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State goes blue, area swings red

Voters stand in line Tuesday, Nov. 6, at the Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Baxter. According to head election judge Darlene Swedin, the precinct, P-1E, was processing two voters every minute. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Generally speaking, the state of Minnesota swung blue in the 2018 midterms, backing DFL candidates for governor, both U.S. senate seats, all three constitutional offices and in the Minnesota House of Representatives—with Republicans maintaining a narrow edge in the Minnesota Senate.

In terms of the U.S. House, it was something of a trade-off where Republicans took seats in the First and Eighth districts from the Democrats, while surrendering the Second and the Third.

North-central Minnesota, by comparison, a red heart beating in the center of a field colored with blues, purples and pale pinks. Democratic candidates couldn't muster a close contest, let alone pick up any wins there.

Morrison County voters were the reddest of red. With 20,029 registered voters as of the morning of Election Day, the county found itself No. 1 among all Minnesota counties in terms of Republican candidate support in all but one statewide race—governor, the senate seat special election, attorney general, secretary of state and state auditor. Aitkin County, on the other hand, sported the only local voters who favored a Democrat, in just a single race. Klobuchar beat Newberger by 3.79 percent there. Aitkin County voters also typically split on the slimmest margins in other statewide races.

This trend—with Aitkin as the least red and Morrison as the most—marched right along with support of President Donald Trump during the 2016 election.

Crow Wing by the numbers

• Crow Wing backed GOP nominee Jeff Johnson over now governor-elect Tim Walz by a margin of 58 percent to 38 percent. Both candidates put bridging the gap between Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities metro as a focal point of their campaigns. In central Minnesota, Johnson's scathing critiques of St. Paul seemed to have resonated better than Walz's "One Minnesota" vision.

• Falling in line with one of the stronger Republican candidates on the ballot, Crow Wing voters opted for Senate candidate Karin Housley, who garnered 58 percent to delegated incumbent Democrat Tina Smith's 37 percent.

• However, much like the rest of the state, Democrat Amy Klobuchar's clout as a U.S. senator seemed to bridge some gaps with more conservative voters as challenger Jim Newberger topped Klobuchar with a much slimmer margin, 51 percent to 45 percent, in the same election.

• While Democrat Joe Radinovich was able to lean on home-region loyalties in the primaries—where he dominated the Iron Range over his interparty rivalries—Crow Wing County ultimately took the wind out of the Crosby politician's sails. In a convincing victory for Republicans, the county voted 58 percent for Pete Stauber and 37.7 percent for Radinovich—perhaps putting to rest, for now, concerns over mining, health care and entitlement programs including Social Security and Medicare.

• In an unusually politically heated and scrutinized state attorney general race, Republican Doug Wardlow dominated Democrat Keith Ellison to the tune of 60.6 percent to 33.4 percent in Crow Wing County. Throughout the campaign, Ellison was dogged by his prior association with vocal bigot Louis Farrakhan, the president of the Nation of Islam, as well as more recent allegations of domestic abuse by his former girlfriend. Wardlow, in turn, was challenged on his negative record with the LGBTQ community—in terms of his work for Alliance Defending Freedom (an anti-LGBTQ nonprofit), his stint in the Minnesota House, and all the way back to his high school days in Eagan. His self-presentation as a non-partisan candidate was also shadowed by recorded statements indicating he would purge the state attorney general office of Democrats.

• In the only contested Minnesota Supreme Court race—between incumbent Dayton-appointee Margaret Chutich and challenger Michelle MacDonald—Crow Wing County bucked the statewide trend and voted for MacDonald 56.75 percent to 43 percent—the largest margin of all area counties. Chutich is the first openly gay justice on the state's highest court, contrasting with MacDonald's outspoken conservative views. Notably, attorney MacDonald challenged the first-term justice after her law license was revoked for 60 days for professional misconduct allegations in 2013. This was MacDonald's third attempt at a run for the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Other area counties by the numbers

The counties of Cass, Wadena, Todd, Morrison, Mille Lacs and Aitkin largely followed suit with Crow Wing County in terms of candidate preferences.

• Johnson swayed area voters handily in the race for governor, with Aitkin County's 13.76 percent margin the smallest of the seven counties. Morrison County voters handed Johnson the widest margin of any counties in the state, favoring the Hennepin County commissioner by 39.12 percent.

• Klobuchar was the only Democratic candidate to win over voters within these counties, and in just one—Aitkin County, where she earned 3.79 percent more votes than Newberger. Otherwise, Newberger garnered more support in the rest, with each of the other counties seeing wider margins than Crow Wing. Morrison and Wadena voters both favored Newberger by nearly 24 percent. This was the only race in which Morrison did not top Minnesota counties for Republican support—Wadena and Pipestone counties edged it out.

• Housley found broad support in the other area counties, with Aitkin County voters offering her the slimmest margin of victory, still a stout 13.46 percent. Morrison and Wadena voters again offered the deepest red support, with Morrison again topping out as the most Housley-favored county in the state. There, she saw a 37.41 percent advantage over Smith.

• Wardlow locally dominated his Democratic opponent Ellison in the race for attorney general. The slimmest margin could again be found in Aitkin County, but this time, it exceeded 20 percent at 21.71 percent. Wadena and Morrison counties each clocked in at a margin of greater than 40 percent—with Morrison voters offering Wardlow a 44.73 percent advantage.

• In the secretary of state race, John Howe swayed area voters at the polls over Steve Simon, ranging from a 16.14 percent margin in Aitkin County to a 40.9 percent margin in Morrison.

• The trend continued for state auditor. Pam Myhra saw broad support in the region over Julie Blaha—Aitkin voters offering the slimmest margin yet again, at 17.11 percent, while Morrison favored the Republican by 40.32 percent.

• The Supreme Court justice race changed things up slightly, although MacDonald won all area counties over Chutich. Cass County overtook Aitkin's reign as the least red in this particular race, offering MacDonald 50.6 percent of its support compared to Chutich's 49.24 percent. Todd County voters favored MacDonald the most behind Crow Wing County, sporting 54.79 percent support.