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How Minnesota Told a Bigger Story About 2018 Midterm Partisanship

Republicans flipped two seats, but lost two incumbents

Republican Pete Stauber won Minnesota’s open 8th District, which had been held by DFL Rep. Rick Nolan. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Republican Pete Stauber won Minnesota’s open 8th District, which had been held by DFL Rep. Rick Nolan. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Despite losing control of the House, Republicans won both of their best pick-up opportunities, two open seats in Minnesota where President Donald Trump performed well in 2016.

Former Duluth police officer Pete Stauber won the northeastern 8th District, where Democratic-Farmer-Labor Rep. Rick Nolan did not seek re-election. Jim Hagedorn won the southern 1st District, which DFL Rep. Tim Walz vacated to run for governor. 

Both the 8th and 1st Districts are rural areas that swung from twice supporting former President Barack Obama to backing Trump by double-digits in 2016. Trump resonated with the districts’ working-class voters, and DFL nominees Joe Radinovich in the 8th and Dan Feehan in the 1st were unable to win them back.

Even where Democrats won in rural areas, that partisan shift was on display. DFL Rep. Collin C. Peterson held on in the heavily agricultural 7th District, but only by 4 points. The ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee is widely recognized to be the last Democrat who can hold this seat. He hadn’t faced a close ran until Trump won the district by more than 30 points. But, as it was in 2016, Peterson’s re-election this year was closer than he expected it to be despite running a more serious campaign than in 2016. 

It was a different story in the suburbs, where Democrats flipped Republican-held seats that either supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 or narrowly voted for Trump.

GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen fell to DFL nominee Dean Phillips in the 3rd District. It was Paulsen’s first re-election bid with a Republican in the White House, and voters in his well-educated, affluent district were looking for a check on the president.

In a 2016 rematch, DFL nominee Angie Craig defeated GOP Rep. Jason Lewis in the 2nd District, a slightly more agricultural seat, but one that still encompasses the suburban and exurban communities outside the Twin Cities, where Trump is unpopular. Craig also benefited from the absence of a third-party candidate who took nearly 8 percent of the vote in 2016.

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