Rep. Tom Anzelc sat in a coffee shop talking about his re-election campaign when a woman interrupted to say how good a job the Democrat has done for his northern Minnesota House district over the years.
An hour later, first-time candidate Republican Sandy Layman was sitting in another Grand Rapids coffee shop when a woman came up: “Are you Sandy Layman? We are voting for you. You do a good job.”
The exchanges are a sign of local politics around greater Minnesota, where candidates and, especially, incumbent lawmakers are not strangers to voters.
But local candidates do not live on their own. In competitive races, especially, state political parties and legislative campaign organizations are involved. Often, deeply involved.
Layman told of Democrats bringing union members to Grand Rapids to canvass the town for Anzelc, manpower she said that Republican candidates likely cannot match.
“The DFL has three or four times as much money as Republicans, so they have huge presence,” she said.
Such campaigning is important in many greater Minnesota districts.
“We think there is as much as 35 percent of the district at play,” Anzelc said, meaning the “ground game” of getting people to vote is vital.
Larry Jacobs of the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said Democrats have the advantage of money. The Minnesota Republican Party remains in financial trouble that started years ago.
“They are not going to get the same tender loving care that Democratic voters will be getting,” he said.
Only a few legislative races will get much GOP money, Jacobs added. “It is kind of triage. They have so little money that they are putting what money and resources they have in a couple dozen races.”
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, agreed with Jacobs that the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party has more money, but did not agree that the picture is dire.
“We have raised more money than we ever have…” Daudt said. “We have full-blown get-out-the-vote effort.”
All 201 legislative seats are up for election this year as Republicans try to maintain their House majority and Senate Democrats work to keep control of that body.
Governing magazine gives Democrats a narrow advantage to keep the Senate, while the House leans Republican, which would mean control would remain where it has been the last two years.
“It’s quite possible that margins in both chambers will tighten, with suburban Republicans defecting to Democrats and rural Democrats defecting to a (presidential candidate Donald) Trump-led GOP,” Governing reports. “A change in control in either chamber is possible. But for now, the most likely outcome is a continued Democratic Senate and a continued Republican House.”
“A very small number of votes” could decide which party controls the two state legislative chambers, Jacobs said.
Even a drop of 20,000 votes statewide out of a possible 3 million could mean Republicans will lose control of the state House, Jacobs said.
Traditionally, Republicans did well in Twin Cities suburbs and the DFL did well in urban areas and on the Iron Range and Duluth. Democrats also did well in some other rural areas.
“We are seeing a historic shift in the regional power of the parties,” Jacobs said, with rural Minnesota becoming Republican territory and the suburbs trending Democratic.
For years, Minnesota Democrats have honed their get-out-the-vote effort to make sure people likely to support their candidates actually cast ballots. In a recent interview Layman said she did not know that much help would be coming her way from the state GOP.
“My general sense is that this is going to be a close race and I am going to win by a close margin,” the rookie candidate said. “So it is really important to me that my supporters get out to vote.”