Minnesota suburbs, like many nationwide, swing to Democrats in election

November 8, 2018

The insurgency that swept Democrats into power in the U.S. House was led by suburban voters, both in the Twin Cities area and across the country.

They fueled wins by Democrats Angie Craig and Dean Phillips, who unseated Republican incumbents in the Second and Third congressional districts which together wrap around the Twin Cities from the northwest to the southeast. The same thing happened in suburban Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Denver and Detroit, with Democrats at times defeating favored Republican House incumbents.

I want change, Sherry Fredkove, of Plymouth, said Wednesday of her vote for Phillips. She said she liked his campaigns positive message and support for gay rights.

The suburban surge eroded part of President Donald Trumps 2016 coalition and, if it endures, could threaten both his own and his partys chances in 2020. It also illustrated the gap in Minnesota and other states between rural and urban/suburban voters.

In the Second District, Craigs margin this time painted a picture of shifting voter sympathies: She flipped 31 precincts that Republican Rep. Jason Lewis carried in 2016, including in Apple Valley, Hastings, Inver Grove Heights, Lakeville, Rosemount and Shakopee. Trump had carried the district by just 1 percentage point two years ago.

Suburban women, who are typically white and well-educated, often make the difference in such elections, said David Schultz, a Hamline University political science professor.

They are the single most important swing voters in the United States if they show up, he said.

They showed up Tuesday. National exit polls found that women accounted for 53 percent of voters and backed House Democrats over Republicans by a 21-point margin.

At Buzz Coffee Caf in Burnsville on Wednesday morning, Madison Winans, 22, a student and shift manager at the restaurant, said her votes were meant to express her dissatisfaction with the political climate. It promotes hate, it promotes not getting along with people who are different from you, and I disagree with that completely, she said.

Craig said in an interview that she didnt shape her campaign message to appeal solely to women, but she found that many of them shared Winans frustrations. They really wanted to talk about how do we get back to a time in this country where we can work together, she said.

Craig became convinced of the emerging importance of women to her campaign at get-out-the-vote events in the last 30 days before the election.

She asked which participants were involved in their first campaign, and inevitably a third of the hands in the room would go up, she said.

Turnout was one measure of voter enthusiasm in Craigs and Phillips suburban districts. In the Second District, the number of voters was 156 percent higher than in the 2014 midterms. In the Third, it was 134 percent higher.

In 2016, Clinton won the Third District, 50 to 41 percent.

Phillips got a preview of womens preferences in September, when a KSTP-TV poll found that 54 percent of them supported his candidacy.

On Wednesday, Phillips said even he was surprised by his 11-point win over Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen, who had been re-elected four times by double-digit margins.

After becoming the first Democrat to hold the Third District seat since 1960, Phillips said he doesnt know if that means the west metro suburbs are becoming more Democratic, but it certainly became more participatory.

Theres reason to be hopeful, theres reason to be optimistic, Phillips said.

Virginia Worthington, 60, of Minnetonka, said shes an independent who leans Republican and voted for Paulsen in 2016. This year, she voted for all Democratic candidates because shes frustrated with Congress and Trump.

Democrats shouldnt assume that voters like Worthington will stick with them, Schultz said.

Two decades ago, he said, suburban women concerned about family security often voted for Republicans because their candidates spoke about the quality of schools and health care. When the GOP veered away from those topics, he said, women began to vote for Democrats while suburban men stayed with the GOP.

Many skipped voting in 2016 because they disliked Hillary Clinton and Democrats message, Schultz said, but on Tuesday they returned to the party to repudiate Trump. If Democrats dont reach out to them and deliver, they will stay home in two years, he said.

Alana Petersen, who ran Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smiths successful campaign, said that this was a year we knew that women were going to show up, because health care was a dominant issue and women were just energized.

During the 2017 Womens March, Petersen said, she realized these women have to stay with us in future elections.

David Gaither, a former Republican state senator from suburban Hennepin County who was a senior adviser to Jeff Johnsons GOP gubernatorial campaign, said Democrats here and across the nation succeeded in making Trump a central issue.

People were more energized in the suburbs to oppose the president rather than be for something, he said. But Gaither doesnt think the suburban shifts represent a broad political realignment.

His advice for future Republican candidates vying for suburban voters: You need to be aspirational and give people a reason to vote for you.

Joe Peschek, another Hamline political scientist, said state Sen. Karin Housley, Smiths Republican rival, seemed to sense suburban trouble and adjusted her message at their Hamline debate days before the election.

Rather than repeating the GOP talking point that the Affordable Care Act should be repealed, Peschek noted, Housley instead answered a question by describing health care as a top issue and promising to address high costs.

The lesson of the 2018 campaign, he said, is that Minnesota is not a deep-blue state at the presidential level, including among suburban voters.

The Democrats had a good day [Tuesday] but I dont think it means Trump will be less competitive in Minnesota than he was in 2016, Peschek said.

Marie Krengel, 23, who works at a Burnsville chiropractic clinic, isnt ready to write off the president or his party. In two years, she said, Ill be asking what kind of people can I vote for who support the things that our president is doing well.

But to win over suburban women like Patty Riordan, Trump will have to change his tune. He does not represent the people of this country and he needs to stop, said the 56-year-old veterinary assistant from Shakopee.

Star Tribune staff writer Jeff Hargarten contributed to this report. Judy Keen 612-673-4234 Kelly Smith 612-673-4141

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