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Rumblings about the marriage amendment’s unpopularity in the western suburbs came early in the campaign season. Orange and blue “vote no” signs vastly outnumbered “vote yes” ones, particularly in places like Edina, and Republican candidates running for the Legislature avoided the issue at the doors and in debates at all cost.

Marriage amendment had big impact in burbs

Target attorney Melisa Franzen, right, joins Senate DFL leader Tom Bakk at an election party Tuesday night. Franzen defeated GOP Rep. Keith Downey to win a Senate seat representing Edina. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

But GOP also lost in places where amendment did well

Rumblings about the marriage amendment’s unpopularity in the western suburbs came early in the campaign season. Orange and blue “vote no” signs vastly outnumbered “vote yes” ones, particularly in places like Edina, and Republican candidates running for the Legislature avoided the issue at the doors and in debates at all cost.

AFSCME Council 5 president Eliot Seide was particularly active in the Edina Senate race, hoping to keep longtime anti-union agitator Rep. Keith Downey from moving to the upper chamber. As he knocked on doors in the district on Election Day, he heard from several typically Republican voters who said they planned to vote Democrat from the top of the ticket on down. The reason was the marriage amendment.

“They said it was because of the marriage amendment that they were switching parties. They just couldn’t get on board with a party that would do that,” Seide said. “Republicans who didn’t think they had to worry about the marriage amendment, well, it backfired on them.”

Two of the earliest legislative races called on Tuesday were in Edina. With 55 percent of the vote, former Republican House member-turned Democrat Ron Erhardt trounced former Pawlenty administration official Bill Glahn. Not long afterward, it was clear that Target Attorney and Democrat Melisa Franzen had also beaten Downey, despite the fact that he had garnered several thousand more votes than retiring GOP Sen. Geoff Michel did in the district last cycle. When election night was over, all three Edina seats had gone from Republican to Democratic control, and Edina voters shot down the marriage amendment in dramatic fashion, with only 35 percent voting “yes.”

The rest of the state followed suit. Democrats regained complete control of the Legislature and the marriage amendment and an amendment to require photo identification to vote both failed at the polls.

Democrats were quick to credit DFL turnout to vote on the two amendments, particularly the marriage amendment, with their wins in a handful of critical districts. Where the marriage amendment sunk in the suburbs, so did legislative Republicans, and in some college towns in outstate Minnesota, turnout by youth to vote against the amendments also gave Democrats a needed boost in close races.

“I think the two amendments shored up our DFL base, and you saw independent voters overwhelming breaking against them,” DFL House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said shortly after learning they had taken the majority. “It helped us.”

Minnesota Business Partnership Charlie Weaver says he tried to warn Republican leaders that the marriage amendment was a bad idea, but there was a “the sense was that there was broad support for it from the base and the delegates,” Weaver said. “When this was passed they were all going to their local conventions to get endorsed or just were endorsed.”

“It was a serious miscalculation by Republicans to put that on the ballot. It wasn’t the only factor that played into their losses, but it was a big one,” he added. “There was general frustration with the party that put that these amendments on the ballot. People who voted thought, ‘Why am I here? Why do I have to vote on this? This is stupid.’”

The amendment effect in the suburbs and college towns

Cristine Almeida, a longtime lobbyist who served on the board of Minnesotans United for all Families, the main group opposing the marriage amendment, says she believes they organized one of the biggest get-out-the-vote efforts in state history.

In the last week alone, campaign officials says they made more than 900,000 GOTV and persuasion calls, knocked on about 400,000 doors, and had more than 27,000 volunteers spread across the state.

In Senate District 51, which covers the suburban swing district of Eagan, Democrats took all three seats from Republican control while only about 40 percent of voter cast “yes” votes on the marriage amendment. In Senate District 53, where rising star Republican Sen. Ted Lillie moved to run, he lost to DFLer Susan Kent by about 5 points, while only 43 percent of local voters supported the amendment.

In one of the most surprising House picks-ups for Democrats on Thursday, former DFL Rep. Will Morgan beat Republican Roz Pederson by 1 point while the marriage amendment went down with only 45 percent of people voting “yes.” According to partisan indices, the Burnsville-Lakeville district leans GOP by about 7 points.

