An already progressive DFL in Duluth embraced an even further left agenda in Tuesday’s primary, one that’s far more Bernie Sanders and far less Bill Clinton or even Barack Obama.
Consider the DFL primary for the state Senate seat representing much of Duluth. DFLers overwhelmingly picked challenger Jen McEwen — and rejected the more-moderate, more-willing-to-compromise-in-the-name-of-results incumbent Sen. Erik Simonson. McEwen will now face Republican Donna Bergstrom, a retired lieutenant colonel in the United States Marine Corps and a candidate for lieutenant governor two years ago.
Unwaveringly opposed to copper-nickel mining and in support of single-payer health care and an immediate transition to a clean-energy economy, all hallmarks of an aggressively progressive platform, McEwen nabbed a trouncing 73% of Duluth DFLers’ votes Tuesday. The result mirrored the endorsement vote of DFL Party delegates in May of 70% for McEwen, and it sent a clear message about the direction favored by progressive DFL Party activists here.
It was a message echoed around Minnesota Tuesday, too. At least three other state Senate and Minnesota House DFL incumbents lost primaries to more progressive challengers. In addition, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a member of the “Squad” of progressive women of color elected to the U.S. House in 2018, easily turned back a moderate Democratic challenger, despite his being well-financed.
Whether the progressives’ message is growing louder in backlash to President Donald Trump, its wave undoubtedly buoyed St. Louis County Board candidate Ashley Grimm Tuesday. Like McEwen, Grimm was endorsed by the DFL (even though the County Board is supposed to be nonpartisan), and she won 51.1% of the vote in a three-way race to replace Commissioner Beth Olson, who chose not to seek re-election. On Nov. 3, Grimm will face fiscal conservative Joe Macor, who with his wife owns and operates a foster care home for disabled adults. Macor received 30.6% of the ballots cast across western Duluth.
County Board Candidate Eric Erkkila, a pro-business, pro-industry, and anti-tax non-progressive, received just 18.3% of voters’ support. His rejection seemed a clear indicator of Duluth’s shifting politics — one of further entrenched division and with weakening hope for compromise or unity.
On the Iron Range, meanwhile, DFL voters stuck with the reliably experienced state Sen. David Tomassoni, although neither he nor his challenger could really be lumped in with the apparent progressive surge within the party.
In the federal races on Northeastern Minnesotans’ primary ballots Tuesday, Republican and Democratic voters alike opted for really their only choices. U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown, handily outpaced former Duluth School Board member Harry Welty and will face Democrat Quinn Nystrom on Election Day. And U.S. Sen. Tina Smith and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis, a former congressman, easily overwhelmed four challengers apiece in the primary.
The general election looms. Nov. 3 will be here before voters know it — and will arrive even sooner for the thousands of Minnesotans concerned about COVID-19 who choose to vote absentee rather than gather at a polling place. With a presidential tilt on the ballot, amidst cries for social justice, and with a public health emergency that still seems to have no end in sight, can the progressives’ roar on Tuesday in Duluth carry on? Should it?