On January 26 a special election will be held to fill the District 26 Senate seat vacated by Republican Dick Day. The contest has attracted three challengers: Republican Mike Parry, Democrat Jason Engbrecht and Independence Party candidate Roy Srp.
Historically the district, which includes Faribault and Owatonna, has favored Republicans, with Day garnering at least 55 percent of the vote in each of the last four election cycles. But if recent outcomes in special elections are any indication, the GOP should be worried about keeping control of the post.
Democrats have won the last four special elections to fill seats in the Senate — often in districts that have leaned Republican. The winning streak started in 2005 when Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, won a special election to take a seat that previously had been held by the GOP Sen. Dave Kleis.
Then last year DFLers won all three special elections for Senate posts. Ken Kelash doubled up his opponent in a district that includes part of South Minneapolis and heavily favors Democrats. Earlier that year Kevin Dahle defeated his GOP opponent by a 55-42 percent margin in Senate District 25, which includes Northfield and New Prague. The election was prompted by the resignation of Republican Tom Neuville, who was appointed to a judgeship by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Probably most surprising was the 2008 special election to fill the seat vacated by Republican Betsy Wergin, of Princeton, after Pawlenty appointed her to the Public Utilities Commission. Democrat Lisa Fobbe squeeked out a victory in a district that John McCain carried with 58 percent of the vote in the presidential election. The result, however, was undoubtedly influenced by the write-in campaign of former Republican legislator Mark Olson, who picked up more than 1,400 votes.
The parties have split recent House special elections. Steve Drazkowski, GOP-Wabasha, won one such contest in 2007, retaining a seat that had been held by former House Speaker Steve Sviggum. Two years earlier Larry Haws retained a seat for Democrats after Joe Opatz resigned.