Election 2018: Key races to watch on election night

With Election Day coming up on Tuesday, we want to give you a few of things to watch for as you digest the results. With an open seat for governor, a special election in the State Senate, and several competitive races in the Minnesota House, there are a number of plausible scenarios for the distribution of power at the State Capitol. Please note that there might be close contests or surprising results in a number of races, not just the ones mentioned below. There is always a sleeper or two that nobody saw coming.

Governor’s Race
The one thing we know for sure is that Minnesota will elect a new governor. Republican Jeff Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner from Plymouth, and DFLer Tim Walz, a U.S. representative from Mankato, have been running a spirited race for the seat being vacated by Gov. Dayton. Most public polling shows Walz in the lead, but the margin has narrowed a bit as we have gotten closer to the election. Walz is expected to do very well in the metro, while Johnson will likely fare better in many parts of Greater Minnesota. Keep your eye on southern Minnesota — if Walz holds even with Johnson in his congressional district, the congressman could have the edge.

Senate District 13 Special Election
When Michelle Fischbach vacated her Senate seat to run for lieutenant governor with Tim Pawlenty, the Senate found itself evenly divided at 33-33. Therefore, the Senate special election for the St. Cloud-area seat has taken on out-sized importance as current State Rep. Jeff Howe (R) dukes it out with former Sartell mayor and current County Commissioner Joe Perske (DFL). Ordinarily a race like this would be considered a slam dunk for the GOP. However, in an unpredictable year where outside groups have spent more than $1 million on just this one race — and with two high-quality candidates facing off — anything can happen. Look for it to be close.

Minnesota House
The GOP has controlled the Minnesota House since the 2014 election (the GOP held a 77-57 majority over the DFL during the last session), but with President Trump facing a low approval rating in many parts of the state, Democrats feel positive about their chances to seize control. In order to do so, they must have a net gain of 11 seats — no easy task.

Democrats are focusing most of their efforts on 12 seats currently held by Republicans but which are in districts won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Most of these are in the suburbs and include District 36A, an open seat in the northern suburbs featuring a race between Bill Maresh (R) and Zach Stephenson (DFL). Also on the radar are first-term Republican Reps. Randy Jessup (District 42A), Keith Franke (District 54A), Regina Barr (District 52B) and Dario Anselmo (District 49A). On the DFL side, first-term legislator Rep. Erin Koegel (District 37A), who won by less than 600 votes in 2016, is facing a challenge from newcomer Anthony Wilder (R).

While the suburbs have been getting most of the attention, there are several key races in Greater Minnesota. The DFL sees opportunities for pick-up in northern Minnesota, where former Itasca County Sheriff Pat Medure (DFL) is facing first-termer Rep. Sandy Layman (R) in the District 5B seat anchored by Grand Rapids. To the west, former Rep. John Persell (DFL) is looking to regain his seat from current Rep. Matt Bliss (R) in the Bemidji area (District 5A).

In southern Minnesota, Republicans are looking at a pair of open seats as their best pick-up chances. In District 19A, St. Peter City Councilor Jeff Brand (DFL) is facing off against former North Mankato City Councilor Kim Spears (R). In the Northfield area, Todd Lippert (DFL) is squaring off against Josh Gare (R). In order for the DFL to have any chance of winning the majority in the House, they almost certainly need to retain these seats.

As stated above, almost any scenario is possible during this unpredictable election season. No matter the outcome, we will break it all down and what it means for Greater Minnesota after the election.