GovernorTim Pawlenty (R)
SenatorsAmy Klobuchar (D)
Al Franken (D)
- 5 D, 3 R
- 1 through 8
Located far up in America’s frozen North, Minnesota is a distinctive commonwealth, a state that in commerce, culture, and politics has set one example after another for the rest of the nation. It is the node of the transcontinental railroads that linked the winter wheat fields of the northern prairies to Minneapolis, the greatest grain-milling center in the world, and to the great Pacific ports of Puget Sound. It is also the birthplace of Scotch tape, Betty Crocker, Target, and the Mall of America, and the home of dyspeptic chroniclers of small-town America from Sinclair Lewis to Garrison Keillor. Politically, Minnesota for much of the 20th century provided the nation with some of its most articulate and honorable leaders—Harold Stassen, Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, Walter Mondale—and with traditions of probity, civic-mindedness, and innovation that are second to none.
Minnesota’s distinctiveness derives from its history. The far northern states were ignored by most Yankee migrants, who headed straight west into Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas. But others saw opportunity in Minnesota’s icy lakes and ferocious winters. James J. Hill, the builder of the Great Northern Railroad, once said, “You can’t interest me in any proposition in any place where it doesn’t snow.” He and other entrepreneurs operating out of Minneapolis and St. Paul—already twin cities by 1860—worked to attract Norwegian, Swedish, and German migrants who would find the terrain and climate congenial. By 1890, the Twin Cities—rivals that year in a census competition—were the nerve center of a sprawling and rich agricultural empire stretching west from Minnesota through the Dakotas into Montana and beyond. Minneapolis and St. Paul became the termini of its rail lines and the site of its grain-milling companies.
The Twin Cities also became the center of a three-party politics and an economic radicalism reminiscent of Scandinavia. (American regions do seem to mirror the geography of Europe, with the East Coast resembling the British Isles and France; the industrial Midwest reminiscent of Germany and Poland; the relatively poor and always hawkish South suggesting a Baptist Mediterranean; and the Upper Midwest of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota standing in as North American versions of Scandinavia.) One can get lutefisk (smelly, lye-soaked cod) around Christmastime in Minneapolis restaurants. In politics these Upper Midwestern commonwealths pioneered this continent’s welfare states and shaped national public policy far out of proportion to their numbers. Alarmed by the unprecedented concentration of economic power and wealth in the hands of a few identifiable millionaires who lived on St. Paul’s Summit Avenue or on the hill above Minneapolis’s Hennepin Avenue, the immigrants from Scandinavia drew on their native traditions of cooperative activity and bureaucratic socialism.
As in Wisconsin and North Dakota, a strong third political party developed here in the years after the Populist era. This Farmer-Labor Party elected senators in the 1920s and dominated state politics in the 1930s. Hurt by their ties to communists, the Farmer-Laborites were beaten by Gov. Harold Stassen’s Republicans in 1938. But this was still a New Deal state, and by 1944 the bedraggled local Democrats were merged with the anti-communist faction of Farmer-Laborites to form the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. Hubert Humphrey, the mayor of Minneapolis in 1945 and the dazzling advocate of the civil-rights plank at the 1948 Democratic National Convention, played a key role. Humphrey’s DFL—clean, idealistic, closely tied to labor, backed by many farmers—attracted dozens of talented politicians, including Eugene McCarthy, Orville Freeman, and Walter Mondale. Humphrey’s convention speech helped put the Democrats on record for civil rights, and he was elected to the Senate at age 37.
In the years that followed, the DFL dominated Minnesota politics while a series of progressive businesses led the development of a strong, diversified economy. The DFL stood for a generous, compassionate government, for strong labor unions and high wages, for an expansionist fiscal policy to encourage consumer-led economic growth, for civil rights, and for an anti-communist, but not bombastic, foreign policy. Its base was among blue-collar workers in the Twin Cities, in Duluth and the Iron Range, and among farmers of Scandinavian origin. Minnesota’s business leaders were politically conservative and professionally innovative. Over the years, with a pause during the Great Depression, Minnesota’s economy mostly hummed along, growing robustly in prosperous years and not falling far behind in recessions, although the state’s income growth started to lag the national average around 2004. Mergers eliminated the headquarters of Norwest Bank, Honeywell, and Northwest Airlines, and the Mall of America even lost its role as the nation’s largest shopping mecca.
