Incumbent state Sen. Erik Simonson said he will proceed to an August primary after suffering a major loss to challenger Jen McEwen in the race for his party's endorsement.
McEwen, a Duluth attorney and advocate, received 70% of the vote and the DFL party endorsement for the Minnesota Senate District 7 election. Results were announced Saturday after a virtual convention.
Simonson, a first-term incumbent whose recent hiring at Lake Superior College drew controversy, garnered the support of 29% of the delegates.
“I am honored to be endorsed by the DFL, and I’m looking forward to working with the party to win in November,” said McEwen in a news release. “The (COVID-19) pandemic has made the challenges we face even more clear. We need representatives who will fight for our community with integrity and conviction, and we need to get to work right now.”
Despite the setback, Simonson said he plans to file for a primary election, which will be held Aug. 11.
"I have worked hard to build relationships across the aisle, amongst stakeholders, and I am a believer that effective policy is more important than politics," he said in a statement. "Consensus building is the core of effective legislating, and I am hoping to gain the support of Duluthians who are worried about their future, access to good paying jobs, quality education, and affordable health care as we prepare for the coming recession."
The virtual format, which was chosen to accommodate the statewide stay-at-home order, allowed delegates to vote online or through mailed ballots. DFL officials said the nearly 400 participants was a significant increase over in-person conventions.
That format has drawn criticism from some in the DFL, including Simonson, who said his "moderate and inclusive approach to legislating will resonate with Duluth voters."
"Party endorsing conventions have become less and less effective over the past few years," he said. "And this year, in the midst of a global pandemic, the process was even less inclusive than usual. We can’t let flawed processes controlled by a handful of party insiders determine who represents us."
McEwen, on the other hand, has run on a progressive platform, touting health care, clean energy and housing priorities. She argued the virtual format was more inclusive than traditional in-person conventions.
“The processes put in place here actually allowed more people to participate,” McEwen said. “Big thanks are in order for everyone within the DFL who showed that democracy is not only possible during this pandemic, but we can find ways to make sure even more people are at the table.”
Donna Bergstrom is the only candidate to announce on the Republican side, easily earning her party's endorsement. She's making her second run for the seat after losing the 2016 general election to Simonson.
Candidates have from May 19 to June 2 to formally file for legislative elections.