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Minnesota primary features plenty of twists

News cameras focus on U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison on June 5, 2018, as he signs paperwork to withdraw from running for re-election in favor of running for Minnesota attorney general. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — The 2018 primary election is as different as it gets, with more contests than usual, late surprises and a ton of votes already cast.

Republicans are attacking each other in the governor race. U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, the No. 2 official in the national Democratic Party, opted against re-election, instead running for attorney general in a crowded field. Ellison's withdrawal from the U.S. House race led to a six-person race to replace him. Last-minute allegations surfaced against Ellison and Attorney General Lori Swanson, a Democratic governor candidate.

There is more, including hotly contested U.S. House races and 21 state House primary contests.

Minnesotans will decide these and other races when they vote 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 14. Actually, more than 117,000 people already have cast ballots in increasingly popular early voting. Campaign watchers generally say they are not sure how early voting will affect the primary outcome.

Minnesotans have a terrible record of primary election turnout, while they often lead the nation in the general election. It is not clear if the heavy number of early voters mean more will vote, or people are just deciding that voting early is easier than going to the polls on election day.

The winners of each contested party primary race move on to the Nov. 6 general election.

The spotlight race for each party is the governor's contest, which will be open because Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is not running again.

Republicans Tim Pawlenty, a former two-term governor, and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson have gone after each other in this primary campaign. Republicans used to avoid attacks on other members of the party.

For Democrats, many thought Attorney General Lori Swanson led her two opponents, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz and state Rep. Erin Murphy.

However, in the past week two former attorney general employees came forward to claim the attorney general's office pressured workers there to help on Swanson's campaigns over the years. She has held the office for three four-year terms.

Swanson strongly denies there was any political pressures on her employees.

Also denying allegations is Ellison. Over the weekend before the election a former girlfriend and her son said the congressman abused her mentally and physically.

It was not clear how much the Swanson and Ellison issues would affect the election, especially since so many people already have voted.

In a special U.S. Senate election, appointed Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith faces Republican-turned-Democrat Richard Painter in the Tuesday primary, along with less known candidates. On the Republican side, two long-shot candidates challenge party-endorsed state Sen. Karin Housley. The primary winners face off Nov. 6, with the winner then filling out the final two years of Al Franken's term.

The state's other U.S. Senate seat is for a full six-year term. Democratic incumbent Amy Klobuchar and Republican state Rep. Jim Newberger are heavy favorites to advance, although some little-known candidates also are on the ballot.

The U.S. House likely will have at least four hot contests in November, and there are three tight ones for the primary.

The biggest race is for the Minneapolis-centered district Ellison now serves. Six Democrats vie for the nomination, which is the heavily Democratic area means Tuesday's winner probably wins in November, too. The race features state Rep. Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American to be elected to a state legislature, and former state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher.

In northeast Minnesota, five Democrats are competing, with Pete Stauber expected to win the GOP primary. Stauber already has attracted President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to campaign for him.

In a district that spans southern Minnesota, which Walz now serves, Republicans Jim Hagedorn is making his third attempt to win the district, competing against state Sen. Carla Nelson.

Besides federal and state races, some nonpartisan local races also on ballots across Minnesota.

More information

• Voters can register at the polls by taking proper identification (like driver's license)

• Voters may not wear shirts, buttons, etc. promoting specific candidates in polling places

• Find your polling place: pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us

• See what is on your ballot: myballotmn.sos.state.mn.us

• Polling place rules: tinyurl.com/MNpollrules

• Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party: www.dfl.org

• Republican Party: mngop.com

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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