Minnesota, the state which has not voted for the Republican nominee for President since the days of Richard Nixon, has emerged as a top Republican opportunity at the state legislative level. With control of the State Senate unlikely to change hands to the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party, the highly competitive State House is where most of the action will take place as the GOP tries to claim total control of the legislature.
The redistricting process has produced a largely favorable map for Minnesota Republicans. Despite winning the state by seven points, Biden only won the tipping point seat by around four points. Adding in the factor of the Twin Cities suburbs being more favorable for the GOP in downballot races, and Minnesota Republicans have a great chance of winning control of the chamber.
For now, the assumption remains that Republicans will have a relatively favorable midterm and a modest win in the generic ballot. However, as recent polls and special elections have indicated, there’s potential that November might be more favorable for Democrats than initially anticipated. That possibility is being kept open but we still don’t think that it’s necessary the most likely scenario.
A copy of the new Minnesota State House districts can be viewed here.
The Iron Range Battlegrounds
The Iron Range has long been a DFL stronghold, especially in local and state legislative elections. However, this year’s political environment and the heavy rightward shift of white working class voters during the Trump era (and beyond) has resulted in many strong Democratic incumbents facing difficult reelection contests.
- HD-3A: Three-term State Rep. Rob Ecklund (D) is representative of the downballot DFL decline in the area. Pulling 63% in 2016, his vote share declined to 59% in 2018 to only 52% in 2020. He’s found himself in a tough spot this cycle, having to run for reelection in a hostile environment and a district which voted for Donald Trump by 6 points in 2020. However, Republican nominee Ely Mayor Roger Skraba has less than $2,000 in the bank by the end of July, compared to the Ecklund who has more than $60,000. Trends in the district may be too much for Ecklund to overcome anyways (see Ed Durr), but the incumbent has a clear advantage in terms of campaign quality. This one starts in Tossup.
- HD-3B: One of the bigger losers of this decade’s legislative redistricting process is DFL Rep. Mary Murphy. Having been downgraded from a Biden +11 seat to a Biden +5.5 seat, she faces the first competitive reelection in her career. Author and business executive Natalie Zeleznikar is running a well-funded campaign against the incumbent, and the political environment means that the district is one of the most competitive in the chamber. Tossup.
- HD-7A: The most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in the lower chamber is three-term Representative Julie Sandstede. She only won reelection by 40 votes in 2020, and is now being pitted against fellow State Rep. Spencer Igo (R) as a result of redistricting. The new district is seven points redder than her old seat, thus making Sandstede a heavy underdog. Likely Republican.
- HD-7B: A Trump +4.5 seat sitting in the heart of the Iron Range, HD-7B is quickly trending toward the GOP, with Trump increasing his winning margin from 2016 to 2020 despite a significantly worse performance statewide. Democratic Rep. Dave Lislegard won reelection with 54.5% in 2020, but that was a far cry from the 62% he was able to attain in 2018. This year, Lislegard faces a GOP challenge from small business owner Matt Norri. Trends in the district and the political environment are hostile toward Lislegard, but he’s a strong incumbent in an ancestrally Democratic area. The race starts as a Tossup.
- HD-11A: One of the closer races in 2020 was the race for House District 11A, where real estate agent Jeff Dotseth (R) came up three points short against four-term Rep. Mike Sundin (D). Dotseth is back for another run, but Sundin has decided on retirement. Democrats are now running attorney Pete Radosevich, but without an incumbency boost, they enter this race with a disadvantage given the political environment. Leans Republican.
Twin Cities Metro – Minneapolis
Much of the battle for control of the Minnesota House will taking place in the Twin Cities Metro area. Amid strong rightward shifts in the vast rural areas of the state, the DFL is relying on increasing margins in this highly educated and leftward trending area in order to win statewide. The Minnesota Republican Party has lost significant ground here in statewide and federal races, but retains strong residual strength in local and legislative races. That strength is unlikely to wane during a 2022 environment as favorable for Republicans as it may seem to be right now.
- HD-35A: We have another incumbent vs incumbent general election, with DFL Rep. Zack Stephenson and Republican Rep. John Heinrich both running for this Anoka-Coon Rapids seat. President Biden carried the seat by four points and DFL Gov. Tim Walz won it by five points in 2018’s gubernatorial race, but these suburbs have consistently voted more Republican downballot. And despite outspending his Republican opponent by a 4-1 margin, Stephenson underperformed Biden by four points in 2020. Leans Republican.
- HD-35B: Similar to its neighbor to the west, HD-35B has a partisanship of Biden +5 and is slightly redder downballot. However, candidate quality still matters, and Democrats seem to have an upper hand in this case. DFL State Senator Jerry Newton, who has held down a swing senate seat in the area, is moving down from the upper chamber. On the other hand, the Minnesota GOP is running first-time candidate Polly Matteson. Newton has the much stronger campaign operation, but downballot Republicanism in these suburbs may push Matteson over the top anyways. A Tossup rating is warranted.