Minnesota has very low levels of crime, divorce, and aberrant behavior. Workforce participation is high, and women are an increasingly important power in the economy. Minnesota has more social connectedness than any other large state, author Robert Putnam noted in Bowling Alone, and this spirit of civic participation is echoed in everything from hockey (Minnesota has the nation’s biggest high school hockey programs) to the party precinct caucuses and conventions. The 2008 DFL and Republican presidential precinct caucuses attracted 214,000 and 62,000 voters, respectively, more than in any other caucus state. Minnesota led the Midwest in population growth in the 1990s, although from 2000 to 2008, South Dakota edged ahead of Minnesota. The state has attracted an interesting array of immigrants: Hmong and Vietnamese in the 1980s and 1990s, and Somalis since 2000. Once pretty much all white, its population is now 4% black, 4% Hispanic, and 3% Asian.
Over the years since the Humphrey breakthrough in 1948, Minnesota has been a mostly Democratic state, but the DFL has seldom had total dominance. The state has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1976, and was presidential candidate George McGovern’s second-best state in 1972. But in 1978, after DFL Gov. Wendell Anderson appointed himself to the Senate, voters reacted to his self-serving move by electing Republicans to the two U.S. Senate seats and the governorship. Liberal domination of DFL nominating conventions produced some weak statewide candidates, and, combined with conservative domination of the Republican nominating conventions, helped open the way for former professional wrestler and suburban mayor Jesse Ventura to be elected governor in 1998. Ventura’s candidacy sparked a huge rise in turnout, especially in the Minneapolis-St. Paul media market beyond the Twin Cities core of Hennepin and Ramsey counties. This is family country and by far the fastest growing part of Minnesota; most counties outside the region lost population between 2000 and 2008.
In 2002, when Ventura did not run for re-election, the Twin Cities exurbs—the area just outside the Hennepin and Ramsey core—went heavily Republican, helping Tim Pawlenty win the governorship by a comfortable margin. In the Senate race, the tilt also boosted Norm Coleman, a DFLer-turned-Republican over Mondale; Democrats had named the former vice president to the ballot after Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone died in an October plane crash. In 2004, the tide began to turn the other way. Minnesota was a target state in the presidential race, and heavy Democratic turnout in Hennepin and Ramsey counties enabled Democratic nominee John Kerry to win 51%-48%. In 2006, the DFL seized the tide. Pawlenty was re-elected by only 47%-46%, and the DFL’s Amy Klobuchar won a Senate seat by a huge margin. Already in control of the Minnesota Senate, the DFL gained control of the House and picked up a U.S. House seat in the 1st Congressional District as well.
In 2008, Minnesota fell off the presidential candidates’ target lists in late September, and turnout was up only 3% from 2004. The state has long had one of the nation’s highest turnout rates and it seems that even the best organization can produce only marginal increases. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama won comfortably, but other DFL candidates lagged. DFL nominee Al Franken held Coleman to a 42%-42% tie, and, after eight months of ballot recounts and court challenges, was certified as the winner in July 2009. Dean Barkley, appointed to the Senate by Ventura to serve the last two months of Wellstone’s term, got just 15% of the vote. The DFL fell short of winning the 3rd and 6th Congressional Districts and failed to win a veto-proof majority in the state House.
2008 Presidential Vote
Minnesota is the state with the longest consecutive streak of voting Democratic for president. The last time Minnesota voted Republican was in 1972, and even then it gave Richard Nixon his lowest percentage margin over McGovern. But in 2000 and 2004, the state was seriously contested, and voters gave Al Gore and John Kerry only 48%-46% and 51%-48% victories, respectively, over Republican George W. Bush. One might attribute the increasing Democratic margin to the decision of 2000 Ralph Nader voters to back John Kerry, but that was only part of the reason. Total turnout was up 15% in a state that allows new voters to register on Election Day, and the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party seems to have turned out more new voters. Bush’s popular vote margin increased by 44,000 votes in the Twin Cities media-market counties outside the metropolitan core. But in the core counties of Hennepin and Ramsey, Kerry’s popular vote margin was 71,000 votes more than Gore’s. In 2008, turnout rose just 3%, but Democrat Barack Obama won 54%-44%, as Republican John McCain carried the Twin Cities exurbs by 51%-49%. Obama ran way ahead among young voters, and the Humphrey generation also went to Obama. White Protestants and Catholics gave small margins to McCain. Those with no religious affiliation voted 77% for Obama.
