What to Watch for on Election Night

The race for governor is expected to be close. In fact, operatives from both parties say the race may come down to who has the better Get Out the Vote operation. Here’s a look at what to watch for on Election Day.

1) Will the L tell? Gov. Pawlenty won Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District by 6 percentage points in 2006. He won the 7th Congressional District by 9 percentage points. Polling is showing that Democrat Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer are running about even in that portion of the state (the so-called L). Dayton will have the advantage if he does well here and holds his own among DFL strongholds.

2) What’s the word in the 3rd? Independence Party candidate Tom Horner is expected to have his best showing in the 3rd Congressional District which includes the western Twin Cities suburbs. Gov. Pawlenty won the district by 12 percentage points four years ago. This district is made up mostly of moderate Republicans and it will be a bellwether as to whether Horner convinced those Republicans to go with him instead of Emmer. It will be a long night for Dayton and Horner if Emmer performs well here.

3) Does Cravaack have Emmer’s back? Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District has been a DFL stronghold for decades. It’s been a rainmaker for DFL candidates. But this year, DFL Rep. Jim Oberstar is facing the toughest test of his political life. Republican Chip Cravaack is giving Oberstar a solid challenge. Watch to see whether those Cravaack voters pull the trigger for the Republican ticket or split their ballot and go for Dayton. If it’s the former, Emmer will have a solid night. He doesn’t have to win this district but outperform past Republican candidates.

4) Will the GOP wreck it in the 6th and 2nd? Republicans historically do well in Minnesota’s 2nd and 6th Congressional Districts (southern, eastern and northern Twin Cities suburbs, northern Twin Cities exurbs like Ham Lake and Elk River and St. Cloud). Pawlenty has made it rain in these areas. He won the 6th by 19 percentage points in 2006. He won the 2nd by 16 percentage points. Emmer needs to do that well in order to keep pace. If he does better than that it could be a tough night for Horner and Dayton.

5) Do Democrats have the blues from watching the news? One major concern in DFL circles is whether Democrats sit this election out. It’s going to be a tough night for Democrats across the country and some are worried that could prompt Democrats in Minnesota to sit out the race. If that happens, Republicans will rack up huge wins in both the governor’s race and in the Legislature. The DFL Party has spent a lot of time and money on Get Out the Vote efforts to ensure that their core voters turn out and vote. We’ll see if that happens on Election Day.

6) Will they put on their coats and get out to vote? Minnesotans tend to vote in fewer numbers in off year elections. The key question is how big of a drop-off will occur this year and where does it come from? Traditionally college students and lower income voters tend to stay home during the Midterms. If they turn out in big numbers it will bode well for Dayton. If they don’t, it bodes well for Emmer. I’m told it’s good news for Dayton if total voter turnout is 60 percent or higher. It’s good news for Emmer if total turnout is below 60 percent.

7) How many end up in Horner’s corner? IP candidate Tom Horner has been doing a whole lot of work trying to convince middle of the road voters to choose him over the “extreme candidates” in the DFL and GOP. We’ll get a good sense of whether that pitch is working if he does well in the 3rd Congressional District. Another place to watch is Anoka County which helped Jesse Ventura “shock the world” in 1998.

8) Can you surmise that there will be a GOP surprise? The GOP needs to pick up a couple of surprise victories in order to take the Minnesota House and Senate. Political insiders say a few seats to watch include DFL Rep. Loren Solberg of Grand Rapids and DFL Rep. Ann Lenczewski of Bloomington. Both candidates are the top budget and tax experts in the Minnesota House. Voters unhappy with government spending could choose to throw these candidates out. If that’s the case, it will be a long night for the DFL.

On the Senate side, DFL Sen. Katie Sieben is facing a strong challenge from Republican Karin Housley. Housley spent $10,000 of her own money on her campaign and is a well known name in South St. Paul (she’s married to hockey great Phil Housley). I’m told she’s working tirelessly to win a seat that leans DFL. It makes one wonder why Sieben was spending her Thursday before Election Day staffing Mark Dayton’s trip to Ely and the Iron Range. Another race to watch if DFL Sen. Keith Langseth’s reelection.

9) Will there be a GOP hiccup by a few DFL pick-ups? The DFL is playing defense on plenty of races this year but they are also hoping to pick up a few seats. In the House, they’re bullish on Ted Winter returning to the Legislature. He’s running in the open seat that’s being vacated by GOP Rep. Doug Magnus (who’s running for DFL Sen. Jim Vickerman’s open seat). Another race to watch is GOP Rep. Laura’s Brod’s open seat. Democrats hope Mick McGuire can upset Republican Gleen Gruenhagen there.

On the Senate side, Democrats are hoping that they can pick up former Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson’s old seat. Republican Joe Gimse defeated Johnson in 2006 but his business has been plagued with financial problems. It could be sweet revenge for Mike Kennedy, the DFL Senate political director who spent a lot of time and money defending Johnson in 2006.

10) Will reaction from the Church leave the DFL in the lurch? The Republican Party and conservative interest groups have been working to portray the DFL Party as “anti-Catholic” after the party sent out a lit piece targeting Republican Pastor Dan Hall. The DFL Party Chair insists the mailers aren’t “anti-Catholic” but anti-candidate.

Over the past week, the GOP has been actively pushing the idea on Twitter, the blogs and other places. The strategy will have worked if St. Cloud, New Ulm and Duluth vote for the GOP in higher margins than in years past. The key question is whether the DFL Party is forced to say their prayers over the lit piece or if the the GOP is trying to throw a Hail Mary in the hopes of getting more Republicans elected.