ANALYSIS — Compared with most states, Minnesota has been a hotbed of competitive House races over the past decade. Yet the Land of 10,000 Lakes looks likely to host just one competitive race this fall.
Over the last decade, five of Minnesota's congressional districts changed party hands at least once. That leaves the U.S. House delegation split between four Republicans and four Democrats, although in Minnesota it's called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, or DFL.
But that’s the same partisan breakdown as 10 years ago, and just one seat, the 2nd District, is initially slated to host a competitive race in the fall.
So how is there so much turnover without a net change, and why is there only one competitive seat?
The short answer is that most of the partisan takeovers brought those districts into alignment with current political trends. Rural areas, including Minnesota’s 1st, 7th and 8th districts, are voting increasingly for Republicans while suburban areas, such as Minnesota’s 3rd, are voting more Democratic. And now that they’ve flipped, it’s hard to see how the party that lost them will get them back in the near future.
More specifically, Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson’s loss in 2020 might have come as a shock after his 30 years in Congress. But his 7th District voted for President Donald Trump by 29 points and Rep. Michelle Fischbach won by 14 points. The newly drawn 7th would have gone for Trump by 34 points, so Fischbach is not in danger of losing reelection.
Minnesota's Iron Range sent a DFLer to Congress for a couple generations until Republican Chip Cravaack's upset of Rep. Jim Oberstar in 2010. Rick Nolan recaptured the district briefly until GOP Rep. Pete Stauber's win in 2018. Considering Trump would have won the new 8th by 12 points, there's little chance Stauber loses reelection in a political environment that favors Republicans.
The suburban 3rd District had a history of sending mainstream, sometimes even moderate, GOP members to Congress including Bill Frenzel, Jim Ramstad and Erik Paulsen until Democrat Dean Phillips won in 2018. Phillips won a second term by 11 points, and the district where he’s running this year would have gone for Democrat Joe Biden over Trump by 21 points in 2020. So there’s not much chance of the GOP winning the seat back in the near future.
That’s three districts with some tumultuous cycles that aren’t likely to see fireworks for a while.
The 1st District changed party hands four times since the early 1980s. But after seeing Trump win the newly drawn seat by 10 points in 2020 and the political winds in the GOP’s favor, Republicans are likely to hold the seat, including in the upcoming special election to replace the late GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn.
Under those conditions, the May 24 Republican primary is the race to focus on. Out of the 10 GOP candidates, the nominee will likely come from a handful of candidates including former state party chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan (Hagedorn’s widow), state Reps. Jeremy Munson and Nels Pierson, former state representative and former Trump USDA Minnesota director Brad Finstad, or agriculture attorney Matt Benda (who has the help of Hagedorn’s general consultant and pollster).
Former Hormel Foods CEO Jeffrey Ettinger, former George W. Bush White House lawyer and 2018 Senate candidate Richard Painter, and political consultant Sarah Brakebill-Hacke are running on the Democratic side. The special general election will be Aug. 9, the same day as the primary for the regular race. The special election will take place under the current lines while the regular election will take place in the redrawn district, which is just slightly less Republican. Trump would have won it by 9 points, so that race is rated Solid Republican.
Even though both parties enjoy trying to scare the other party’s campaign leader, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer shouldn’t have trouble winning reelection in a 6th District that Trump won by 18 points.
The 4th and 5th districts are heavily Democratic and would have voted for Biden by 38 points and 63 points, respectively. It’s worth keeping an eye on community organizer Amane Badhasso’s primary challenge to DFL Rep. Betty McCollum in the 4th. And DFL Rep. Ilhan Omar has enough critics to warrant watching her primary, even though she doesn’t look particularly vulnerable at this point. But neither seat is within reach for Republicans.
2nd District (Angie Craig, DFL)
Republican Tyler Kistner is trying to follow a similar path to Congress as the incumbent he’s looking to defeat. DFL Rep. Angie Craig first ran in 2016 and lost to Rep. Jason Lewis. But two years later, she defeated the GOP incumbent. Kistner lost to Craig by 2 points in 2020 (a third-party candidate took 6 percent) and is hoping for success in their rematch.
The suburban Twin Cities seat didn’t change much in redistricting; just 8 percent of the 2nd District is new to both candidates. And Biden would have won it by 7 points, putting it within reach for Republicans in the current political environment.
Craig won’t be caught off-guard. She had $3.7 million in her campaign account on March 31 compared to $424,000 for Kistner. But this still looks like the type of race Republicans should be winning in a big GOP year. Initial rating: Tilt Democratic
Races rated Solid Republican
- 1st District (Vacant, R)
- 6th District (Tom Emmer, R)
- 7th District (Michelle Fischbach, R)
- 8th District (Pete Stauber, R)
Races rated Solid Democratic
Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.