A night that once threatened the unseating of a pair of legislative mainstays, one from each party, instead ended with a return to normalcy. In both cases, the incumbent had been denied re-endorsement due to the presence of a political upstart but managed to rally supporters for a primary election on Tuesday.
Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, who joined the Legislature more than 40 years ago, seems assured of at least two more years of service in the state House after surviving a primary challenge from Minneapolis School Board member Mohamud Noor. Kahn claimed 54.5 percent of the vote in House District 60B, which lies in southeast Minneapolis, combining the University of Minnesota and campus-adjacent neighborhoods, including Cedar-Riverside.
The urban narrative was mirrored by a suburban result for the other party, as Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, won comfortably over conservative activist and author Sheila Kihne. Now in her third term, Loon garnered more than 60 percent of the primary turnout in House District 48B, thought to be a safely conservative area to defend; Loon won re-election in 2012 with 59 percent of the vote.
The strength of incumbency was also on display in the state auditor contest on Tuesday. DFL office-holder Rebecca Otto crushed opponent Matt Entenza, a former candidate for the governor’s office and attorney general, with nearly 81 percent of the statewide turnout. Entenza, who spent heavily out of his own personal wealth on the campaign, conceded the race to Otto not long after polls closed Tuesday night, citing a “dramatically low turnout,” and giving his endorsement to Otto for re-election to a third term.
Noor’s candidacy had gained support of a number of progressive figures and organizations, including former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, the DFL Feminist Caucus and Stonewall DFL, the party’s gay rights wing. Kahn, meanwhile, boasted the support of establishment figures such as Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, among others.
With her victory, Kahn is scheduled to make history during what would be her 22nd term in office: She and Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, will jointly set the mark for longest-serving House members in Minnesota history.
David Schultz, political science professor at Hamline University, said Kahn had missed an opportunity to gracefully exit the Legislature in recognition of a new constituency: Noor’s campaign was backed by an ascendant crowd of Somali-American and progressive Minneapolis Democrats, who are largely credited with the sea change that occurred in 2013 city elections.
“She wins by looking like she’s bullied people to support her, and clubbed down a new party emerging in Minneapolis,” Schultz said. “And that’s not going to look good.”
The seat is one of the most reliably liberal in the state, and Kahn is expected to cruise to yet another win in November. Abdikadir Hassan, chair of the DFL’s Somali-American Caucus, said he was confident few, if any, of the district’s East Africans would consider switching allegiances to Republican nominee Abdimalik Askar, who won his primary on Tuesday with just 91 votes. (By comparison, Noor collected 1,949 votes in a losing effort.)
“Most of the Somalis who are involved in the political process are very committed to the DFL,” said Hassan, who added that he would support Kahn despite having rooted for Noor.
If race was an unspoken but undeniable factor in HD 60B, same-sex marriage served the same function in Loon’s 48B campaign. Loon was one of four House Republicans to vote in favor of gay marriage in 2013, and her stance on that issue was one of several moderate positions that inspired Kihne to join the race. Blogger and former Republican operative Michael Brodkorb said Loon’s win should guarantee that the GOP holds the seat, while a win for Kihne, who has a history of controversial utterances and writings on social issues, could have made for a “clear pick-up opportunity” for the DFL, which currently enjoys a 12-seat majority over the GOP.
“If Kihne wins that primary, the map starts to become a little more difficult for House Republicans,” Brodkorb said.
The Loon-Kihne matchup saw a raft of outside spending on campaign communications, with social interest groups such as the Minnesota Family Council spending on behalf of the challenger, while the incumbent’s campaign was supported by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.
By contrast, spending in the auditor’s race, an unusually noisy affair for what is often a nondescript event, was carried out principally by the candidates themselves. That is especially true in Entenza’s case: The frequent Democratic candidate’s outlay on the race had approached $700,000, with most of it dedicated to television advertising.
DFL Chair Ken Martin greeted the result with a statement describing it as “a win for the thousands of DFL volunteers who door knocked, phoned and appeared in parades for Auditor Otto.” Schultz, for his part, predicted that liberals had probably not seen the last of Entenza, pointing out that Democrats, including Dayton and Mike Hatch, had successfully resurfaced in the past after suffering painful defeats.
“In four years, [Entenza] is still only in his early 50s, and he’s still highly ambitious,” Schultz said. “I don’t think he’s going to walk away. I think he’s going to take a crack at something again.”
Endorsed or not?
The day began with a series of endorsement foul-ups from Democrats, each of which had to be messily sorted out online and through social media. In the auditor’s contest, Entenza’s campaign had produced a literature piece featuring the candidate standing with Noor and describing Entenza as “a partner to the East-African Community.” Noor, confronted with the mail piece on Twitter, said that he was in fact supporting Otto.
The situation was further muddled by Entenza’s prior endorsement of Noor, which appeared on Noor’s website. Noor subsequently scrubbed the passage from his site, tweeting that Entenza’s “endorsement does not reflect the values of my campaign.”
