McFeely: Good luck in Moorhead, Republicans
Last week's Minnesota primary election sent a message that could not be any more clear to Republicans — and even those perceived to be Republican or conservative — who hope to win political office in Moorhead.
You're gonna need it.
Two years after the once reliably conservative city voted robustly for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in a presidential election in which The Donald was an unstoppable red tsunami in western Minnesota, Tuesday's results were another four-alarm wake-up call for those who hope to see the halcyon days of (BLAST FROM THE PAST ALERT) Morrie Lanning and Kevin Goodno return — maybe even as soon as Nov. 6
This time, it wasn't necessarily about winners and losers. It was about numbers. Purely, the number of Democrats who turned out to vote in the primary compared to the number of Republicans who did the same.
The scoreboard says twice as many Democrats voted than Republicans.
Can you say, "Voter enthusiasm?"
The numbers come courtesy of the Minnesota Secretary of State's website, which lists vote totals of every precinct in the state for each race on both statewide and local ballots. If you take the time and dig, which I did, you can find out how specific areas voted.
And when you pick out one high-profile competitive race that might be representative of each party's turnout, which I did, you can find at least a rough draft of enthusiasm.
For example, the governor's primary. Both the DFL and GOP had competitive, well-publicized races. For Republicans, it was a choice between Jeff Johnson and Tim Pawlenty. For Democrats, it was mainly a three-way scrap between Tim Walz, Erin Murphy and Lori Swanson. And because Minnesota is a closed-primary state — meaning voters can choose candidates only from one party on their primary ballots — counting DFL and Republican turnout is easy.
The final tally: 2,954 Democrats voted for DFL governor candidates compared to 1,534 Republicans who voted for GOP governor candidates.
It's not foolproof, of course. There is the chance Democrats could've voted Republican or vice versa. But with a nearly 2-to-1 gap, it's unlikely crossovers made much of an impact. The ratio roughly mirrored what happened across Minnesota. Democrats, fired up to oppose Trump however they can, rushed to the polls in much higher numbers than Republicans.
This makes the fall's general election a tough slog for Republicans in DFL-leaning or competitive areas. In Moorhead, it might be an impossible task if Democratic fervor holds.
The city is no longer the sleepy, conservative stronghold it was even 10 or 15 years ago. It's now a blue dot in a sea of red.
In 2016, when Trump rolled in rural western Minnesota, Clinton beat Trump 54.32 percent to 46.67 percent in the Moorhead city limits. The rest of Clay County went strongly for Trump and the counties bordering Clay all did the same — Norman (+13.34 percent for Trump), Becker (+32.94) and Wilkin (+37.43).
Of Moorhead's 12 precincts, only two voted for Trump. Two liberal precincts near Concordia College went about 60 percent for Clinton. The city is extremely young, well-educated and has an education-based economy. It skews heavily progressive. The DFL candidate for the state House, Ben Lien, won with 62 percent of the vote when other House Democrats took a bloodbath. Lien holds Lanning's old seat.
Not only do Republicans have to overcome DFL enthusiasm, but demographics, too.
Only Lien's legislative seat is up for partisan grabs in November. He's facing off against the Republican he beat last time, Jordan Idso. The more interesting thing to watch will be the supposed nonpartisan races for county commission, city council and mayor. Party politics always get involved in subtle ways (hint: look for yard signs as to which way), but will Democrats not-so-subtly let people know which candidates they favor? And will Republican-leaning candidates virulently try to hide their political allegiances?
One thing's sure: Moorhead Republicans won't be openly calling for the election of GOP-supported candidates for nonpartisan offices like their counterparts in Fargo and Cass County did in June. That's when the United Republican Committee of Cass County sent an email urging GOPers to vote for its endorsed candidates on the Fargo ballot, including such allegedly nonpartisan races like city commission, school board and park board.
Clay County Republicans are welcome to try such a move, one supposes. It's just that it would likely have the opposite effect for which they were looking. And they're already going to need all the good luck they can get.