How big a year was it for Minnesota’s Republicans? Let’s just say that if Ronald Reagan had been on the ballot Tuesday, he might have finally carried the state.
Voters in the land of Walter Mondale, Hubert Humphrey and Lake Wobegon did something they hadn’t done in decades: They ushered in a Republican majority in both houses of the state Legislature, giving control of the two chambers to the GOP for the first time in 38 years.
Before Tuesday, the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party didn’t just have a majority in the Legislature, it had a veto-proof majority. Republicans wrested 16 state Senate seats from Democrats and about 26 House seats, with several races either too close to call Thursday or subject to automatic recounts.
In congressional races, Republican newcomer Chip Cravaack upset entrenched Democratic Rep. James L. Oberstar in his northern Minnesota district, a seat he had held for 35 years.
The only blot on the day for Minnesota Republicans came in the governor’s race. Democrat Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer were separated by fewer than 9,000 votes Thursday, which was expected to trigger an automatic recount.
State Republicans credited their unprecedented success to their campaign message of jobs and economic growth.
“From the first door I went to, our message was jobs, jobs, jobs,” said Republican Ted Lillie, one of the newly elected GOP senators, at a Wednesday news conference.
Before the election, Republicans held 21 Senate seats; they now hold 37 of the chamber’s 67 seats. In the House, the tentative count stands at 72 Republicans and 62 DFLers.
Stunned Democrats offered little in the way of reaction. Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller issued a five-sentence statement saying he would not seek the job of Senate minority leader and offered little explanation for his party’s historic losses.
“No matter how committed we were or hard we all worked, in the end it didn’t matter, the result is the result,” Mr. Pogemiller said in statement.”We were not able to bring an exemplary group of legislators across the finish line.”
The Land of 10,000 Lakes has also been the land of 10,000 liberals for most of its modern political history. Its only real competition as the most Democratic state in the nation is Massachusetts, and Minnesota gained the edge when it became that only state that Mr. Reagan didn’t carry in his 1984 re-election landslide.
But Minnesotans of both political stripes insist that the state has long been more conservative than its reputation. While best-known for its Democratic presidential candidates, Mr. Humphrey in 1968 and Mr. Mondale in 1984, Minnesota has also regularly elected Republicans to statewide office, including Sens. Dave Durenberger, Rudy Boschwitz, Rod Grams and Norm Coleman.
Its current governor, Republican Tim Pawlenty, managed to win two terms despite his position as a social and fiscal conservative. He did not run for re-election this year, fueling speculation that he will make a bid for the presidency.
Lest anyone forget, Minnesota is also the home state of Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, a national conservative and “tea party” leader. She won her re-election bid by 13 percentage points.
Minnesota Republican Party chair Tony Sutton said that the state has long been more culturally Democratic than ideologically Democratic. He described a typical northern Minnesota voter as someone “who’s pro-gun, pro-life, and votes Democratic.”
An infusion of new people to the state, combined with a growing dissatisfaction with the state’s high tax rates, has created opportunities for Republicans to capitalize on the voters’ naturally more conservative bent, he said.
“Minnesota is not this liberal bastion that people think,” said Mr. Sutton. “What’s happening is their voting patterns are finally starting to catch up with their values.”
Amazingly, the Republican jobs-and-growth message resonated in a state that has experienced relatively low unemployment compared with other Midwestern states. The state’s unemployment rate sits below 7 percent.
Democrats can only hope that 2010 was a fluke, but Mr. Sutton predicted that Republicans would continue to build on their success in the 2012 election.
“In 2012, I think other [Democratic] seats will be vulnerable,” said Mr. Sutton. “And I don’t think that’s just the afterglow of this election talking. Voters are starting to equate tax increases with job losses. This state is trending conservative.”