Already a consequential election year, 2020 may end with Minnesota poised to lose one of its eight U.S. House seats.
While not a certainty, that scenario seems more plausible with the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates showing Minnesota’s population growth slowing slightly in 2019.
It was the last look we’ll get before this spring’s actual census count. Slower growth, relative to faster growing Sun Belt states, means Minnesota is once again at risk of losing a congressional seat, something the state narrowly avoided after the 2010 census.
Analyses by the Wall Street Journal and Brookings Institution also have projected Minnesota will lose a congressional seat. State Demographer Susan Brower and Kimball Brace of Election Data Services, a Virginia consulting firm, also have sounded notes of pessimism.
It’s not just about losing clout in Congress and the Electoral College. If Minnesota’s U.S. House delegation drops to seven seats, each remaining district will likely need to take on about 100,000 more people to make sure they end up with roughly the same number of people.
The prospect of a smaller delegation naturally has fueled speculation about who may become the odd lawmaker out. A recent Politico article mused that maverick Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson could lose his GOP-leaning seat in western Minnesota. That, in turn, would make life difficult for suburban Democrats Dean Phillips and Angie Craig, whose districts would have to pick up more exurban Republican voters.
The article hedged by describing the possibility as “purely speculative.” Gina Countryman, a Minnesota GOP strategist, agrees that should the state’s delegation shrink to seven seats, Phillips and Craig likely stand to represent a larger chunk of more rural and exurban voters who generally skew more conservative.
Still, it is too soon to tell who exactly may be without a seat at the conclusion of a process likely to extend into 2022.
“The data that matters is the data that’s coming, and we don’t have that yet,” Countryman said.
After that, the drama shifts to the Minnesota Legislature, which must draw new district lines. This obviously raises the stakes for the state House and Senate elections in November. If Democrats flip the Senate, they’ll have full control over Minnesota’s new map.
But if the Legislature remains divided, it could complicate finalizing a plan that Gov. Tim Walz would sign. Any final map also would have to stand up to a potential court challenge.
Court intervention is not always the best path, said Eric Magnuson, former Supreme Court chief justice.
“It’s really a bad idea because the courts employ constitutional powers — it’s like a broadsword, it’s not a scalpel,” Magnuson said. “The court is really sensitive about where it wields that authority and so it tries to do as little as it has to, particularly in something that is as charged politically as this.”