Posted: 01/08/08 22:38
by Dave Mindeman
I'd like to discuss the recent special election in Senate District 25. There are some things to learn and a lot of things to take with a grain of salt.
First of all, the Democratic win was completely unexpected. The previous Senator, now judge, Tom Neuville had been an incumbent Senator since 1990. His margins of victory were not overwhelming but they were comfortable. In both 2002 and 2006, he won with 52% of the vote over different challengers.
For the special election, the Republicans had Ray Cox, the type of candidate you would want with little time to campaign. He was a former legislator for half the district and a proven commodity. He had some detractors in his own party but not anything remotely like some kind of party division.
The Democrats endorsed Kevin Dahle. He was a teacher and activist in the party but with little name recognition in the district.
It was a marginally Republican district with a known candidate running --- and a short time to campaign. In addition, Governor Pawlenty set the date for January 3rd....shortly after the holidays, but, as it turned out, more importantly, it was the same day as the Iowa caucuses.
There was a quote in the Star Tribune from Mike Kennedy, the Senate DFL caucus campaign director. He said:
"While the students gave Dahle a lot of momentum going into Election Day, the victroy did not hinge on the student vote."
I think the victory DID hinge on the student vote....and here's why.
I am going to focus on 8 precincts in Northfield. These precincts normally are strong Democratic precincts but during the special election, they were phenomenal.
Here are some numbers (these numbers pertain only to the 8 Northfield city precincts):
Notice a trend?
But here is the kicker to me:
% of total vote vs. vote in Northfield 8:
2002: 34,441 Total -- 7542 Northfield or 21.89%
2006: 34,881 Total -- 7741 Northfield or 22.19%
2007: 12,027 total --- 4221 Northfield or 35.10%
Dahle's margin in Northfield was a +1901, while his total district victory margin was +1577. In the entire rest of the district, Dahle lost by 324 votes.
One more stat:
Let's look at the 4 counties involved in this district. Here, I am going to compare the vote in the 2006 general election with the vote in the 2007 special election.
LeSeur County: 2006: 11,308 2007: 2979....26.30%
Scott County:....2006: 6,314 2007: 1828....28.95%
Rice County:.....2006: 13,973 2007: 6764....48.41%
Sibley County:...2006: 3,260 2007: 752....23.07%
Guess which county Northfield is in?
But why was the student turnout so high? Did the DFL actually get this one right? Did the Republicans blow it?
The Pawlenty plan had been to schedule the election at a time when students might just be getting back from holiday and wouldn't be engaged. But the Iowa caucuses have been in the news for weeks... the Obama phenomenon has engaged and inspired young people all over. Al Franken made stops at the colleges. The Republicans were complacent and ambushed. It was the perfect storm for a DFL win.
So, what do we take away from this.
For Republicans, there was very little they could have done. They can argue about how much work everybody did or didn't do, but with this election, as in every special election, it was all about turnout. Could they have taken too much for granted? Sure, but no amount of extra work was going to change the outcome here. This was determined by the students, not by the politicos.
For Democrats, the focus should be on the "sleeping giant"... the youth vote. That has been looking for some inspiration and a reason to engage.... they have it, at least for now. The best thing the Democrats did in the special election was stay out of the way. They did there usual GOTV, but this election was about engagement and wanting to participate. That might not have happened without the barrage of news from our southern neighbor.
Is this some kind of omen for the future? Not likely. But both parties had better prepare for a wild ride this year. The "times, they are a'changin'".