The amendments also drew out college students in droves to vote “no.” The St. Cloud State University district that is home to freshman GOP Rep. King Banaian voted him out and opted for newcomer Zachary Dorholt by more than 10 points. In Moorhead, home to several college campuses, Democrat Ben Lien beat Republican Travis Reimche by nearly 10 points. The district also voted the amendment down, with about 46 percent voting “yes.”

College turnout also gave DFL Rep. Kent Eken the boost he needed to triumph in a competitive Moorhead Senate race against former Buffalo Bills lineman Phil Hansen, who was leading in returns for the early part of the evening. The Senate District 20 race, home to two college campuses, is one of two races that will head into an automatic recount, with Democrat Kevin Dahle beating GOPer Michael Dudley by less than half of 1 percent.
“In Moorhead, college students and others voting no helped Kent Eken, and without the turnout on the Carlton and St. Olaf campuses, Kevin Dalhe doesn’t win by 82 votes,” DFL Senate elections operative Mike Kennedy said. “I think it was repudiation. I think everybody ultimately saw through this for what it was, which was a pure political ploy by the Republicans.

“It really came back to bite them in the ass, particularly in the suburbs and these college towns, and that’s where the fault lines in this election were.”

House DFL election operative Zach Rodvold agrees: “The margin in those districts were huge, even bigger than they thought they would be.”

Republicans downplay marriage amendment role

Appearing before the media the afternoon after the election, Republican leadership in the House avoided questions regarding the amendments’ possible role in their downfall. “It’s up to a lot of college professors [to explain],” House Speaker Kurt Zellers said. “They have to justify their big salaries.” Instead they attributed their loss to a negative message from the DFL campaigns and a lack of adequate resources.
In dicing the numbers, the marriage amendment was not much of a boon for Republicans even in outstate districts where it performed well:

• In House Districts 11B and 12A in the north central part of the state, Democrats Tim Faust and Jay McNamar both won their legislative seats even as the district voted 64 percent for the marriage amendment.

• The same was true in Senate District 24, where Democrat Vicki Jensen beat Republican Vern Swedin, despite a 55 percent “yes” vote on the marriage amendment.

• In House District 2A, 60 percent of voters opted for the marriage amendment, but Democrat Roger Erickson was elected to the state House.

But while the marriage amendment passed in these districts, the constitutional amendment to require photo identification at the polls did not. “The voter ID amendment did poorly in greater Minnesota, and I think it hurt some of their candidates,” Rodvold said. “Seniors in greater Minnesota really got out to vote against the voter ID amendment.”

There were also several races in which Republicans should have won going away, but experienced at least a little trouble early in the night. Former Tea Party leader and now Rep.-elect Cindy Pugh won by about 9 percentage points in her conservative House District 33B. But she likely should have won by more, as the area has one of the most conservative indices in the state: GOP +16 by one measure, GOP +10 by another.

The marriage amendment failed in her district, earning only 41 percent of “yes” votes. The same is true for outgoing Republican Majority Leader Matt Dean, who was behind in his race for part of the night but ultimately won by 5 points. His House District 38B only voted about 45 percent in favor of the amendment.

When asked if the marriage amendment sunk some candidates, GOP Senate elections operative Gregg Peppin said he “wasn’t sure he was ready to draw that conclusion.” “I think [Democrats] want that to be the case,” he added. “They want that to be their narrative.”

Peppin attributes losses in close races to Obama’s surprising, 8-point victory in the state. Peppin said he and other operatives expected the presidential contest to be closer.

“I believed and felt that if Romney was within 2 or 3 or 4 points, our guys could overcome that. To me that’s a stronger correlation — that the hill was just too steep,” Peppin said. “Pretty much every race we lost or that was close, the results neared the polling that we had. We were up by a point or down by a point in every single one. That’s where I felt that if Romney were close, that our guys would be able to do it. It didn’t pan out that way, obviously.”

The marriage amendment and swing districts

This chart tracks marriage amendment vote totals in 39 competitive legislative races last Tuesday and also offers a view of how legislative outcomes compared with publicly available partisan voter indices (PVIs) of tendencies in those districts. For comparison’s sake, it also documents President Barack Obama’s vote in those districts. The partisan index figures cited are based on an averaging of PVIs calculated by Common Cause Minnesota and the blog.


