ST PETER — Gustavus Adolphus College students — key contributors to previous Democratic legislative victories in Nicollet County — may be partly or completely missing when a special election is held to fill a vacant state House seat in District 19A.
If Gov. Mark Dayton announces a special election date today, the vote could be held on Tuesday Jan. 29 — the final week of Gustavus’ J-Term when a third to half of students are away from campus. If Dayton waits longer than today to pick a date — and assuming the election will be on a Tuesday — it appears the election would need to fall on Feb. 5, when the St. Peter college of about 2,500 students is closed.
“It’ll make a difference,” said Allen Quist, a rural St. Peter Republican who is considering a run for the seat that will be vacant after Monday with the resignation of Democratic Rep. Terry Morrow.
Quist held Nicollet County’s House seat for three terms in the 1980s before losing two close elections to Democrat Don Ostrom, a Gustavus professor whose victories were secured partly with strong support from Gustavus students.
Those students also swung more recent elections in Democrats’ favor.
Morrow, who is resigning to take a job in Chicago, won his first victory in 2006 — trailing much of election night before winning with an 816-vote margin after St. Peter’s precincts came in. The two St. Peter precincts with the bulk of Gustavus students favored Morrow over fellow-St. Peter resident and Republican Andy Davis by 937 votes.
In 2004, Democrat Ruth Johnson beat Republican Howard Swenson by 754 votes. The Gustavus-dominated precincts that year preferred Johnson by a nearly 1,000-vote margin.
Barring a major organizing effort to get Gusties to vote by absentee ballot, those sorts of electoral windfalls probably won’t be available for the Democratic candidate in the upcoming special election.