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Tuesday’s 23 lege primaries will complete the November ballot

Charley Shaw//August 6, 2010

Tuesday’s 23 lege primaries will complete the November ballot

Charley Shaw//August 6, 2010

Peter Bartz-Gallagher)
The surprise retirement of Sen. Mee Moua at the close of the 2010 legislative session has prompted a primary free-for-all in SD 67, where nine DFLers are vying to claim the party’s nomination. (Staff file photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

The 201 legislative seats on this November’s general election ballot include 23 races featuring intra-party challenges that will be settled in Tuesday’s partisan primary.

The reasons for the primaries range from local dissatisfaction with an incumbent to national political trends. But they all hold one thing in common: The candidates’ political fates will lie in the hands of a tiny sliver of the population.

“Turnout is going to be really dismal,” said Darin Broton, a DFLer and public relations consultant at the Tunheim Partners firm who follows legislative races. “I would be surprised if turnout gets above 275,000 statewide. You’re going to have a couple thousand per house district.”

Ben Golnik, a political consultant and former Minnesota GOP Party official, said he sees a couple of races where the GOP has marshaled its resources in favor of endorsed candidates facing primary challengers. The party’s organizational acumen can make a difference simply by making likely voters aware that a pivotal race is taking place. If you figure lit pieces cost 50 cents apiece, a targeted mailing can cost between $2,000 and $3,000 in a district. Given the costs involved, the party often can muster the cash in legislative races more easily than candidates with small war chests can.

“Probably because they’re likely to be competitive… the party is going to show the strength of their endorsement. It’s got the organizational advantage,” Golnik said.

A couple of GOP primaries pit Tea Party candidates mobilized by the recent wave of anti-government sentiment against Republicans with more conventional political resumes that include party activism or local government experience. They include:

  • District 8B, where Tea Party Republican Rudy Takala is running against former Mora Mayor Roger Crawford. After a protracted convention, neither candidate secured the party endorsement. The winner on Tuesday will face incumbent Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Mora.
  • District 29A, where Tea Partier Kerry Stoick of Oronoco is running against former Byron School Board member Duane Quam. Quam received the endorsement over the charismatic Stoick. Stoick, in her primary bid, has railed against the recent health care legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled Congress and President Barack Obama. The winner will compete for the seat left open by Rep. Randy Demmer, R-Hayfield, who is running for Congress.

Capitol Report heard from a GOP insider last month that Stoick might face criticism in the primary because of her 2009 personal bankruptcy filing. Stoick, who was open with delegates about her financial struggles during her unsuccessful bid for the GOP’s District 29A endorsement, told Capitol Report last month that she hadn’t seen her opponent raise the bankruptcy issue against her.

But Stoick told the Rochester Post-Bulletin last week that she now thinks Quam is “trying to use” the bankruptcy issue to steer voters his way. Quam denied Stoick’s claim that he is peddling the bankruptcy issue in front of voters. But he said the issue raises “concerns” about her suitability to handle the public’s money.

On the DFL side, the race for District 67’s open Senate seat pits the party establishment against the DFL’s progressive wing.

The race to replace retiring Sen. Mee Moua, DFL-St. Paul, has attracted a crowded field of nine contestants. The outcome, according to Broton, will either be a triumph for progressive groups like TakeAction Minnesota, which endorsed Vang Lor, or establishment figures with labor backing like former St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington. Harrington has been endorsed by former St. Paul Mayor George Latimer and the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association.

“I think that race will be a real testament over which has a stronger base of support: the traditional DFL base or the more progressive part of the party,” Broton said.

Two of the most closely watched primary races are defined by the political troubles of incumbents. In District 50 in the suburbs north of Minneapolis, Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, was expecting another easy re-election bid when lawmakers adjourned the 2010 legislative session in May.

But his controversial move to amend an omnibus fish and game bill with regulations pertaining to a lake where he owns a cabin caused a public uproar and spawned a primary challenge. The DFL stripped away Chaudhary’s endorsement this summer, leaving Chaudhary to face party-anointed Barb Goodwin of Columbia Heights, who once represented District 50B, in a race that could end his Senate tenure.

A number of political pros say the race is too close to call.

“The question is, can Barb Goodwin gather enough traction in a low turnout year to flip it?” said Broton. “Or does she even need to, because of all the damage that Satveer has done to himself?”

Another marquee race involves Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, whose personal life is situated at the center of his own party’s efforts to unseat him. Former Rep. Paul Gazelka won the GOP endorsement in March. Koering, the only openly gay Republican in the Legislature, didn’t seek endorsement this year, instead opting to go straight to a primary. Although Koering is known as a tireless campaigner, his hopes of winning his party’s nomination dimmed after news reports  about his dinner date in Brainerd with a gay porn star.

Trail mix

  • MN Forward, the new political action committee that accepts corporate money, included three DFLers in the first slate of legislative candidates it endorsed this week: Senate Business, Industry and Jobs Chairman James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul; House State and Local Government Operations Chairman Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona; and Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Pymouth.

MN Forward also announced support for Rep. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, who is running for the open Senate seat in District 22; Doug Wardlow, who is challenging Mike Obermueller in the swing District 38B; and House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove.

The PAC can’t contribute corporate money directly to candidates. But it can make independent expenditures on their behalf.

Aaron Klemz of the left-leaning blog The Cucking Stool ( quickly responded that the endorsements are of little consequence.

“If MN Forward were smart, they would have picked moderate and vulnerable DFL incumbents, like Sen. Lisa Fobbe or Sen. Dan Skogen. I say smart because these folks would actually benefit from that kind of endorsement, and would be hard pressed to say ‘no, thanks.’ If they aren’t, they’ll pick safe seat long-time DFL incumbents who are running meaningless races that they are bound to win anyway.”

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