Will the GOP Make Gains in the Minnesota House?

When the DFL swept its way into control of the Minnesota House in the 2006 election, some Republican officeholders and officials partially attributed the DFL 19-seat net gain to having all the cards fall just right for the DFL – that they won all the close races. House Minority Leader Marty Seifert stated earlier this month that he is therefore, “Very confident we can take the majority. We lost the majority in one cycle, we can take it back in one cycle.”

Seifert’s ambitions about taking back the House were originally premised on the DFL nominating Hillary Clinton for President. In a Smart Politics interview with Seifert a little over a year ago, the Minority Leader stated, “I believe firmly that the Democrats will nominate Hillary Clinton for President and Al Franken for U.S. Senate. This will be one of the worst top of the tickets for the Democrats in Minnesota for years.�?

Seifert’s hopes were, in fact, some DFL-ers’ fears. In fact, one freshman DFL House member in a purple district told Smart Politics last summer that Clinton would be such a liability for the DFL that this Representative might not even run for re-election (with Barack Obama now the nominee, that individual is indeed running for a 2nd term).

It is true that in November 2006, the DFL won a majority of competitive races – those decided by 10 points or less – but far from all of them. The DFL won 27 of these races (61 percent), compared to 17 for the GOP (39 percent).

Still, Seifert and the Republicans face a mighty battle to gain even 5 or 10 seats, let alone take back control of the House.

First, Republicans will have to defend twice as many open districts (10) as the DFL (5). Two of these districts were competitive in 2006 (21B and 49B).

Secondly, as a result, the DFL will have more than twice as many incumbents on the ballot (80) as the GOP (39) – presuming that neither side experiences casualties in the September primaries. Thirteen percent of Republican incumbents (5 districts) are facing primary challengers (Districts 25A, 35B, 36A, 41B, 48B), compared to ten percent (8 districts) for the DFL (Districts 05B, 27A, 42A, 55A, 56A, 58A, 58B, 59B).

Thirdly, since the 1964 election the DFL has gained seats on the GOP in 7 presidential election years (1964, 1968, 1972, 1980, 1992, 2000, 2004), held serve once (1976), and lost seats to Republicans just 3 times (1984, 1988, 1996).

With Democratic enthusiasm riding higher than that for the Republicans by most metrics so far in Campaign 2008, Seifert’s characteristically bold prediction seems difficult to foresee. In fact, the DFL might just eke out the three net seats needed to give the Party its largest advantage in the House since 1976.

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