Election Notebook: Despite GOP Woes, Zellers Optimistic About House

The Minnesota Republican Party is in a financial bind. The party’s presidential candidate has no campaign in the state. Half of Minnesota voters do not even know the GOP U.S. Senate candidate’s name (it’s Kurt Bills).

Despite all of that, House Speaker Kurt Zellers said he is optimistic his party can retain control of the state House.

While in the 2012 campaign’s final days a shiny bus — with huge pictures of the Democratic president, governor and senator — traveled the state with Democratic-Farmer-Laborite leaders promoting their candidates, Zellers’ schedule had him in Woodbury, Moorhead, Grand Rapids and other communities knocking on doors with GOP House candidates.

“It’s a work horse vs. a show horse,” Zellers said.

The Republican outlook improved in recent weeks, Zellers said, after Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney did well in debates with Democratic President Barack Obama. He said that performance inspired a lot of Republicans to volunteer for campaigns.

Republicans will finish the campaign with more volunteers and fewer paid staff than in the past, he said, but he expects just as many get-out-the-vote calls as two years ago.

“I don’t take anything for granted,” he said.

Two years ago, Minnesota voters put Republicans in control of the state House and Senate and handed Democrat Mark Dayton keys to the governor’s office. Now, Democrats have their sights set on winning back legislative majorities and they say a unified Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party can do that.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he expects the party to have more volunteers than ever working through Election Day.

The party and related groups set a goal of winning back the House.

“We organized early,” Thissen said.

On top of that, Obama put offices in the state months ago, and they work with other Democrats on a joint campaign effort.

Will youth turn out?

A question every election is whether young people will vote in large numbers.

It generally does not happen.

But election watchers say two factors this year may change matters.

Many college students are interested in Minnesota’s two proposed constitutional amendments, with opponents claiming they have a lot of support from young voters who don’t like the proposed gay marriage ban or voter ID requirements.

The other factor some point to is the vastly increased social media use this campaign season.

“The social media itself is making a very dramatic claim of how many young people have taken a pledge to vote, how many young people have registered,” Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said.

But, Ritchie added, there is no way to know if they actually will appear at the polls.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he has seen plenty of college activity during his campaigning around the state.

“The campuses seem very organized,” he said.