DULUTH — Political newcomer and progressive activist Jen McEwen will likely be the next state senator to represent Duluth after soundly defeating incumbent Sen. Erik Simonson in Tuesday’s DFL primary.
With all precincts reporting, McEwen won 73% of more than 11,000 votes cast.
McEwen’s victory came on a night when voters in several Minnesota districts turned away from incumbents in favor of more left-leaning candidates, marking a shift in the party’s direction statewide and a blow to labor’s longstanding influence over the party in Duluth.
Endorsed by the DFL and backed by groups that oppose copper-nickel mining, McEwen challenged Simonson’s environmental record and said faster action is needed on climate change, wealth inequality and other social issues.
“We’re part of something much larger than just this campaign,” McEwen said in a message to supporters Tuesday night. “We really are part of a larger movement. And this movement is across the country and tonight it is across Minnesota. It is here. And what that movement represents is a shift in our politics toward caring for one another.”
Simonson, 52, had the backing of organized labor and many establishment DFLers, including Gov. Tim Walz, and ran on a record of coalition-building in one term in the state Senate and two terms in the House.
Simonson, a retired firefighter and administrator at Lake Superior College, put out a statement Wednesday saying “it has been an honor” to represent Duluth for eight years.
“I am committed to ensuring that over the next few months we continue to navigate this pandemic, pass a robust capital investment bill and [help] constituents solve problems,” Simonson said.
McEwen, a 43-year-old attorney, will face Republican Donna Bergstrom for the Senate District 7 seat representing most of Duluth in November. Simonson defeated Bergstrom in 2016 with 65% of the vote. The DFL has held the seat since the district was relocated to Duluth nearly 50 years ago.
The Boundary Waters Action Fund cheered McEwen’s win on Tuesday night and called it a “win for the Boundary Waters.”
“Her victory shows once again that northeastern Minnesotans want their elected leaders to fight to protect this special place — not sell it out to special interests,” the group said in a statement.
Nadia Labyad, 34, said she voted for McEwen because “it’s really important for me that more women are involved in politics and able to serve in office,” she said Monday.
Duane Rich, 62, said he felt the primary had big implications.
“I used to like Erik Simonson for state Senate, but he is pro-coal,” he said.
Christine Dearing, 52, had a Jen McEwen sign in her yard across the street from her polling place.
“I feel like she ran a really good, hard, honest campaign,” she said.
Staff writer Katie Galioto contributed to this report.