HD 1B Deb Kiel (R) Marc DeMers (DFL) +1 -5.8% 65.2% -3.9%
HD 2A Dave Hancock (R) Roger Erickson (DFL) -2 -2.0% 59.7% 9.3%
HD 2B Steve Green (R) Brita Sailer (DFL) -8 -13.9% 66.6% -2.0%
HD 4A Travis Reimche (R) Ben Lien (DFL) +4 12.9% 46.1% 9.8%
HD 5A Larry Howes (R) John Persell (DFL) +2 6.2% 51.6% 13.0%
HD 5B Carolyn McElfatrick (R) Tom Anzelc (DFL) +3 0.9% 57.5% 7.9%
HD 11B Tim Faust (DFL) Ben Wiener (R) -3 -4.2% 59.9% 3.2%
HD 12A Scott Dutcher (R) Jay McNamar (DFL) -3 -5.4% 63.8% 1.2%
HD 14B King Banaian (R) Zach Dorholt (DFL) +3 -9.7% 42.3% 12.7%
HD 17B Bruce Vogel (R) Mary Sawatzky (DFL) -3 -4.1% 61.4% 4.2%
HD 26A Tina Liebling (DFL) Breanna Bly (R) +3 17.8% 43.7% 16.1%
HD 27A Rich Murray (R) Shannon Savick (DFL) +7 13.2% 60.2% 3.2%
HD 39B Kathy Lohmer (R) Tom DeGree (DFL) -3 -2.8% 44.1% -6.1%
HD 42A Russ Bertsch ( R) Barb Yarusso (DFL) +2 4.6% 44.8% 6.7%
HD 43A Peter Fischer (DFL) Stacey Stout (R) +7 14.6% 45.2% 5.7%
HD 48A Kirk Stensrud (R) Yvonne Selcer (DFL) -2 5.9% 38.2% 0.8%
HD 49A Bill Glahn (R) Ron Erhardt (DFL) EVEN 5.6% 33.2% 11.8%
HD 49B Paul Rosenthal (DFL) Terry Jacobson (R) EVEN 6.3% 40.0% 6.8%
HD 51A Diane Anderson (R) Sandra Masin (DFL) +3 13.1% 42.3% 11.2%
HD 51B Doug Wardlow (R) Laurie Halverson (DFL) -1 4.6% 38.3% 3.9%
HD 53A Pam Cunningham (R ) JoAnn Ward (DFL) +7 15.0% 43.0% 12.3%
HD 56B Roz Peterson (R) Will Morgan (DFL) -7 0.3% 45.5% 0.8%
SD4 Kent Eken (DFL) Phil Hansen (R) +2 4.1% 53.1% 4.4%
SD 5 Tom Saxhaug (DFL) John Carlson (R) +3 3.6% 54.6% 5.4%
SD 17 Joe Gimse (R) Lyle Koenen (DFL) -1 -3.9% 62.3% 10.9%
SD 20 Michael Dudley (R) Kevin Dahle (DFL) -3 -3.5% 48.9% 0.1%
SD 21 John Howe (R) Matt Schmit (DFL) -6 -2.8% 54.9% 5.0%
SD 22 Bill Weber (R) Al Oberloh (DFL) -9 -12.6% 72.6% -5.7%
SD 24 Vern Swedin (R) Vicki Jensen (DFL) -4 -5.1% 54.0% 5.4%
SD 36 Ben Kruse (R) John Hoffman (DFL) -3 3.7% 47.8% 6.4%
SD 37 Pam Wolf (R) Alice Johnson (DFL) EVEN 3.9% 48.6% 6.7%
SD 39 Karin Housley (R) Julie Bunn (DFL) -3 -5.5% 46.1% 1.3%
SD 42 Bec Scalze (DFL) April King (R ) +4 10.2% 44.0% 11.3%
SD 44 Terri Bonoff (DFL) David Gaither (R) -3 3.7% 37.9% 11.8%
SD 48 David Hann (R) Laurie McKendry (DFL) -6 0.5% 39.2% -2.7%
SD 49 Keith Downey (R) Melisa Franzen (DFL) -1 5.9% 36.6% 5.6%
SD 51 Ted Daley (R) Jim Carlson (DFL) +1 8.9% 40.2% 6.4%
SD 53 Ted Lillie (R) Susan Kent (DFL) -1 4.9% 45.0% 4.7%
SD 57 Pat Hall (R) Greg Clausen (DFL) -5 1.3% 44.4% 8.4%

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