In House District 44B, where three DFL candidates sought to replace retiring Rep. John Benson, DFL-Minnetonka, attorney Jon Applebaum was forced to retract the claim that he had been endorsed by former longtime GOP U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad. In a blog post published Tuesday, Applebaum said he had thought he received the Republican’s pledge of support over a lunch meeting, and had only later learned that Ramstad had meant the offer “sarcastically.”
The turn of events was not enough to stop Applebaum’s election prospects: He won the three-way contest with 1,053 votes (37.6 percent), besting Minnetonka City Council member Tony Wagner (1,016 votes, 36.2 percent) and attorney and DFL activist Jon Tollefson (733 votes, 26.1 percent).
Applebaum’s campaign strategy relied both on racking up endorsements — his list of supporters included Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, and Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul — and fundraising prowess; his $76,000 raised through late July led both of his DFL opponents as well as Republican Jon Rutzick, who advanced to the general election without a primary challenge.
The HD 44B primary was one of several spurred by sitting legislators’ decision to retire, with most victors in Tuesday’s primary expected to coast to an eventual general election win in November. Other highlights from the primary included:
- Abigail Whelan, a recent graduate of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, easily defeated Justin Boals for the GOP nomination in House District 35A. The district was formerly represented by Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, who left his legislative seat to focus on his unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign.
- Bob Loonan, an insurance salesman and former Shakopee School Board member, defeated endorsed candidate Bruce Mackenthun in House District 55A, a safely conservative seat left open by the retirement of GOP Rep. Mike Beard.
- Waconia Mayor Jim Nash won the Republican nomination in House District 47A, the deep-red district now held by Rep. Ernie Leidiger, R-Mayer. Nash took 59 percent of the vote on the way to beating Bob Frey, a business owner whose controversial statements about homosexuality and the AIDs virus had received national attention.
In two other races, Republican candidates dueled for the chance to run against potentially vulnerable DFL incumbents. Andrea Todd-Harlin, a health care professional, topped Victor Lake for the GOP nomination in the Eagan district represented by DFL Rep. Sandra Masin. The swing district is widely perceived as one of the suburban election results that will serve as bellwethers as Democrats attempt to retain control of the House.
First term-Rep. Jay McNamar, DFL-Elbow Lake, will defend his seat against Republican contender Jeff Backer, former mayor of Browns Valley. Local salon owner Nancy Taffe advanced to a primary despite losing the local party endorsement to Backer, but fell ultimately short with 44 percent of the primary vote to Backer’s 56 percent.
2014 Minnesota Primary Results
These election results reflect Secretary of State data as of Wednesday morning.
(Candidate with the percent of vote with 99.1 percent of precincts reporting)
DFL House District 5A
✔John Persell (i) — 84.7
Lavern Pederson — 15.3
DFL House District 6A
✔Carly Melin (i) — 80.3
John Finken — 19.7
Republican House District 7B
Travis Silvers — 42.6
✔Carla Bayerl — 57.4
Republican House District 12A
✔Jeff Backer* — 55.5
Nancy Taffe — 44.5
Republican House District 30B
Kevin Kasel — 36
✔Eric Lucero* — 64
Republican House District 35A
✔Abigail Whelan* — 80.7
Justin Boals — 19.3
DFL House District 44B
✔Jon Applebaum — 37.6
Tony Wagner — 36.3
Jon Tollefson — 26.1
Republican House District 47A
✔Jim Nash — 59.9
Bob Frey — 40.1
Republican House District 48B
✔Jenifer Loon (i) — 60.6
Sheila Kihne — 39.4
Republican House District 51A
Andrea Todd-Harlin —44.1
✔Victor Lake — 55.9
Republican House District 55A
✔Bob Loonan — 50.6
Bruce Mackenthun* — 49.4
DFL House District 55A
✔Jay Whiting* — 82.9
Ronald Gray — 17.2
DFL House District 60B
✔Phyllis Kahn (i) — 54.5
Mohamud Noor — 45.5
Republican House District 60B
✔Adbimalik Askar* — 81.3
Abdulkarim Mohamed Godah — 18.8
DFL House District 63B
✔Jean Wagenius (i) — 91.1
Roger Kittleson — 8.9
Republican U.S. Senator
✔Mike McFadden* — 71.7
Jim Abeler — 14.8
David Carlson — 9.1
Patrick Munro — 2.8
Ole Savior — 1.6
✔Jeff Johnson* — 30.3
Kurt Zellers — 23.9
Marty Seifert — 21.1
Scott Honour — 20.9
Merrill Anderson — 3.8
DFL State Auditor
✔Rebecca Otto (i)* — 80.9
Matt Entenza — 19.0
Republican 1st Congressional District
✔Jim Hagedorn — 53.9
Aaron Miller* — 46.1
Republican 6th Congressional District
✔Tom Emmer* — 73.2
Rhonda Sivarjah — 26.8
(i)= Incumbent * = Endorsed candidate ✔ = winner