17 Debates That Could Determine Minnesota’s Future

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Could a handful of debates really determine Minnesota’s future?

Consider this: Minnesota’s legislature has changed hands twice in the last four years on what amounts to a few votes per precinct. Elections for U.S. Senate and Governor both triggered recounts because they were so close. One Minnesota congressional district has flipped from one party to another the last three elections.

In a campaign, there is nothing bigger than a face-to-face debate between the candidates. This election season, The UpTake will bring you coverage of 17 of those debates that could determine who wins the election and ultimately determines Minnesota’s future.

A single debate for Minnesota’s most spendy congressional race

It used to be automatic. As sure as it would snow every winter, Minnesota’s Iron Range would elect a Democrat to congress. Rep. Jim Oberstar won 18 elections in a row. But redistricting and a changing political climate has made Minnesota’s eighth congressional district harder to predict than Duluth’s November weather. The district has flipped back and forth between Democrats and Republicans three times in the last three elections. Rep. Rick Nolan (DFL) is the incumbent this time, and his Republican challenger is political newcomer Stewart Mills, a young millionaire whose family runs the Mills Fleet Farm stores.

Spending from outside groups has been intense in the race, fueling hours of negative TV ads — yet the two candidates have yet to debate each other directly. That will change on Oct. 7 when the two meet in their only scheduled debate of the season at 8am in Duluth. The UpTake is working with the Duluth News Tribune and the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce to livestream the debate. Even with the early start time, expect the Duluth Playhouse to be packed, because it has less than 300 seats.

A debate double-header to kick off October

Sen. Al Franken has been all business and few laughs during his first term in Washington. However, Republican challenger Mike McFadden has been going for the laughs with his campaign commercials showing him taking a punch in the lower extremities from a youth football player.

The two never had much of a chance to mix it up in their pre-primary debate at Farmfest because other Republican challengers were also on stage. The UpTake was the only media organization to provide live video coverage of the Farmfest debate that included several other Republican challengers. So their 8 a.m. Oct. 1 debate in Duluth is the first one-on-one meeting between the two. The Duluth News Tribune and the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce are sponsoring the event at the Duluth Playhouse.

Franken and McFadden are scheduled to debate two additional times, both Sundays: 10am Oct. 26 on WCCO-TV, and Nov. 2 at the Fitzgerald Theater sponsored by Minnesota Public Radio.

Minnesota’s other big state-wide race also has its first debate on Oct. 1 in Rochester. Tune in at 7pm as Gov. Mark Dayton debates Republican challenger Jeff Johnson and Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet at the Mayo Civic Center. The event is co-sponsored by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, Rochester Post Bulletin and the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, and it will be moderated by Jay Furst, managing editor of the Post Bulletin. The event is free and open to the public.

After that, Dayton and Johnson are scheduled to debate four additional times — at 7pm Oct. 8 in Moorhead, 8am Oct. 14 in Duluth, 9am Oct. 19 at Hamline University sponsored by KMSP, and 7pm Oct. 31 on Twin Cities Public Television.

You can watch video of both of the October 1 debates live on The UpTake and participate in our world-famous live blog. Can’t watch the debate live? We’ll post a video archive of each debate once their over for your on-demand viewing pleasure.

Minnesota’s only “open seat” statewide race

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie is stepping down after two terms that have been filled with battles over voters rights — from recounting absentee ballots in the very close U.S. Senate race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman, to fighting back against a voter suppression “voter photo ID” constitutional amendment, to making Minnesota’s absentee balloting easier and “excuse free.” The lines that were drawn in those battles between Ritchie (a Democrat) and Republicans remain in place as Democrat Steve Simon takes on Republican Dan Severson. Simon promises to carry on and expand Ritchie’s work. Severson would like more restrictions on voting in the name of preventing “voter fraud.”

The only scheduled debate between Simon and Severson is at 7pm Oct. 28 at Augsburg College. Independence Party candidate Bob Helland and Libertarian party candidate Bob Odden will also be part of the debate. The League of Women Voters organized event will be seen live on The UpTake.

UPDATE: four additional secretary of state debates have been scheduled. See our campaign calendar for details.

Minnesota’s only “open seat” congressional race

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) has decided to retire from congress after barely winning her last election against DFL candidate Jim Graves. So you might think this race would attract media attention. It isn’t. Graves wasn’t popular so much as Bachmann had grown unpopular. Her failed 2010 presidential bid, where she emphasized her Iowa roots, may have been part of the reason. A bigger reason may be her constant exposure on Fox News as a spokesperson for the Tea Party. Minnesota’s sixth congressional district is conservative, but even it has its limits.

