Which party will emerge from the election with majority control of the Minnesota Senate is one of the biggest questions on the Nov. 3 ballot.
Given the stakes, groups on both sides are spending heavily in hopes of influencing the results. Victory could come down to just hundreds of votes in a handful of districts.
But one outcome appears certain: The number of women serving in the upper chamber come January will increase.
Sixteen women now serve in the state Senate, representing just 23% of members. Only one, state Republican Sen. Karin Housley, is facing a male challenger in a competitive seat. Three retiring members, two of whom are men, will all but certainly be succeeded by women, given the matchups and the partisan leans of the districts. The math means the number of female senators will likely go up by at least one.
But the gains could be bigger. Five of the most competitive Senate races, including crucial suburban seats covering cities such as Burnsville, Maple Grove and the western suburbs, feature female Democrats challenging male GOP incumbents. In another suburban contest, Democrat Ann Johnson Stewart is running against Republican Greg Pulles for the seat vacated by GOP Sen. Paul Anderson.
That’s not a coincidence. In 2018, female candidates drove the DFL’s successful bid to take back the majority in the state House. Ten of the 11 seats that the DFL needed to flip in 2018 were won by Democratic women endorsed by Women Winning, which backs Minnesota women who support abortion rights.
“We project that if the Minnesota Senate flips, just like the House in 2018, it will be because of pro-choice women,” Executive Director Meggie Wittorf said. “Many are running in incredibly competitive races and have been working so hard that their path to victory is really strong.”
While Democrats are once again seeing bigger numbers, Republicans also have recruited women to run this year. Julia Coleman, a leading candidate for an open seat in Chaska, could become one of the youngest women to serve in the Senate. Former Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens is challenging Minority Leader Susan Kent in another hotly contested suburban seat. And in the state House, GOP women are running for a number of competitive seats that Republicans hope to flip this time around. Top Republicans see potential in those bids.
“Republican women bring viewpoints of fiscal conservatism — stretching government dollars to make the right investments, just like we often stretch family budgets,” said Leslie Rosedahl, chair of the GOP-aligned Women LEAD PAC. “And women like to get stuff done. We’re programmed to juggle a lot of projects, for our careers and in many cases, for our families too.”
Still, the overall outlook for gender parity in the House is less certain. The chamber actually had a net loss of one female member in 2018, a year that saw gains for women nationwide. While GOP women are poised to potentially gain ground, several of those wins would be in seats already represented by female legislators. A handful of vulnerable female incumbents on the DFL side face male challengers.