Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Races to watch on election day: MN House edition

This is the first post in a series about what races will be the most interesting to follow on election day. If you are looking for early indications about who's going to have a good night, these are some races you'll want to pay attention to.

A few notes about the metrics I'm using.

When I refer to the amount of money raised by a candidate, I talking about the amount raised in individual contributions this year, not total amount raised. This metric give us an idea of how much support a candidate has in the absence of polling.

This is by no means a perfect measure, but it has decent predictive power in that incumbents who raise significantly more than their opponent rarely lose, and those who raise significantly less, are in danger of losing.

The other metrics I'm using are; 2008 vote shares and hPVI.

With that out of the way, let's get on with the Minnesota House edition of "Races to watch."

The Key Races

If the DFL wins these two races, they will likely hold the house. If they lose them both, all bets are off.

DFL: Kevin Staunton
GOP: Keith Downey [i]
Rating: Toss-up

This is the Democrats best chance to pick up a GOP seat. Keith Downey only won in 2008 because Ron Erhardt got summarily drummed out of the GOP for voting to override the Governor's veto of the transportation bill. In the ensuing three way race Downey eked out a win with 36.7% of the vote.

His DFL opponent from that race, Kevin Staunton is back again, this time with the endorsement of the aforementioned Ron Erhardt. The district has a very slight R+3 tilt, but has been trending towards pure toss-up and Staunton is almost even with Downey in fundraising, $48k to $49k.

DFL: Mike Obermueller [i]
GOP: Doug Wardlow
Rating: Toss-up

Mike Obermueller won this seat in 2008, beating Lynn Wardlow by a slim 51.2% to 48.7% margin, after failing in his first attempt in 2006. Now Lynn Wardlow's son, Doug Wardlow, is running to avenge his fathers loss. This is an R+10 district, but Rep. Obermueller has proven to be an adept politician and has out-raised Wardlow the younger thus far $15k to $11k.

If you were to ask me to point to one race as an indicator of how the night would go I would probably point to this race, if Obermueller loses by more than a few points that could be a sign we are in for a long night, on the other hand if he wins, it's probably a good night for the DFL.

A few suburban warning signs

If these seats flip, the blue team could be in for a long night.

DFL: Sandra Masin [i]
GOP: Diane Anderson
Rating: Toss-up

This is a rematch of their 2008 race. In that contest Sandra Masin won 52.5 to 47.5 in her first defense of the seat she barely won in 2006. She's stayed just ahead in fundraising over Diane Anderson $14k to $12k in this R+1 district so all things being equal she should be able to squeak by again.

DFL: Maria Ruud [i]
GOP: Kirk Stensrud
Rating: Toss-up

Things don't look to bad for Maria Ruud on the surface, she got 58% in 2008 in this R+5 district, but when you trail in fundraising $8k to $28k there is at least some reason for concern.

The Women from district 56

These races are not quite in the warning sign category, but are exactly the types of seats the GOP is targeting this cycle, a sweep of the two district 56 races though would certainly be a warning sign.

DFL: Julie Bunn [i]
GOP: Kathy Lohmer
Rating: Toss-up

Julie Bunn received almost 53% in 2008 in her first re-election bid. Her vanquished opponent from that race, Kathy Lohmer is back for another go. The district is GOP leaning at R+11 but Bunn has raised more money $20k to $17k. Like the other district 56 race, this one could go either way.

DFL: Marsha Swails [i]
GOP: Andrea Kieffer
Rating: Toss-up

Marsha Swails got re-elected with a rather comfortable 55% of the vote in 2008, but like many of the Democrats who find themselves in toss-ups this year, she represents a republican leaning R+10 district. Unlike in 56A, Marsha Swails has been out-raised by her opponent Andrea Kieffer $20k to $17k.

Other races to watch

Here are some interesting contests that could produce surprising results.

DFL: Carol Lewis
GOP: King Banaian
Rating: Toss-up

Some criticized me for initially rating this as a Toss-up, but I stand by that. This is only a D+3 district, not the Democratic stronghold that the previous office holder, Larry Haws made it seem like. Add to that the fact that King Banaian has out-raised Carol Lewis by a 5-1 margin $25k to $5k and this to me looks very much like a toss-up.

In open seat races, the previous incumbents past vote share is somewhat helpful in predicting who will win, but what is more helpful is the districts hPVI. I suspect this has to do with districts having a tendency to regress to the mean when there is no incumbent running.

