Scott Graham has knocked on thousands of doors for political candidates over the years, and he always hears the same thing: This is the most important election of our lifetime.
For once, the southwest Minneapolis DFL activist said, he might actually believe it.
“If when the dust settles we don’t have the governor’s office, we’re in big trouble,” said Graham, who is DFL chairman of a Minneapolis Senate district and an officer of the state party.
Graham is helping the party organize Tuesday night’s precinct caucuses, the official kickoff to the state’s busiest political season in years. Activists of both parties will gather at more than 4,000 caucuses to select party leaders, hash out platform planks and make choices in a nonbinding straw poll in the race for governor.
The caucuses are the start of an election year in which Minnesotans will elect a governor and two U.S. senators and help determine who controls the U.S. House, by way of at least four competitive congressional races.
For many Minnesotans, it will be the first opportunity to formally act on political passions since the 2016 election, a statement of opposition to or support for President Donald Trump.
“We want 2018 to be the catalyst that turns the state red in the 2020 presidential election,” said Lloyd Cheney, chairman of the Second Congressional District Republicans.
The DFL’s Graham said Trump has changed everything: “There’s a lot of anger and rancor, both with our own party and the current political system, especially 45,” Graham said, referring to the nation’s 45th president.
While Trump continues to dominate political discourse, and despite the novelty of two U.S. Senate races this year, the governor’s race is the big prize in Minnesota. Second-term DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is not running again, and the race is wide open on both sides.
For DFLers, holding the governor’s office for four more years represents their best chance to keep resistance to the Trump agenda at the forefront of Minnesota politics. For Republicans who now control the Legislature, a victory in the governor’s race would likely give them full control of state government for the first time in more than half a century.
“They know how important the governor’s office is ... not just for things like the state budget, but also redistricting, so it’s critical we win in 2018,” Cheney said.
Redistricting is what makes the 2018 governor’s race crucial, not just for the next four years but through the entire next decade. After the constitutionally mandated census in 2020, the Legislature and governor will have to redraw the state’s legislative and congressional district maps. In recent decades, parties in power have used sophisticated software to draw maps that compound their advantages, like Wall Street traders who can write their own rules.
After Tuesday, Minnesotans will have a better idea of who will take the helm of state government next year.