The red wave that wasn’t: Edina provides a controlled experiment in democracy at work

In political science, it’s very difficult to conduct controlled experiments. However, in this month’s general election, a natural experiment appears to have occurred in Edina, MN.

Statewide, Democrats swept to victory in the top four races for Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, and Auditor. However, the margin of victory varied widely, with Democrat Gov. Walz defeating his Republican opponent, Scott Jensen, by seven points, 52-45.

In the closest statewide race, Auditor Julie Blaha prevailed in a dead heat (47-47), edging out Ryan Wilson by a little over 8,000 votes from 2.5 million cast.

Statewide, the leading Republican vote-getter–Jim Schultz (for Attorney General)–out-polled Scott Jensen and Kim Crockett (for Sec. of State) by more than 100,000 votes. How to account for this discrepancy in results?

Third-party candidates in some races, but not others, account for some of the differences. But the biggest factor, by far, were the tens of millions of dollars spent by Democrats demonizing the Republican candidate for Governor, while largely ignoring the other candidates. KSTP reports,

The Minnesota DFL Party reported last week it has raised $30 million, including $19.6 million for state campaigns and $10.8 million for federal campaigns. In addition, the DFL-aligned “Alliance for a Better Minnesota” (ABM) reports raising $15.8 million, according to the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board. By comparison, the Minnesota Republican Party reports raising $1.1 million. The biggest fundraising for a Republican-aligned outside spending group is “Minnesota for Freedom,” funded by the Republican Attorneys General Association.

Much of that “outside” spending literally comes from outside Minnesota.

We will dive into the campaign cash in later posts. For now, we will concentrate on results.

One race, for state representative 50A, provides a guide star. This newly redistricted territory covers most of the City of Edina with parts of Bloomington thrown in.

The Democratic incumbent, Heather Edelson, ran unopposed in the old district 49A last time. The district has trended leftward over time, but elected a Republican as recently as 2016.

Edelson’s opponent was to be Sami Cisman, a young businesswoman running in her first political race. She filed in May to run, but had to withdraw over the summer for personal reasons. She withdrew too late to have her name removed from the ballot.

She did have a campaign website (still active), but otherwise did not raise any significant money or conduct a campaign. So the Edelson/Cisman race in Edina represents a nearly pure generic Democrat vs. Republican on the ballot.

Here are the results for Republicans running in the district,

A few caveats are in order. Results in Congressional races are not included as the 50A district is split between the 3rd and 5th districts. In fact, the best Republican performance within 50A was by Cicely Davis running against Ilhan Omar in CD5.

The index calculated above does not account for races with more than two candidates or for the dropoff in voter participation as you move down ballot.

But the impact can be clearly seen of the months of negative ads run against Jensen. He underperforms even a generic Republican.

Other candidates not subject to the onslaught fared much better in drawing votes from independents and others, performing well above the generic Republican candidate.

This result reflects just one of 134 districts in the state, but provides a useful starting point for our post-election analysis.