- HD-37B: As an example of the downballot lag that occurs in the Minneapolis suburbs, DFL Rep. Kristin Bahner only won reelection by 7 points even as President Biden carried the district by 15%. This year, she faces what’s likely to be her last truly competitive reelection in this rapidly left-trending area. Republican Air Force Veteran John Bristol presents a strong resume for the seat but has a significant cash decifit against the incumbent. This race is best characterized as Leans Democratic.
- HD-45A: In his 2020 bid to become state representative, former Minnetonka Beach City Councilmember Andrew Myers (R) came within a point of knocking off incumbent Democratic Rep. Kelly Morrison in a Biden +9 house seat. Morrison is now running for State Senate, and the new seat only has a partisanship of Biden +1. Without incumbency on Democrats’ side along with a significantly redder district, Myers is a significant favorite in his 2022 house race against Applied Economist Lauren Bresnahan (D). Likely Republican.
- HD-48B: Republican State Rep. Greg Boe is no stranger to competitive campaigns. He first won his seat in the blue wave of 2018, capturing a 117-vote victory to become representative of a rapidly left-trending, traditionally Republican house seat. The 2020 reelection campaign wasn’t any easier, as Trump’s deteriorating standing among suburbanites threatened downballot GOP standing. Boe beat the odds and prevailed by three points, outrunning Trump by double digits in the process. Thanks to redistricting, he once again has to fight hard for reelection this year as the new seat is now four points bluer, at Biden +11. A strong challenge from Democratic Chanhassen City Councilwoman Lucy Rehm only complicates his standing, and Tossup is an appropriate rating for this election.
- HD-54A: The never ending battle continues and the script seems to be the same each cycle, but after their 2018 and 2020 showdowns, State Rep. Erik Mortensen has once again defeated former State Rep. Bob Loonan in the Republican primary and will once again face former DFL Rep. Brad Tabke in the general election. To add to the drama, Legal Marijuana Now Party candidate Ryan Martin is back on the ballot after arguably spoiling the election for Tabke in 2020. Leans Republican is an appropriate rating in this rematch.
- HD-55A: DFL Rep. Jessica Hanson was yet another potential victim to downballot lag in the suburbs. Despite Biden carrying her legislative seat by a healthy 12 point margin, she only won reelection to the legislature by 3 points in 2020. Former State Rep. Pam Myhra (R) is not coming back for a rematch, but Republican nominee Gabriela Kroetch should still make this race very close. A Tossup rating is warranted for the time being.
Twin Cities Metro – St. Paul
- HD-32B: State Rep. Donald Raleigh (R) is not used campaigning in a Democratic-leaning district, but that is exactly what is happening after redistricting. He’s now running in a new Biden +5 district that’s mostly foreign to him, but Republican-leaning tendencies downballot mean his campaign retains an upper hand against a strong challenge from Democratic nominee Matt Norris. Leans Republican.
- HD-33B: This Biden +9 district pits Stillwater Area High School teacher Josiah Hill (D) against former respiratory therapist Mark Bishofsky (R). While Hill has a fundraising advantage and should be favored in a district with this partisanship, downballot GOP roots cannot be ignored, with legislative Democrats universally underperforming Biden in this area by somewhere between six to nine points in 2020. We’d probably choose Hill to win if the election were held today, but this will likely be a very close race. Tossup.
- HD-36A: After falling exactly 100 votes short of ousting DFL state representative Ami Wazlawik in 2020, Republican Elliott Engen is once again running for a spot in the lower chamber. The new district is five points more Republican than the old configuration, and without Wazlawik’s incumbency advantage, Engen is the favorite over Democratic nominee Susie Strom. Leans Republican.
- HD-36B: On paper, this open Biden +17 seat shouldn’t be all that competitive due to its partisan lean. But Republicans have a strong recruit: Vadnais Heights mayor Heidi Gunderson, who actually represents a city that’s slightly more Democratic than the district as a whole. She faces Democrat Brion Curran in a race that has strong potential to be close. Leans Democratic.
- HD-41A: On paper, this Biden +4 suburban district should lean Republican at the legislative level in this environment, but South Washington County School Board member Patricia Driscoll has both more campaign experience and a decent fundraising advantage over her Republican opponent Mark Wiens. For now, this is a race best described as a Tossup.
- HD-41B: In a district won by both President Biden and 2020 Republican Senate nominee Jason Lewis, 2018 DFL nominee for the district Tina Folch faces Republican army veteran Shane Hudella. Lewis’s win in the district is a showcase of the district’s downballot GOP roots, and in this political environment the district will probably not vote for the Democratic candidate at the legislative level. Leans Republican.
- HD-47B: This is the fastest leftward-trending district in Washington County. As recently as 2014, this district was the second most Republican of the four in the county but it’s now easily the most Democratic one. However, quick trends often come with strong downballot lag, and that was prevalent in the 2020 legislative race, where Democratic rep. Steve Sandell underperformed Biden by 14 points. Sandell is now out of the running and former Rep. Kelly Fenton (R), who held this seat until 2018, is launching a comeback bid against an relatively underfunded Democratic opponent Ethan Cha. A bold move, but we’re calling this Biden +17 seat a Tossup to start.