Enter former state Rep. Tom Emmer, who has name recognition thanks to his failed run for governor in 2010. He easily captured the Republican party endorsement and won the August primary. His Democratic challenger is Sartell Mayor Joe Perske. Given Emmer’s name recognition and the conservative bent of this district (it only elected one Democrat to Minnesota’s legislature in 2012), most pundits have written this race off as a GOP victory.

However, Emmer is known to say outrageous things. His comments about waiters making $100,000 a year with tips triggered a popular backlash that probably tipped the scales against him in the close three-way race for governor in 2010. Democrats will be hoping for a repeat performance when he debates Perske at high noon in St. Cloud on Oct. 21 in a St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce event. The UpTake will livestream video of the debate.

The sometimes surprising first congressional district
Minnesota’s first congressional district is on the surface a conservative rural area, which is why many were surprised when Democrat Tim Walz ousted Rep. Gil Gutknecht in 2006. Since then, Walz has handily defeated a string of Republican opponents. In 2012, Republican Allan Quist sunk his chances of winning during a debate when he made some ill-timed comments about a mass shooting that had just happened in Minneapolis, blaming it on “the deterioration of the family.”

Jim Hagedorn, Walz’s opponent this year, lost the race for the Republican Party endorsement, but then went on to win the August primary – a rare event in Republican circles. However, Hagedorn, like Quist, has a history of saying inflammatory things, such as calling female senators “undeserving bimbos in tennis shoes”. Recently, his comments were highlighted nationally in Mother Jones Magazine, but were originally brought to light several years ago locally in Bluestem Prairie.

Walz and Hagedorn are scheduled to debate twice. First on Tuesday October 7, 7pm at Century High School in Rochester. Second debate is Wednesday October 15, 7pm at Mankato’s South Central College.

Battle for control of the Minnesota House

Minnesota Democrats have enjoyed two years of majority rule in both chambers of the legislature as well as controlling the governor’s mansion. That has led to some major changes — such as a hike on income taxes for the state’s top earners, legalization of same-sex marriage, an increase in the minimum wage, and more money for schools. Republicans could throw a wrench into the DFL’s progressive legislative machine if they can pick up a net of seven House seats (the Senate is not up for reelection this year).

MinnPost has compiled a list of 20 legislative races to watch. The UpTake will cover several debates in these races including:

Rep. Zachary Dorholt (DFL) v Jim Knoblach (R) – 14B St. Cloud
The two laid out sharply different visions of how Minnesota’s government should run when they debated on Sept. 16 in St. Cloud You can watch that debate here. Dorholt is the only Democrat elected to the legislature in Minnesota’s conservative sixth congressional district. Republicans would like to flip the seat back to make the district a homogeneous red. Dorholt and Knoblach will clash again 7pm Oct. 26 at the St. Cloud City Council Chambers.

Rep. Mary Sawatzky (DFL) v Dave Baker (R) – 17B Willmar
This seat has flipped back and forth between Republicans and Democrats the last three elections. Both parties say it is crucial to controlling the House this year. Rep. Mary Sawatzky (DFL) is one of the few DFLers who voted against legalizing same-sex marriage. Her district voted for the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2012, which has made it hard for social conservatives to attack her. Her Republican opponent, David Baker, is a businessman.

Sawatsky and Baker debate 9pm Oct. 9 at the Pioneer Public TV studios in Appleton.

Rep. Joe Radinovich (DFL) v Dale Lueck (R) – 10B
Freshman Rep. Joe Radinovich won his race by just 323 votes. Republicans have gone after Radinovich for voting to legalize same-sex marriage since voters in his district were overwhelmingly against it. His Republican opponent is Dale Lueck.

Radinovich and Lueck have a pair of debates scheduled on consecutive nights in Brainerd: 6pm Oct. 15 at the Brainerd Police Department training room and 8pm Oct. 16 at Lakeland Public Television.

We may add more debates to our coverage. If you know of any that should be covered, click here and let us know . We’ll cover it if we have the resources.

You can view our up-to-date debate calendar here

Michael McIntee

Michael McIntee is a former network TV news executive with more than 30 years of broadcasting experience. He began his broadcasting career at the University of Minnesota's student radio station. He is an expert producer, writer, video editor who has a fondness for new technology but denies that he is a geek. More about Michael McIntee »

One thought on “17 Debates That Could Determine Minnesota’s Future

  1. What about our third party candidates? I urge people not to donate to media that follows only “big money” candidates that get into office owing “big favors”. Educate yourself on All your options and then please please VOTE. Your vote is one big way you can influence the government.