ST. PAUL - Will Minnesota Democrats choose a St. Paul liberal, a Mankato moderate or the state's longtime attorney general as their hope for the state's next governor?
Do Republicans get behind a former governor making another go of it, or someone "new" (who's run before)?
Will Minnesota stand poised to send the first Muslim woman to Congress?
And is there really a "blue wave" of anti-Trumpism washing over Minnesota, or is the state making a redward shift from blue to purple and beyond?
These are some of the questions voters will answer - or at least shed light on - Tuesday in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor and Republican parties' statewide primaries.
Every registered voter can vote in one - but not both - of the primaries. The results will determine who will appear on the ballot in the general election Nov. 6. (Nearly 200,000 people had already cast ballots as of Thursday morning, taking advantage of early voting that will remain available at county offices through Monday.)
The airwaves, phone banks, emails and mailboxes are already, respectively, blaring, nonstop, streaming and stuffed.
There's a lot at stake, and it's hard to keep track this season. Let's break down some key areas.
Turnout is everything
Despite Minnesota's often proud status as one of the highest-voter-turnout states in the nation - with presidential general elections boasting 75 percent participation - most voters don't bother with primaries. In the most-active areas, a little over half of registered voters turned out in 2014, the last non-presidential primary we had, and the statewide turnout was just under 13 percent, state figures show. In fact, you have to go back to 1998 before you see more than 20 percent of eligible voters cast ballots on primary election day.
The most-active areas in recent primaries have been in greater Minnesota, according to a Pioneer Press analysis of Minnesota primary voter turnout data. This is especially noteworthy because, in terms of sheer numbers, there are more registered voters (1.7 million) in the seven-county metro area than the rest of the state (1.4 million). Each candidate knows that if she or he can rally a major charge of certain constituents to the polls, it could mean victory - and sometimes in surprising ways.
Sure, metro Democratic candidates facing opponents with a rural base need to rally metro Democratic voters. But a rural Republican could find key votes among metro Republicans as well.
As for that blue wave - or the counter-trend of highly engaged Trump supporters - the final truth won't be known until November. But if Minnesota sees turnout approaching 20 percent, that'll be a sign the electorate is fired up.
After two terms, Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, isn't seeking re-election.
On the DFL ballot, a three-way race - and all the dynamics therein - features state Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz of Mankato and state Attorney General Lori Swanson of Eagan.
Murphy, the party's endorsed candidate, has sought to position herself as the most liberal - or progressive, depending on your preferred term. Her running mate is state Rep. Erin Maye Quade of Apple Valley, a choice that would amount to the first all-female ticket in a general election, with Maye Quade being the first openly gay lieutenant governor, if they prevail.
Walz, who for years positioned himself as a moderate, has shifted left amid the pressures of the primary, distancing himself from the National Rifle Association and touting his recent F rating (same as Murphy) - down from a one-time A rating several years ago - from the gun-rights group. His running mate, state Rep. Peggy Flanagan of St. Louis Park, is a member of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe.
Swanson, who has been the state's attorney general since 2007, initially ran for re-election but dropped out of the race after failing to secure the DFL endorsement amid criticism of her stances on guns, which has earned her a C rating from the NRA. Swanson's running mate is U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, the only person in the DFL gubernatorial field who can claim ties to the Iron Range, which is included in the 8th District he currently represents.
Tim Holden and Ole Savior are also running in the DFL primary.
The Republican ballot pits former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Eagan against Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson of Plymouth.
Johnson, who easily won the Republican Party's endorsement - Pawlenty skipped the convention - has tried to position himself as the purer conservative more closely aligned with President Donald Trump. Johnson, a former state lawmaker, won the GOP primary in 2014 and lost by 6 percentage points to Dayton, then an incumbent, in the general election. His running mate, Donna Bergstrom of Duluth, is a member of the Red Lake Nation.
Pawlenty, who served two terms as governor from 2003 to 2011, is the generally acknowledged front-runner by virtue of his name recognition and large lead in fundraising. While his two terms in office weren't characterized by the brand of conservatism some have espoused under Trump, Pawlenty has tried to parry attempts by Johnson to claim the conservative label, noting the two agree on the basics of many issues, from opposing abortion to believing Minnesotans are too heavily taxed. While Pawlenty enjoys the courtesy title of "governor," he's not an incumbent. But, oddly, his running mate is. Michelle Fischbach, the Republican former Senate president from Paynesville, is the current lieutenant governor, a position she ascended to following Dayton's appointment of then-Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to fill the seat of former U.S. Sen. Al Franken, who resigned earlier this year.
Matthew Kruse is also running in the GOP primary.
Swanson's bid for governor was a game-changer in the race for attorney general, especially on the Democratic side.
On the DFL ballot, the biggest name to enter the race was U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who certainly enjoys the biggest name recognition and would be the first African-American to hold statewide office if eventually elected. But the field is crowded with non-slouches. Matt Pelikan is the DFL-endorsed candidate among choices that include state Rep. Debra Hilstrom, former Ramsey County Attorney Tom Foley and former state Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman.
The Republican ballot features attorney and former lawmaker Doug Wardlow, who easily won the party's endorsement and appeared destined to be free of a serious challenger. That was until Bob Lessard, an 87-year-old retired longtime DFL lawmaker learned that the official state Republican Party platform included a position about repealing the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. "The Ol' Trapper," as Lessard is nicknamed, has said his main reason for running is to protect the Legacy Amendment and the panel that recommends how to spend its proceeds, the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, which bears his name.
Perennial candidate Sharon Anderson is also running.
Congressional primaries to watch
Whether you care about the tensions between Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and mining interests, making history or the partisan battle for control of Congress, several primaries are worthy of attention.
- 5th District: Ellison's decision to run for attorney general created a void, into which stepped a throng of Democrats in the Minneapolis-based 5th District. It's a reliably liberal district, so the winner of the DFL primary will be the clear favorite to win the general election. In that race, state Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Somali immigrant, is seeking to become the first Muslim woman to head to Congress. (Ellison was the first Muslim.) But it's a wide-open primary with candidates whose names reveal perhaps the most ethnically diverse field imaginable. State Sen. Patricia Torres Ray and former state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher are heavily in the mix. The name of state Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, who is African-American, will appear on the ballot, although he has said he's no longer running. Jamal Abdi Abdulahi and Frank Nelson Drake are also running.
- 8th District: With Nolan not seeking re-election, the 8th District, which encompasses northeastern Minnesota and has swung back and forth between Republican and Democratic control, is clearly in play. The Republican primary features Trump-endorsed Pete Stauber against Harry Robb Welty, while a crowded field of DFLers includes Joe Radinovich, Jason Metsa, Michelle Lee, Kirsten Kennedy and Soren Christian Sorensen.
- 1st District: Another swing seat for the U.S. House is the southern Minnesota-based 1st District, currently held by Walz. The action is in the Republican primary, where the endorsed candidate, Jim Hagedorn, is battling state Sen. Carla Nelson in a race that also includes Steve Williams and Andrew Candler.