Minnesota 1st District
The Mississippi River flows majestically southeast from Minneapolis and St. Paul, cutting through rolling hills and, where it widens, forming calm lakes lapping at the bottomlands. It is one of the finest river landscapes of North America, exemplified by the river towns of Wabasha and Winona, with their 19th century stone storefronts and mountain-like rock outcroppings above the river. This far north, the westward tide of Yankee migrants thinned out. After the Civil War, most settlers following the railroads on the floodplains west of the river were Germans and Scandinavians, bringing their families to a terrain so much like the Rhineland and to the rolling uplands beyond, which resemble the northern European plain.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Southern Minnesota is a borderland between Yankee and German settlements. Along the Mississippi River, tourism spiked upward (from a nearly nonexistent base) after the old St. Paul and Milwaukee Railroad was converted to a hiker-biker nature trail in the 1990s. “Historic” Bluff Country now draws sufficient visitors to support not one but two upscale bed-and-breakfasts, former jails converted to new use with Minnesota practicality. A little to the west is Rochester, home to the Mayo Clinic, founded in 1863 when English-born physician William Mayo set up a practice to examine inductees into the Union Army. Rochester, with more than 31,000 employed at Mayo, is prosperous and the growth center of southern Minnesota. Austin, a county away, is headquarters of the Hormel meatpacking firm, which was the site of a bitter strike in the 1980s. The huge plant produces “miracle meat” Spam, Hormel chili, Dinty Moore stew and, say critics, too much ammonia-loaded waste. This is one place where class-conscious politics survives, with some tensions over the recent influx of Hispanic workers. The farther west you go, the more frequently you find communities with a German heritage, like New Ulm, where the “Hermann the German” monument guards the town and the Concord Singers—30 men decked out in lederhosen, red vests and white shirts—are known as one of the county’s best male choruses. Farther south is dairy country, with a sprinkling of small industries. In tiny Ormsby, North County Seed breeds soybeans to match the wishes of its international customers.
The 1st Congressional District of Minnesota includes the state’s two southern tiers of counties, running along Interstate 90 just north of the Iowa border. It stretches 280 miles from the South Dakota border at Sioux Falls to the Wisconsin border at LaCrosse. Historically, this was a political borderland, with Civil War Republicans in the east and Farmer-Laborites more common in the west. Rochester had long been a Republican stronghold, though like many communities with large numbers of professionals, it has been trending toward the Democrats. Austin, with its working-class tradition, has long been solidly Democratic-Farmer-Labor. To the west, the population-losing farm counties between Mankato and the South Dakota border continue to vote solidly Republican. The district swung to Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama in 2008, 51%-47%.