Suburbs remain a legislative battleground under new Minnesota political maps

The evening after the new Minnesota legislative and congressional maps were released, State Senator Jim Abeler showed up at the council meeting of a city that only represents part of his district.

But next year, the reshuffled political boundaries will include many more Coon Rapids in Abeler’s domain — if Anoka’s Republican can hold on to a seat that looks set to become more Democratic.

“Even though I don’t represent many of you, always call on me to help with my peers in the House and Senate,” Abeler told a few dozen residents in the council chamber. “We really like to get things done for all of you.”

From the Twin Cities suburbs to Rochester and communities around Duluth, incumbent lawmakers are racing to get to grips with new voters — or wondering whether they should retire or move out. New candidates launch campaigns for open seats or fields that suddenly seem easier to win.

And while the dust still settles on new redistricting maps drawn by state courts, both sides are beginning to see the battleground districts that will help decide control of the Legislative Assembly in the decade to come. to come.

Republicans are optimistic about their chances this fall given headwinds for Democrats, and some analysts say the latest maps will provide GOP hopefuls with more competitive spots in a wider range of districts. But all sides agree that the court’s approach of minimizing district boundary changes means that no side has gained a clear electoral advantage over the next 10 years.

“We’re all stepping into this big unknown,” said GOP strategist Gregg Peppin. “How are these districts going to vote? You have past voting statistics, of course. But ultimately these other factors – outside influences, national environment, incumbents, their correspondence, recruiting – there has all these things. So it’s this great stew of political issues that’s bubbling up there.

The legislature is divided, with Democrats controlling the House and Republicans holding a majority in the Senate. While the party in the White House has never fared well in the midterm elections, Democrats are hoping the inroads they’ve made in more suburban districts will pave the way for them to win in November.

In the state Senate, 37 of the 67 newly selected districts favored President Joe Biden in the 2020 election, the same split under the old borders. In the 134-seat House, 77 new districts favored Biden in 2020, five more than the old map.

“We’ve seen more metropolitan districts created, and we’re winning in metropolitan districts,” said DFL House President Melissa Hortman. She said there were plenty of opportunities for Democrats to secure suburban neighborhoods, as well as seats around Rochester and Mankato. As some large districts in Minnesota turn redder, Hortman said, “There are still pockets of greater Minnesota where we have a strong hold … and I expect us to keep them.”

Community organizer Matt Norris lives in one of the main suburban house seats in Metro North. The DFL candidate has been knocking on doors in Blaine since last fall, expecting him to run for the legislative seat he found himself in when the lines were redrawn. Where he landed is likely to be one of the most hotly contested races in the Legislative Assembly.

The new Blaine-area House neighborhood includes Circle Pines, pairing Norris with incumbent Republican Rep. Donald Raleigh. Norris was already changing his door-to-door route last week and making calls to new areas in his district. Mentally, he is preparing for the flood of outside money and the attacks that will undoubtedly pour into the race.

“A lot of times in swing neighborhoods, it’s the outside money that exceeds the money candidates spend,” he said. “The way you counter that is to live in the community and talk about what I would do for the community.”

Raleigh does the same. He said he had a lot of community ties in the newly drawn neighborhood. He is a former Blaine Parks Commissioner, belongs to the local VFW and said he knows “hundreds and hundreds of families” while volunteering with a Blaine-based Civil Air Patrol Squadron.

A matchup in Metro West of two incumbents — Democratic Sen. Ann Johnson Stewart of Minnetonka and Republican Sen. David Osmek of Mound — will likely be another big-money suburban battle. There could also be a fierce fight for the northern suburban district that includes Lino Lakes and White Bear Lake, where prominent GOP Sen. Roger Chamberlain landed in a decidedly more Democratic seat.

“Suburban areas are definitely going to be a battleground, but we’re confident our message will resonate with voters across the state of Minnesota,” said GOP Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller of Winona. . “With crime spiraling out of control, we believe providing funding for more police officers, holding criminals accountable and helping to make communities safer…is a winning message.”

Miller said he believed the courts — which took over the redistricting process when lawmakers failed to reach an agreement — set fair boundaries for the Senate overall, but he was disappointed that the new cards feature more Republican incumbents than Democrats. As a result of these GOP pairings, a couple of longtime Republican senators, Finance Committee Chair Julie Rosen and State Government Committee Chair Mary Kiffmeyer, announced they were retiring.

Democrats also face a disadvantage, said retired Carleton College political scientist Steve Schier. DFL voters are tightly packed into “ineffective districts” that are heavily one-party, while Republicans are widely spread across the state and have more competitive situations in different districts, he said.

For Republicans, taking back some of those big Minnesota districts will be key to controlling the Legislature, especially the House, Peppin said. While the suburbs are critical, he said, there are also opportunities for the GOP to do well by snagging DFL seats on the iron chain or the one held by five-term DFL representative Mike Sundin who includes Cloquet.

Sundin District will add parts of Pine County in more conservative-friendly areas, giving Republicans hope they have a better chance of unseating him this fall. But Sundin, a labor organizer who lives in Esko, recently took over the House agriculture committee and said he has a lot to talk about with his new constituents, who include farmers.

“I still expect strong competition for that seat, you know, and that’s okay,” he said. “It allows everyone to be honest.”

Political control of Minnesota’s legislative chambers has oscillated over the past two decades. Each party has taken control of the Senate and House the same number of times over the past 20 years, noted Joe Mansky, the former Ramsey County chief election officer who worked on state redistricting plans for decades.

“I can’t think of a more politically balanced environment,” Mansky said. “So are we looking at more of the same from 2022 to 2030? I think the answer is yes. I expect this plan to create the opportunity for multiple control changes over the next 10 years.”

Data editor MaryJo Webster contributed to this report.

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