican-leaning districts, which will be difficult in an era of intense polarization when voters are less likely to cross over.
Of the 12 GOP-held House districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, Golnik notes, many are represented by strong Republicans like Reps. Jenifer Loon and Sarah Anderson. In some more winnable districts for DFLers, a DFL challenger hasn’t yet stepped up.
Of course, it’s still early. Also, virtually all these districts are in the metro area, where House Republicans actually picked up seats last year. So Golnik thinks they can stay competitive.
He counts 33 GOP seats that can reasonably be said to be contested. This includes a set of 2014 flips that turned into blowouts in 2016, including Reps. Tim Miller, Peggy Bennett, Dave Baker, Brian Daniels, Jason Rarick and Jeff Backer. Those districts no longer feel competitive. It’s worth noting that Miller is running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, so that could be an open seat.
Golnik counts 20 DFL districts as competitive, including seven that Trump won. Several of those are represented by Iron Range DFLers who are well known and should have no problem getting re-elected.
DFL Rep. Paul Marquart is in a district that Mitt Romney won in 2012, so Republicans will continue to chip away at him. Reps. Clark Johnson, Jean Poppe and Erin Koegel are in GOP-leaning districts. First-term Rep. Erin Maye Quade feels far more liberal than her Apple Valley district, and she should be ready for a barrage of attacks and a strong opponent.
There’s a wild card: What if a bunch of Republicans retire? Golnik (who, I strongly suspect, can be persuasive) has a simple argument to make with on-the-fence lawmakers — why quit now, right on the cusp of power, when Republicans could control House, Senate and the governor’s office for the first time in half a century?