Minnesota has a tradition of selecting national convention delegates in caucuses. The DFL tried to attract more voters to its March 2000 caucuses by moving them from Tuesday night to Saturday and holding a presidential preference vote, with national convention delegates assigned proportionately. But by the time Minnesotans caucused, Gore had already clinched the nomination. Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty tried but failed in 2003 to move the caucus date to February. In 2004, Minnesota was one of 10 states holding contests on March 2. Kerry carried 51% of the 55,000 votes cast in the presidential preference vote, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards took 27%, and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich finished third with 17%. In 2008, the caucuses were held on February 5, Super Tuesday, and DFL turnout was a thumping 214,000. Obama beat Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton 66%-32% in a contest in which more than half the votes were cast in Hennepin and Ramsey counties. Republican turnout was much lower, at 62,828. Despite Pawlenty’s early endorsement of McCain, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney beat the Arizonan 41%-22%, with 20% for former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and 16% for Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who carried Red Lake County (Turnout: 30).
Minnesota competed to host the 2008 national political conventions, with politicians of both parties gamely pitching in. Minnesotans made it clear that they would go with whichever party chose them first. The Republicans, meeting on a Wednesday, picked St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center, a hockey arena that was a key project of Republican Sen. Norm Coleman when he was St. Paul’s mayor. Coleman gave Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak the news at noon. Rybak called Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean, who asked him to hold off for an hour. But Dean could not get Democrats to make a decision before their Friday meeting, at which they chose to convene in Denver. Rybak and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, both staunch Democrats, and their townspeople gave the assembled Republicans a “Minnesota Nice” reception.
|111th Congress: 5 D, 3 R|
After the 2000 census, it never seemed likely that Minnesota’s Republican House, DFL Senate, and Independence Party governor would agree on congressional redistricting, and they didn’t—the new plan was drawn by a special panel of five judges appointed by Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz. The Republicans wanted to combine Minneapolis and St. Paul into one heavily Democratic district, in the hope of winning three of four suburban districts. Democrats designed a plan that would continue the long-standing pattern of predominantly rural districts anchored in each corner of the state, two districts dominated by Minneapolis and St. Paul, and two in the Twin Cities’ suburbs. Gov. Jesse Ventura, of the Independence Party, submitted a plan with two urban, three suburban, and three rural districts, one of which stretched along the western side of the state from Iowa to Canada.
The special panel drew its own map, and, when Republicans, Democrats, and Ventura couldn’t agree by the March 19, 2002, deadline, that plan went into effect. Minneapolis and St. Paul would each continue to dominate a district. The map created three suburban and three rural districts, one running along the southern end of the state from Wisconsin to South Dakota. Republican and Democratic leaders and Ventura all said they were pleased with the plan. The homes of two House incumbents, DFLer Bill Luther and Republican Mark Kennedy, ended up in the new 6th District. Luther, after pondering the decision for two months, decided to run in the new 2nd District, much of which he had represented, but he lost. The southernmost district, expected to be safely Republican, fell to the DFL in 2006.
Minnesota seems to be on the cusp of losing a House seat in the reapportionment following the 2010 census. Estimates by the political statistics firm Polidata, based on extrapolation of 2000-08 growth to 2010, show that Minnesota’s eighth seat would be No. 438 in the formula used to apportion seats, and the House is limited to 435 seats. So if Minnesota’s population growth shows a late spurt, it will probably hold the seat. If not, it won’t. Loss of a seat would increase the pressure to move the central cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul into a single district; the 2008 estimates show that together the Twin Cities have a smaller population than a seven-district plan would require. But the DFL, with solid majorities in the Legislature, would surely reject any effort to combine them, and the election of a DFL governor in 2010 to succeed Pawlenty would surely prevent it.
The DFL would prefer to extend those two districts farther out into the suburbs and protect the 7th and 8th Districts represented by Collin Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and Jim Oberstar, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The three primarily suburban 2nd, 3rd, and 6th Districts would then have to be combined into two, a move that would require a bit of legerdemain because they contain the fastest-growing areas in the state. Proposals to create an independent commission to redistrict, including one from a group led by Democrat Mondale, and former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson, are presumably not palatable to DFL politicians who, in early 2009, had reason to hope that their party would have total control of the redistricting process.