So yes, Larry Haws got 67% in 2008, but so what, he's not running, Carol Lewis is and she managed to raise an entire $5k, with only $2.5k of that coming since the primary. So color me skeptical. That said, if Banaian wins I don't think it's a sign of a Democratic catastrophe unfolding, as this race will likely be decided based on the candidates themselves rather than the political environment.

DFL: Gail Kulick Jackson [i]
GOP: Sondra Erickson
Rating: Toss-up

Sondra Erickson is back to try and reclaim the seat she barely lost to Gail Kulick Jackson in 2008. This is a brutally GOP district at R+18 and Rep. Jackson's 2008 win had an air of flukyness to it, not to mention the razor thin margin. Nonetheless, Rep. Jackson has out-raised former Rep. Erickson $17k to $12k, so neither outcome would surprise me.

DFL: Jen Peterson
GOP: John Kriesel
Rating: Toss-up

The district has a D+6 tilt and gave it's previous incumbent, Karla Bigham, over 58% in 2008, so it looks like this should be a seat that Democrats can hold onto. Until you look at the fundraising numbers that is. Jen Peterson has raised $8k to John Kriesel's $45k, a staggering fundraising disparity that will be tough to overcome.

Add to that Kriesel's compelling personal story, as an Iraqi war hero and this becomes a difficult hold for the Democrats.

DFL: Audrey Britton
GOP: Sarah Anderson [i]
Rating: Toss-up

The fundamentals of this district favor Sarah Anderson, she got 54.4% in 2008 and the district is a favorable R+9. The main reason this race is a toss-up is because her opponent, Audrey Britton, has raised more than twice as much money, $17k to $7k, a sign that this will be a competitive race.

DFL: Katie Rodriquez
GOP: Kurt Zellers [i]
Rating: Tilt GOP

Kurt Zellers released an internal poll in response to an increase in chatter about this race that showed him crushing Katie Rodriquez 57-33. An analysis of that poll by a conservative blogger than became the topic of a Tom Horner campaign email as part of their "Emmer can't win" media push.

Yes that was an internal poll and yes it had a sample of 250, but no matter how hard your thumb is on the scale, a result like that is not very encouraging for Dem prospects in 32B this year. That said, it's still a race worth keeping an eye on as it would certainly be a nice "trophy seat" to pick up. Rodriquez has out-raised Zellers $18k to $13k, so a victory is not out of the question even if it is unlikely.

The Endangered Dems

The GOP likely needs to win all of these races if they have any hope of retaking the state house.

DFL: Dave Olin [i]
GOP: Dan Fabian
Rating: Tilt GOP

Dave Olin is behind the eight ball in all three of the metrics I used to compile the House ratings; he got just over 50% of the vote in 2008, 50.3%, his opponent Dan Fabian, has raised almost three times as much money ($21k to $7.5k) and he's in an R+8 district. If Olin can win this race it would be unlikely that the GOP comes anywhere close to taking over the house.

DFL:Phil Sterner [i]
GOP: Kurt Bills
Rating: Tilt GOP

Phil Sterner is in a similar situation as Dave Olin, although maybe not as bad. Sterner received 51.8% of the vote in 2008 and is being out-raised by his opponent, Kurt Bills, $21k to $11k. He's also not helped by his districts R+12 tilt.

DFL: Al Doty [i]
GOP: Mike LeMieur
Rating: Tilt GOP

Al Doty won by the slimmest of margins in 2008 50.1% to 49.7% against opponent Mike LeMieur who is back for another go. LeMieur has the fundraising advantage, $16k to $8k and the fundamentals of the district are in his favor as well at a whopping R+18.

DFL: Tim Faust [i]
GOP: Roger Crawford
Rating: Tilt GOP

Tim Faust received just 50.6% in 2008 in this R+10 district, but he's been able to keep it close in fundraising, trailing his opponent Roger Crawford just $16k to $15k.

DFL: Paul Rosenthal [i]
GOP: Pat Mazorol
Rating: Tilt GOP

Paul Rosenthal got a respectable 52.5% of the vote in 2008, but the district is slightly against him at R+7. Not only that but Rosenthal is getting killed in fundraising by his opponent, Pat Mazorol $31k to $21k.

