Yes, the 2018 election is barely behind us, but last week felt like the start of the 2020 race in Minnesota — especially for control of the state Senate.
Republicans are using their three-seat majority to block the ambitious agenda of newly elected DFL Gov. Tim Walz.
Frustrated by lack of action on gun control bills, First Lady Gwen Walz vowed electoral consequences at a rally inside the Capitol last week. “If they do not put it up for a vote, there are seven senators sitting in seats where Tim Walz won — and we are coming,” Gwen Walz said.
State Sen. Warren Limmer, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee that has jurisdiction over gun laws, responded: “Bring it on.”
Tim Walz offered his own jabs at Senate Republicans last week: “The day I announced my transportation package, that was dead. The day I announced my education package, that was dead. Here’s the thing, the dead-on-arrival stuff is coming from a group people who were not on the ballot in 2018,” he said.
He added: “There’s a very out-of-touch group in this country that seem to be concentrated heavily in the Minnesota Senate right now.”
Keeping in mind Republican senators in districts that leaned Democratic in 2018, a senior administration official told me last week that Walz remains hopeful he can work with Republicans, especially Sen. Paul Gazelka, the GOP majority leader from Nisswa.
But given the political reality in recent weeks, expect framing around “the party of no” — and leaning into those districts where Walz can get some movement from vulnerable Republicans. Watch where Walz has events. The locales are not coincidental.
Sen. Paul Anderson, R-Plymouth, is in a district now represented by two House Democrats elected in the 2018 wave. He declined an invitation from Walz to visit a school in his district this week, citing constituent meetings.
“Governor Walz is feeling like if we can keep applying pressure, we can get them to move,” one ally said.
They’re also trying to use Walz’s immense energy to travel and fire up allies on specific issues, such as teachers on education and laborers on transportation. DFLers also want to get union members engaged earlier in the session than they’ve been in the past.
By the way, as MinnPost reported, Walz actually won 10 Senate districts held by Republicans. But the GOP counters that President Donald Trump won eight of those Senate districts. Republicans also point to their recent victory in the special Senate election in east-central Minnesota. They think that victory represented a turn in their fortunes, perhaps even a preview of 2020.
In the end, the irony is that the fate of both parties’ Senate prospects are mostly out of their hands. As politics has become increasingly nationalized, voters tend to vote straight tickets. Which means what really matters is the other 2020 race — the one for the White House.
J. Patrick Coolican 651-925-5042 Twitter: @jpcoolican firstname.lastname@example.org