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November 8, 2006
Pawlenty A Bright Spot For Minnesota GOP

Tim Pawlenty managed to play Midterm Survivor and keep himself from getting voted off the island last night, eking out a very narrow win over the DFL's Mike Hatch for Governor. With just about every precinct now reporting, Pawlenty won re-election over the state's Attorney General by 13,900 votes. However, the state GOP has little else to celebrate, as it lost significant ground in both chambers of the state legislature:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty eked out a narrow reelection victory over DFL Attorney General Mike Hatch early this morning in a climactic finale to one of the closest, hardest-fought gubernatorial contests in memory.

Pawlenty was leading by about one percentage point when the Star Tribune declared him the winner about 2 a.m.

As one of the few statewide Republican victors in a Democratic state in the midst of an overwhelming Democratic tide, Pawlenty may have enhanced his national image as an up-and-coming star with a future in national office.

Noting Republican losses elsewhere and the fact that he will have to deal with both a DFL House and Senate, Pawlenty said about 3 a.m. that it was "a time tonight to be humble and time to be grateful."

I called this race at about 11 pm ET, when I saw the returns from Hennepin and Ramsey. Hatch only could put fourteen points between Pawlenty and himself inside the urban center of the state, which I though portended a four-point win for Pawlenty. As it turns out, I was too generous on the margin, and that had implications down-ballot. The GOP lost five seats in the Minnesota Senate and 19 in the House, a state-sized wave of the kind that many predicted nationwide.

What does that mean for Minnesota governance? Pawlenty will have to find accommodation with the new, stronger DFL majorities. That means, in all likelihood, more taxes and more spending. One interesting sidenote from the election is the failure of the publicly-funded sports stadiums to galvanize fiscal conservatives. Pawlenty took a lot of heat from Republicans for cooperating with the legislation that enabled that public spending, but as it turns out, many of the proponents of the bill won re-election. Pam Wolf had challenged Don Betzold in Anoka, where the tax levies will really hit, on his support for public funding for the Vikings stadium, but he beat her by ten points.

This makes the Republican national convention a more interesting story in 2008. At the time, Minnesota looked like it could conceivably go red with a high-profile Republican event. That seems less likely now, although two years can bring a lot of changes. It may make Tim Pawlenty more critical to national GOP hopes in 2008, and don't be surprised if he doesn't start getting some mention for a VP slot. He's now going to have to be like Arnold Schwarzenegger without the accent, and that may be as much of a boost as a burden with the party.

The state GOP has a lot of rebuilding to do. They have two years to get it done, and they'd better get started pretty quickly.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 8, 2006 8:25 AM

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