For readers of my Up North blog here at the Star Tribune, I offer you a choice exerpt from my final election analysis as voters cast their ballots and we all find out who won tonight and tomorrow. 

Minnesota’s 8th District has become something of a folk legend. Everyone thinks they see what’s happening, but there are so many versions of the truth. Fact is, it’s just plain hard to counterbalance the demographic shift and economic stagnation of places like the Iron Range, the conservative trends of the exurbs, the liberal growth of Duluth, the swinging Brainerd Lakes, three Chippewa reservations and hundreds of oddball townships. Honestly, it’s like trying to figuring out what’s in a hot dish after the fact. Probably cream of mushroom soup, but also something else.

Everyone thinks it will be close. Most media pundits are placing Mills as the slight favorite because of the KSTP/SurveyUSA poll from last month. It’s a parlor game in guessing the percentage Sandman will get, and how many of those votes are from disaffected liberals in Nolan’s coalition.

I’ve long viewed this race between Nolan and Mills as an imperfect contest to determine the mettle of the “New Eighth.” This changing district is no longer all about mining and shipping, but really an increasingly diversifying and globalizing center of natural resources and human capital. The incumbent Nolan has been the aging prize fighter, a spirited liberal of the old school who occasionally shows flashes of what was once a more sparkling political talent. The challenger Mills, a young and somewhat rebellious-looking conservative party boy who knows what men of woods like to talk about.

Nolan talks about a world that seems like a warmed over version of the 20th century, while it’s hard to see if Mills has the depth to understand the challenges his generation and younger will face. Most of his solutions come in the form of saying he’s for mining and lower taxes. Those might be popular positions in some corners, perhaps even enough to get him elected, but I’ve yet to see an interview, debate or speech that suggest he can think independently or critically. A conservative I respect very much went to school with him and thinks of Mills as a blank slate. Speaking for myself, I could handle my political differences with Mills if I saw more depth. I’ve grown to respect Nolan as a person, but his solutions are simply too invested in old thinking for me to consider his re-election as anything more than a stopgap best-of-of-two-evils proposition.

The DFL needs to generate new talent with more connection to how young families and entrepreneurs actually make a living in Northern Minnesota. The Republicans need to move beyond election year mining talk and legislative neglect of Northern Minnesota institutions. One hopes that the winner of this election finds traction for true progress just the same.

As for the prediction, I am going say Nolan 49, Mills 48, Sandman 3. The reason is simply that I don’t think Mills is as strong as Chip Cravaack was in 2010. I also think some Sandman votes are going to swing back. Nolan exceeded the polls in 2012, and if his people turn out half the voters who stayed home in 2010 he’ll survive by a whisker. They’re actively trying to do that. Nevertheless, for all the reasons listed before, I could see Mills winning in a similar fashion to Cravaack if turnout breaks down for Democrats, OR if enough liberals decide to go in for Sandman.

You can read my complete analysis of the 2014 Minnesota races. I'm already live blogging at my site, with results and analysis to continue tonight and tomorrow.

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