The coming year holds a variety of important and contentious election campaigns. Which races promise the most influential outcomes for the future of Minnesota? Here's one list of critical contests, in rank order.
1) State House of Representatives. These contests often unfold below the media radar, but collectively they could shape or reshape the future direction of the state. Consider the DFL's many legislative victories in 2023, when it has enjoyed total control of state government. Despite narrow majorities in each state legislative chamber, the DFL, with virtually no intraparty dissent, passed sweeping changes in the state's policies concerning education, taxes, transportation, health care and elections, along with social policy on abortion, marijuana and more. It even commissioned a new state flag and seal on party-line votes. If the DFL keeps control in 2024, expect more of the same. A GOP House would change things.
The 2022 House elections resulted in a narrow DFL victory. A loss of four seats would have reduced its current 70-seat majority to a 66-seat minority. In four of the most competitive House districts (7B, 14B, 32B and 48B) the DFL candidates prevailed over their GOP opponents by a total of 1,660 votes out of 66,560 cast. Expect similar tight races next year.
2) Fifth District primary. The Democratic primary in the Fifth Congressional District features incumbent Ilhan Omar, who has gained national notoriety through her membership in "the squad," a group of four flamboyant female progressives. Her outspoken advocacy of the Palestinian cause has roiled controversy, particularly among Jewish residents of her district. Omar defeated former Minneapolis City Council Member Don Samuels by just 2,466 votes in a 2022 primary, receiving 50.3% to Samuels' 48.2%. Expect considerable national money to be spent on Samuels' behalf in 2024, creating an epic primary battle that will tell us much about the future of the DFL.
3) Third Congressional District. With Rep. Dean Phillips exiting this race to pursue his underdog presidential campaign challenging Joe Biden's nomination, the contest in this DFL-leaning district will yield a competitive primary. The two current DFL primary candidates come from very different backgrounds. State Sen. Kelly Morrison of Deephaven was a classmate of Phillips at the elite Breck School, graduated from Yale and gained a medical degree from Case Western. She practices as an OB-GYN. Her opponent is Ron Harris, former Minneapolis chief resilience officer who grew up poor in Coon Rapids in a single-parent African American home. Whoever emerges from the primary will be favored in the general election. The Cook Political Report's partisan index for the district is 8 points Democratic. No prominent Republicans have yet declared their candidacy for the seat.
4) The presidential race. Minnesota has long been a "sucker bet" for Republican presidential candidates — seemingly competitive, yet reliably voting for Democrats since 1972. Trump came tantalizingly close to winning the state in 2016, garnering 45% of the vote to Hillary Clinton's 46%, a loss margin of 44,953 statewide. The margin mushroomed to 233,012 in 2020, when Trump lost to Biden by 52% to 45%. Biden's current unpopularity may encourage the GOP to seriously contest the state; a recent poll had the incumbent up by only 2 percentage points in Minnesota. But the state probably remains a bad investment for Republicans.
5) Second Congressional District. The Cook Political Index gives Rep. Angie Craig's district only a 1-point Democratic partisan lean. But Republicans have yet to field a prominent candidate and Craig has a huge financial advantage that she will probably maintain. She increased her victory margin over GOP candidate Tyler Kistner to 5 percentage points in 2022, so it's far from clear that this race will be a barnburner.
6) The rest. Sen. Amy Klobuchar will coast to a coronation on election night 2024 after facing an obscure GOP challenger. That will set her up for another presidential run in 2028. Republican incumbent Brad Finstad of the First Congressional District won his first race by a healthy 11-point margin. The district Cook Partisan Index for 2024 is GOP by 7 points, so he seems likely to win another term. Other Minnesota congressional incumbents look even more secure.
Minnesota, once touted as a key "swing state" in national politics, has been trending Democratic in recent election cycles. A major reason is that the state has an above average population of highly educated white voters and these voters have been trending away from the GOP across the nation. Washington and Oregon, two states with comparable populations of highly educated white voters, have embraced Democratic domination of their elections. That may well be Minnesota's future, too.
Steven Schier is the Emeritus Congdon professor of political science at Carleton College in Northfield.