by Mike Connery, Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 07:44:21 AM EST
There's a battle brewing in the Minnesota 25th State Senate District. On January 3rd, a special election will be held pitting Governor Pawlenty's Republican machine and candidate Ray Cox against students and the Youth arm of Minnesota DFL and their candidate, Kevin Dahle, a local high school teacher. For those not from Minnesota, this is a rematch of 2006, when students kept Ray Cox from attaining a seat in the Minnesota State House, and what's at stake is a veto-proof majority for DFL in the State Senate. Here's the background.
In 2006, Ray Cox ran for a spot in the State House in district 25b. He lost to David Bly, a local alternative school teacher by just 63 votes. This was an upset and a big surprise locally. Bly's victory was due in no small part to surprisingly high turnout at Carlton College and St. Olaf's college, where the Youth Coordinated Campaign of Minnesota DFL organized students using a combination of facebook, phone banking, lit drops and peer to peer outreach. From what organizers from '06 tell me, they were able to do this in part because it was not a high profile race. Neither candidate did much campaigning, and they were very much under the radar.
Now Cox is back, and he and Pawlenty are trying to do an end run around the students. In September, a judge in the Minnesota first district court retired. Last week, Pawlenty appointed Republican State Senator Tom Neuville - the current occupant of the Minnesota State 25th - as his replacement, necessitating a special election for the vacated seat. Here's where it gets interesting. Pawlenty chose January 3rd as the date of the special election. Not only is that the same day as the Iowa Caucus, when presumably many of the most politically active Minnesotan students will be doing what they can to help their favored Presidential candidate in the neighboring state, but it is also the first day of classes at Carlton College and St. Olaf's - presumably a time when students will just be getting settled in, and will be busy catching up with friends after the holidays and getting their semester in order. It also means that for the next month - when MYDFL needs to coordinate, get the message out and organize - students will be occupied with finals and scattered across the state on holiday.
Pawlenty and Cox are clearly afraid to face down Minnesota students again and are gaming the system to their advantage. Fortunately, students aren't taking this lying down. Many of the same students who helped engineer Cox's defeat in 2006 are getting organized to bring him down again in 2008. They are putting together plans for day-of-election transportation and GOTV, lit drops, on campus flyering. They're already at work on campus now, raising awareness about the issue among the student bodies before break, and they plan to use their holiday vacation wisely - keeping in touch with students and building lists using FaceBook.
They're likely to get a lot of help in this - particularly providing transportation costs - from Minnesota DFL. As I said, what's at stake here is a veto-proof majority for DFL in the Senate, a powerful tool which they can use to challenge and restrain Governor Pawlenty.
There's no precedent for a special election in Minnesota under these conditions - in student heavy districts immediately following a holiday at the height of a Presidential campaign - and turnout is anybody's guess. It's likely that it will be small though. This is a rural district and the January 3rd date is likely to confuse Republicans just as much as it is engineered to discourage student turnout. So this is likely to be a base election, with both sides only turning out their most hard-core supporters. This has an upside in that it means that high student turnout has the potential to flip the election in 2008 just as it did in 2006.
The student organizers say that they'll have online phone banks set up in a few weeks. Once that is up and running, I'm sure they'll appreciate all the help they can get from us in GOTVing Minnesota students in the district. I'll have more on this as we get closer to the election. This isn't a national race, but it's still one that we should keep an eye on.