- HD-53B: DFL Rep. Rick Hansen represents a safe Democratic seat covering South and West St. Paul, but redistricting has pushed him out to a newer seat best compared to the old district 54A, which covers Newport and St. Paul Park. Good’ol downballot lag allowed Republican Keith Franke to outrun to outrun Trump by a whopping 14 points and beat out incumbent DFL Rep. Anne Claflin in the 2020 race. However, we don’t believe the Republican luck in this Biden +15 seat will continue, as Hensen himself has a strong electoral record and GOP nominee Steven Swoboda is quite underfunded. Leans Democratic.
- HD-56B: DFL Rep. John Huot is facing a challenge from small business owner Joe Scanlan in this Biden +14 seat. Overall, Huot is a fine incumbent and “only” underran Biden by 4 points, but if he isn’t careful a strong GOP environment can force him into an unexpectedly close race. Leans Democratic.
- HD-57B: After being handily defeated by incumbent Republican Rep. Jon Koznick in 2020, DFL candidate Erin Preese is once again running in what is now an open seat. Biden carried this district by two points, but it still leans Republican at the legislative level. Factor in the environment, and Republican nominee Jeff Witte, a retired law enforcement sergeant, has the advantage. Leans Republican.
Rest of the State
- HD-4B: The retirement of longtime DFL State Rep. Paul Marquart has opened up a Trump +21 seat in western Minnesota. Given the political environment and the district’s heavy Republican lean, it is unclear whether Marquart himself would have held the seat, and without the incumbent DFL chances of trying to retain the seat are essentially zero. Safe Republican.
- HD-14A: The St. Cloud area features two competitive races. The southern district is a Biden +1.4 open seat vacated by State Rep. Tama Theis (R), who’s running for State Senate. 2020 DFL Nominee Tamara Calhoun (D) is back for another shot, while the GOP is running businesswoman Bernie Perryman. Calhoun failed to win the seat in a more favorable environment two years ago, and she is once again is the underdog in the context of 2022. Leans Republican.
- HD-14B: The northern and slightly more Democratic St. Cloud district is held by DFL Rep. Dan Wolgamott, who is running for reelection. He faces a challenge from Republican restaurant owner Aaron Henning in the general. The new district became four points redder during redistricting, and the political environment means that this Biden +4 seat is likely to be decided a slim margin. Tossup.
- HD-18A: In one of the closest races in the chamber two years ago, Republican challenger Susan Akland beat out first term DFL Rep. Jeff Brand by 111 votes, in what was then HD-19A. The district has now been renamed to HD-18A but it largely retains the same turf and partisanship. Brand is back for a rematch, but the environment is in Akland’s favor. Leans Republican.
- HD-23B: After narrowly ousting DFL Rep. Jeanne Poppe in 2020, GOP Rep. Patricia Mueller is running for reelection in this Mower County centered district. Former Austin Mayor Thomas Stiehm (D) is running a credible and well funded challenge to Mueller, but he faces long odds in a district that former President Trump carried by 6 points. Likely Republican.
- HD-24B: DFL Rep. Tina Liebling is used to representing Rochester City proper, but redistricting has pushed her district southward and it is now much more suburban. The new seat is Biden +15.5, so Liebling should be able to stay in the legislature next year barring something unprecedented. Likely Democratic.
- HD-25A: The redistricting process has produced a third Democratic-leaning seat in the Rochester area. At Biden +15.4 and without a Republican incumbent, this seat is likely to flip to the DFL even as they face a poor political environment. 2020 Democratic nominee Kim Hicks is once again the DFL candidate for the seat, while GOP nominee Wendy Phillips is likely too conservative for this district. Likely Democratic.
- HD-26A: Longtime DFL State Rep. Gene Pelowski Jr., who was first elected to the State House in 1986, is once again running for reelection in a Winona County district. It may be somewhat difficult to quantify the candidate quality of Pelowski, as he ran uncontested in both 2018 and 2020, but the sheer fact that he was left uncontested in a swing sweat for two consecutive cycles speaks volumes on its own. The Republican nominee in the district, first-time candidate Stephen Doerr, raised an impressively low $125 in the seven-month period from January to July of 2022. The seasoned incumbent is favored to win, even if this is only a narrow Biden seat in what is expected to be an unfavorable year. Likely Democratic.
- HD-58A: A Biden +6.6 open seat anchored in Northfield, this should be the type of district that should squarely belong in the Tossup category in an environment like 2022. However, DFL candidate Kristi Pursell, the executive director of the environmental non-profit group Clean River Partners, is outraising Republican accountant Gary Bruggenthies by a 14-to-1 margin and has 25x the cash on hand. Pursell clearly has the stronger campaign organization, and therefore this race is currently best categorized as Leans Democratic.
The Minnesota State House is highly competitive and both parties have strong pickup opportunities, with the GOP largely on the offense but Democrats having a few opportunities in the suburbs. Overall, Republicans are slightly favored for control but it’s still very early and the campaigns for the general election have yet to fully develop.