The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

January 8, 2013

Republicans getting head start in special election

— When Gov. Mark Dayton Tuesday set the date for a special election to fill a vacant House seat that covers Nicollet County and part of Mankato, he provided both an election day boost to Democrats and a substantial head-start for Republicans.

Voters will go to the polls on Feb. 12 to decide who should replace Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, who resigned to take a job in Chicago. That means about 2,500 Gustavus Adolphus College students, who return to campus on Feb. 11, will be in St. Peter for the election -- and Gustie-heavy precincts have provided the winning margin for Democratic candidates in past legislative elections.

But Democrats found out Tuesday that they don't just have a special election to contend with on Feb. 12 -- they'll also have an unintended special primary election on Jan. 29. That's because there are three Democrats in the race, and the party's endorsing convention on Jan. 19 will fall too late for the non-endorsed Democrats to withdraw from the race as they had pledged to do.

Meanwhile, Republicans are meeting Thursday night to endorse a candidate. If they're successful in rallying around a single candidate, if the others drop from the race as expected, and if no unannounced Republican candidate files, then there will be no Republican primary election.

So if the Republicans stay unified, their nominee will have a 19-day head start in campaigning before Democrats officially settle on their choice in the Jan. 29 primary.

The entire special election process is tightly compressed compared to a typical election. The filing period for candidates to officially enter the race starts today and ends at 5 p.m., Jan. 15. Candidates who filed and wish to have their name taken off the ballot can do that until Jan. 16 at 5 p.m.

With Democrats not holding their endorsing convention until Jan. 19, there's no way to avoid a primary -- even if the non-endorsed candidates want to withdraw and rally around the endorsee.

Senate District 19 DFL Chairwoman Karen Foreman didn't return calls from The Free Press seeking comment. Nicollet County DFL Chairman Jim Fleming said there's no way for the DFL endorsing convention to be moved up to Jan. 15 or sooner because delegates must be given 10 days notice under party rules.

"I can't get around it," Fleming said. "I've got to give them the 10 days."

So why didn't Democrats shoot for an earlier date for their convention from the outset, considering that Morrow announced he would be resigning his seat on Dec. 19? Fleming said party leaders considered Jan. 12th but wanted all potential candidates to have time to contemplate a run.

"There were probably 10 people seriously considering this,"  said Fleming, who said one or two more candidates may still jump in.

As for the challenge of rallying Democratic voters to get out and vote in two mid-winter special elections, Fleming attempted to find the bright side.

"Any publicity is good publicity," he said. "So having a primary, we're going to get publicity."

Beyond the political implications, the primary election will bring additional expense and added workload for election staff and election judges in Nicollet County and Blue Earth County.


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