Voting surges in St. Louis County
On the cusp of the 2018 midterm was a primary election that saw a voter turnout surge Minnesota hadn't experienced in decades. In just sheer numbers, statewide total votes exceeded 900,000 ballots. Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon tweeted...
On the cusp of the 2018 midterm was a primary election that saw a voter turnout surge Minnesota hadn't experienced in decades.
In just sheer numbers, statewide total votes exceeded 900,000 ballots. Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon tweeted, "Overall turnout was approximately 22.7 percent; the highest turnout percentage in a primary since 1994."
While those numbers were magnified by statewide elections in congressional senate and the gubernatorial race, they were also true locally.
In 2014, Duluth counted 6,077 votes cast in the primary election. That number more than doubled in 2018, rising to 15,452 votes in this year's primary.
"This is a really important election," said Cynthia Rugeley, a political science professor with the University of Minnesota Duluth. "It's hard to quantify, but I think both sides after the 2016 election appreciate the value of turning out."
Rugeley said 2018 races are proving more competitive than their 2014 counterparts. However, the national spotlight that's shined on Minnesota, particularly in the 8th Congressional District race, was likely cause for a surge in voting.
Even though the Republican primary for the congressional seat wasn't very competitive, with Stauber winning with almost 90 percent of the 49,901 GOP votes cast Tuesday, Rugeley thinks the Republican gubernatorial primary also helped drive Republican voters to the polls.
For Democrats, the national attention and an endorsement of the Republican candidate from President Donald Trump gave voters a reason to turnout as well.
"I do think that it generated some support for Stauber from Republicans who back Trump," said Rugeley. "But on the other side, it certainly generated some support among Democrats who don't like Trump or don't agree with his policies."
When the dust settled on the Democratic-Farmer Labor primary election, it was Joe Radinovich left standing. Up against four other candidates, he amassed 30,446 votes - more than 44 percent of the voting total.
In total, DFL candidates in the 8th Congressional District collected 68,874 votes. In 2012, during the last DFL primary for a CD8 seat, that number was 54,429 - 15,000 less.
"I think a lot of the voter turnout has to do with people being sick and tired and fed up with the way we're doing politics," said Jordan Hagert, deputy campaign manager with the Radinovich campaign. "They see this political discussion going on, and it's childish and low-level playground name calling and they want more of their leaders."
Echoing the need for civility in a political world many see immersed in turmoil was Republican Pete Stauber, who spoke at his campaign's headquarters during a volunteer appreciation barbecue during the night of the primary.
"I think this country has had it with demonizing the loyal opposition and taking personal attacks," said Stauber, speaking to a collection of volunteers. "We are going to focus on the positives."
Stauber reflected on advice given to him by Vice President Mike Pence during one of his visits to Duluth, who told him, "don't impugn the integrity of your opponent."
"I will not do that to win this race," Stauber said.
Numbers from St. Louis County won't be finalized until Friday, but the Secretary of State's website reported 2018 primary vote tallies in the county far surpassing those of matching races in the 2014 primary.
In 2014, 18,292 St. Louis County voters cast their ballots in the gubernatorial race. In 2018, that number spiked to 39,556.
"It's exciting to see how many people turned out," Radinovich said. "It really validates what we've seen over the last several months. I think the Democratic base is fired up and they understand the issues we're interested in."
Attention to the 8th Congressional District has been magnified by news media and political mavens from outside of the state. A historically blue seat, Stauber is looking to turn the seat red for only the second time in decades. Even if he does, however, it won't come as a surprise to Rugeley.
"When you look at District 8, there are a lot of shifting demographics people don't really appreciate," she said. "This district probably should have gone Republican a long time ago. The reason it hadn't is because of labor union strength."
Those changing demographics of the district help create a high degree of uncertainty heading into the November election, Rugeley added.
"So can Radinovich cut in a little bit, keep those margins in the Iron Range down for Republicans, then pull out enough votes from Duluth to win? I think it will be pretty hard to do." she said. "A lot of it will depend on enthusiasm. Will a ton of Democrats turn out to vote or a ton of Republicans?"