Far fewer Minnesotans voted in this year's primary election than the last midterm battle, when there were heated governor's races on both sides of the aisle. But that drop off wasn't the case in every corner of the state. Or even for both parties.
Politicians and strategists warn against reading too much into last week's turnout and what it could mean for November.
"It's hard to judge overall where the electorate is at based on primary turnout," Minnesota Republican Party Chairman David Hann said. "It's a small sample, and obviously most of the people who vote in the primary are people who have awareness of, and interest in, the partisan candidates."
Nonetheless, some sharp geographic and partisan trends were evident and shaped the primary and special election wins. Here's a look at four takeaways from the Aug. 9 election.
The statewide drop in turnout was driven by a big drop in DFL voters compared to 2018 — but 2018 was a massive year for the DFL.
More than 793,000 Minnesotans voted in last week's primary, a roughly 14% drop from the last midterm primary. About 100,000 more Democrats than Republicans cast ballots for governor. The number of ballots cast in the governor's race is close to the total number of people who voted in the primary in all races, making it a good gauge for turnout overall.
Democrats typically show up in higher numbers in primaries. However, this year DFL turnout fell by 26% from a massive 2018 showing in the governor's race. Meanwhile, the number of GOP gubernatorial votes ticked up slightly from four years ago.
More than 583,000 Democrats voted in the 2018 primary for governor, the highest turnout level for the party in more than two decades. The governor's office was left wide open after DFL Gov. Mark Dayton announced he wouldn't seek re-election. Tim Walz, who ultimately won the governor's race, was up against DFL-endorsed legislator Erin Murphy and Attorney General Lori Swanson. Other prominent contests, such as an open attorney general race and six-way primary for the Fifth District, also drove turnout four years ago.
DFL Party Chair Ken Martin said turnout on Aug. 9 was still higher than the party's average over the last decade. Fundraising and volunteer signups have also shot up, especially since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
"The idea that the DFL has an enthusiasm gap is not apparent in anything we're seeing," he said. "Everybody has got to put a big asterisk on primary turnout, it's certainly a snapshot in time. Compared to where we were at in January, we are feeling good about where we are at right now."
GOP turnout was up slightly overall, despite the lack of a competitive governor race.
Republicans saw substantial voter turnout in the First Congressional District — where there was a special election — and increases in primary voters in other rural pockets of the state, likely due to several competitive races for the Minnesota Senate.
There were 2,684 more Republican votes for governor in western Minnesota's Otter Tail County in 2022 compared to 2018. They might have been motivated by a competitive GOP state Senate primary in District 9, with state Rep. Jordan Rasmusson beating challenger Nathan Miller for a chance to represent the seat. Each candidate drew in more than 5,000 votes, an unusually high turnout number for a rural legislative primary.
Around 2,000 more Republican votes were cast for governor in Stearns County, some of which is part of Senate District 13, where incumbent Jeff Howe defeated challenger Ashley Burg.
"It might show there's an enthusiasm gap and Republicans are more enthusiastic," GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen's spokesman Joel Hanson said of his party's turnout. "But I caution anyone from trying to draw conclusions from a primary."
Anecdotally, Hanson added that he is seeing more energy at his candidate's events than he's seen for Republicans in the past.
The special election in the First District boosted primary turnout for both parties.
Almost all of the elections held last Tuesday were primaries, only determining whose name gets on the November general election ballot. But one election actually resulted in someone going to Washington: the special election in Minnesota's First Congressional District to fill the seat left open after the death of Rep. Jim Hagedorn.
Voters from both parties showed up for this election. While redistricting makes it difficult to exactly compare votes for governor between 2018 and 2022, an estimate shows voters in the district cast about 1,000 more DFL votes for governor this year and about 16,000 more GOP gubernatorial votes. The comparatively larger GOP boost might have helped propel Republican Rep. Brad Finstad to his win.
Olmsted County, the most populous in the district, saw some of the biggest increases in the number of votes cast for governor between the 2018 primary and 2022: more than 3,500 more GOP votes and an increase of more than 5,000 DFL votes.
Minnesota DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman said the First District special election, and other special elections around the country, are better indicators than primary races of what could be coming in November.
"For that to be so close between Finstad and Ettinger tells us that Democrats are really motivated," she said.
Turnout in the metro was mostly down.
The number of votes cast for governor candidates by both parties was down in most of the seven metro counties, in some cases significantly. For example, in Hennepin County, 40,000 fewer votes were cast in the DFL primary for governor in 2022 compared in 2018. On the GOP side, the drop was about 15,000.
There is one notable exception to the trend: Republicans in Washington County cast almost 3,000 more votes on Aug. 9 compared to four years ago. Here, again, a competitive state Senate primary may have been responsible: Washington County contains most of Senate District 41, where newcomer Tom Dippel defeated GOP Sen. Tony Jurgens by about 1,700 votes. Also on the ballot in parts of the county was a referendum for South Washington County Schools, which voters rejected.
The metro-area drop in turnout for Democrats was most acute in the DFL primary race for Minnesota's Fifth District, where incumbent U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar defeated former Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels by a little over two percentage points. The tight margin has been attributed to a dramatic drop in turnout for Omar, who earned about 58,000 votes in this year's primary compared to 103,000 two years ago. Her 2020 opponent, Anton Melton Meaux, got more than 68,000 votes compared to Samuels' roughly 55,000 votes.
Omar's vote total in 2022 was down compared to 2018 as well. She pulled in more than 65,000 votes that year with five opponents running for the open seat.