Primary Election Analysis

About 18% of registered voters in Minnesota turned out for the primary election on August 9.

This was a return to a more normal level of participation. In 2018, the primary voter rate was closer to 23%, but a hotly contested endorsement battle for Governor for both the DFL and GOP helped drive voter participation.

This year, Capitol observers were tracking about a dozen GOP primary contests to see if a conservative wave would land and deliver a strong shift to the right in the Senate GOP majority. Despite an effort by anti-establishment conservative factions, seven incumbent GOP Senators held off primary challengers from their political right. They include Senators Gene Dornink, Mark Johnson, Paul Utke, Gary Dahms, Bill Weber, Jeff Howe and Eric Pratt.  Senators Pratt and Utke had even lost Republican endorsements earlier in the spring.

Even with these incumbents surviving, there’s a group of four very conservate members coming over from the House and into the Senate as they’re in very safe GOP seats. This group hopes to add strength to their conservative base with three conservative GOP Senate candidates who did advance in the primary in places like Little Falls, Stillwater, and Northfield. These have been safe conservative areas in recent elections, but the Senate DFL operation is looking at any possibilities they have to advance a more centrist message and make a play for these seats. The Senate DFL has an uphill climb to retake the majority in that chamber given the tough headwinds Democrats are expected to face in this midterm election.

For the DFL, the primary was mostly a low-key affair, except for the heated contest for Congressional District 5 (Minneapolis and inner ring suburbs). Challenger Don Samuels surprised many by coming within a few thousand votes (about 2 percentage points) of unseating incumbent Ilhan Omar.

With the primary election in the rearview mirror, the two parties are now shifting into high gear for the fall run up to the midterm election. Polls show Governor Walz with a small lead over GOP challenger Scott Jensen. However, the narrative this year with inflation and a tough crime situation has most thinking the GOP will do well. Then again, the Supreme Courts’ curveball by overturning Roe vs Wade and recent legislative wins for President Biden and Congressional Democrats have given Democrats renewed hope for a better result this November. The big question is always around voter turnout, for who, and why. The economy is always at the top of people’s minds, but there are many additional underlying issues keeping voters tuned in.

MREA will keep a finger on the pulse of this election season in Minnesota and report back to our Members as we learn more.