A few long shot Democratic pickups

It would take a really good night for the blue team to flip either of these seats.

DFL: Chris Knopf
GOP: Carol McFarlane [i]
Rating: Tilt GOP

Carol McFarlane is in a similar situation to Sarah Anderson, she received 54.2% in this R+6 district but her opponent Chris Knopf has out raised her $7k to $5k. That's not a lot of money to unseat an incumbent, but it's also not out of the realm of possibility.

DFL: Barrett Chrissis
GOP: Bruce Anderson [i]
Rating: Tilt GOP

This one just barely a made the cut, the district is R+21, which would normally seem daunting but Bruce Anderson severely underperformed that tilt in 2008, getting 52.5% and this year is being slightly out-raised by his opponent Barrett Chrissis, $6k to $5k, although those numbers aren't really impressive for either candidate.


  1. Yard signs in district 56A for both Lohmer and Bunn have been appearing alongside those of Jim Martin, the third candidate in the race. It seems as thought the two women are trying to steal the ever growing base of this independent candidate, who was nominated by the public for election.

  2. What does "nominated by the public for election" mean?

    Although I am not a huge Bunn fan, it seems to me that she represents her district pretty well. And she actually was "elected by the public" last election.

  3. House Dems should have a better than average chance to pick up rural 25A (open Brod seat)McGuire is a best bet against Tea Party candidate. In 22A, Former majority leader Ted Winter is favored in this open seat. Taking this into account makes the prospects of the chamber switching basically zero. The GOP would have to pick up 23-24 seats. You cannot and have not come close to naming this many pick-ups for the Repubs.

    You analysis is VERY unscientific and based on nothing nithing but numbers. You need to drill a bit deeper to have any credibility at all on your picks. For example, in Olin's district, Collin Peterson is up by 34 points and Dayton is scoring quite well, too. These are two strong coattails for 7thCD Dems to grab hold of. Olin is a good district fit and should be safe.

    While you may have had 'fun' doing this, it is not a very good predictor of true race results. You need to get out of town more.

  4. This was not meant to be a comprehensive list of who is favored in every race in the state, that's what the race ratings are for. This was more of a list of races that I think will be indicators of how the night will go. Because I left a race off doesn't mean anything.

    And as far as Dave Olin in 1A, where have you seen Peterson up by 34 in his district? Are you referring to the internal poll Peterson leaked? That was for CD7, of which house district 1A is a part of.

    You might be right about Olin, you're certainly not the first person who's told me I'm wrong on that race. And while I hope I'm wrong, the numbers are what the numbers are.

    I disagree that the ratings themselves are unscientific though. They my not be right, you may not agree with them, but there is certainly a method behind them, and that method is based on past Minnesota election outcomes.

  5. Totally non-scientific. Period. It is all your opinion of the numbers, not a hard fast proven scientific formula. Again, you need to get out of town more. If you feel a need to prognosticate on rural races, you may wish to actually visit the geography you speak of. A wanna be wonk from Mpls can do damage in rural races by being too out there on his vision of the world politic.

  6. Again, I looked at a lot of different numbers from past Minnesota elections, these were the three metrics that had the most predictive power.

    You are certainly free to disagree with me, but the method I used was certainly not un-scientific.

  7. You need to learn how to read campaign finance reports. Your take on the fundraising is way off. For example: Doty's receipts were actually $21,600.43. But Doty started the year with a cash balance of $20,167.36. LeMieur had total receipts of $24,105.25, but he started with $199 this year. So Doty had nearly DOUBLE the campaign arsenal as LeMieur. Just looking at individual contributions and not including the public subsidy, PAC and party unit contributions, etc. doesn't reflect what a candidate has to spend on their campaign effort.

  8. In my research I found that total cash on hand, as well as total receipts, are not as good of a predictive tool as money raised in individual contributions is.

    That is why I am only looking at that aspect.

  9. What "nominated by the public for election" means:

    In order for a person to appear on the general election ballot for a state legislative office, they must be nominated for election. The names of Jim Martin's opponents are appearing on the ballot because a party nominated them for election. Jim Martin's name is appearing because residents (not a party) nominated him for election.

    He is the only MN House candidate in the entire state who has never been affiliated with a political party! I'm jealous of district 56A voters who have the opportunity to send a person, not a party, to our state's legislature. DISTRICT 56A: GO VOTE FOR JIM!