Minnesota looks like it will host several close races Tuesday night—with at least 2 U.S. House races attracting attention as well as a very tight gubernatorial race. Today Smart Politics presents the fourth in a series of analyses and projections of major races across the Upper Midwest with the Gopher State.

MN Governor: One-term Republican incumbent Tim Pawlenty battles DFL challenger Mike Hatch in one of a handful of “toss-up” gubernatorial races across the country in 2006. Public polls have gone back and forth all year, with most polls since October favoring Hatch, although several within the margin of error. Independence Party candidate Peter Hutchinson does appear likely to eclipse the 5% margin, but may not reach double digits like Jesse Ventura and Tim Penny before him. Republicans have won three of the last four gubernatorial races in Minnesota dating back to 1990. During that span republicans have averaged 11 more percentage points than the DFL (47 to 36) with third parties garnering an average of 17 percent. Pawlenty won a plurarlity of votes in 2002, besting Roger Moe 44-37. The Bush backlash has hurt the Governor, but not enough for Hatch on election night. Smart Politics Projection: Pawlenty, Republican hold.

MN U.S. Senate: The Minnesota race for Senate is to fill the seat vacated by 1-term DFL Senator Mark Dayton. Mark Dayton unseated 1-term GOP incumbent Rod Grams in 2000 by 5.5 points. Republicans have won 7 of the last 10 elections for US Senate, although the last two victories (2002, Norm Coleman; 1994, Rod Grams) were by 5 points or less. Third parties have had a strong showing in Minnesota Senate races in recent years, with candidates receiving at least 2 percent of the vote in 5 of the last 6 races. DFL nominee Amy Klobuchar has polled in the low- to mid-50s in almost all polls since mid-September and has secured a much higher favorability rating than her GOP opponent Mark Kennedy. Smart Politics Projection: Klobuchar, DFL hold.

MN U.S. House-1: Six-term Republican incumbent Gil Gutknecht was one of the many newly crowned freshman GOP victors from the 1994 House elections, beating DFL nominee John C. Hottinger by 11 points in the seat left open by 6-term DFL Representative Tim Penny. Gutknecht won by fairly slender margins in 1996 (6 points) and 1998 (10 points), but dominated his DFL opponents in 2000 (15 points), 2002 (27 points), and 2004 (24 points). Gutknecht’s double-digit margins of victory in the last three elections indicate he will be difficult to unseat, unless Walz is able to pry away independent and moderate conservative voters with his veteran credentials. However, and perhaps equally important, there are no third party candidates on the ballot in 2006 to take votes away from the DFL (in 2002 the Green Party received 3.8% of the vote, while in 2004 the Independence Party garnered 4.8% of the vote for this seat). MN-1 voted for George Bush by only a 51-47 margin and his approval rating in the district is now below 40%. This race will be tight, and all elements are in place for an upset. Smart Politics Projection: Walz, DFL pick-up.

MN U.S. House-2: Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District is home to the junior member of the state’s delegation to the U.S. House – two-term Republican incumbent John Kline. Kline, a retired Marine colonel, had the narrowest margin of victory in Minnesota U.S. House races in the 2002 election when he shocked the state by defeating DFL incumbent Bill Luther by 11 points in the newly drawn district. In 2004 Kline cruised to a 16-point victory over DFL candidate Teresa Daly. Kline is considered the favorite by all national pundits, although DFL nominee Coleen Rowley’s campaign gained some traction in October, closing the deficit from 20 to 8 points in less than three weeks, according to polls released by SurveyUSA. However, Independence Party candidate Douglas Williams’ campaign could prove key: he is currently polling around 5%, receiving twice as much support from those likely voters who self-identify as democrats as those who identify as republicans. With a race only on the verge of being competitive, Rowley cannot afford to lose those democratic defectors. Smart Politics Projection: Kline, Republican hold.

MN U.S. House-3: Eight-term Republican incumbent Jim Ramstad entered Congress by winning the open seat left by Independent-Republican Bill Frenzel in 1990, beating DFL nominee Lou Demars by more than a 2:1 margin (34 points). Ever since, Ramstad has continued to thoroughly dominate his DFL opponents, winning the next six elections by an average of 40 points. Ramstad’s 29-point victory over Deborah Watts in 2004 was his ‘narrowest’ victory margin to date. According to the Federal Elections Commission October 2006 report, Ramstad has more than 60 times as much cash on hand ($1,000,000+) compared to his DFL challenger Wendy Wilde ($17,000). The 3rd District leans republican, but only moderately so (voting for George W. Bush in 2004 with only 51 percent of the vote). Of the four GOP-held seats in Minnesota, the Republican Party should be least worried about the safety of this seat. Smart Politics Projection: Ramstad, Republican hold.

MN U.S. House-4: Three-term DFL incumbent Betty McCollum entered Congress by winning the open seat left by 12-term DFL congressman Bruce Vento in 2000. McCollum did not win a majority of the vote in that race, but still beat her Republican opponent Linda Runbeck by 17 points – Independence candidate Tom Foley won an impressive 21% of the vote. In 2002 McCollum handily won a second term with a 28-point victory margin. In 2004 McCollum beat GOP Dakota County Commissioner Patrice Bataglia by 24 points. The Independence Party does not have a candidate on the ballot in the district this year, after averaging 11 percent of the vote in the past three elections. Minnesota’s 4th Congressional District has elected the DFL nominee in every race since 1948 and will do so again in 2006. Smart Politics Projection: McCollum, DFL hold.

MN U.S. House-5: Popular 14-term DFL Representative Martin Olav Sabo is retiring after decades of easily besting his GOP opponents in this heavily Democratic district. The closest a challenger came to unseating Sabo during his 28-year tenure in this Democratic stronghold was in 1994 – when Dorothy Legrand fell 25 points short – an unsuccessful bid during the ‘Republican Revolution.’ In 2004 Sabo beat his GOP opponent Daniel Mathias by 45 points. The DFL has won the 5th Congressional District in every election since 1962, and by at least 15 points in every year since 1964. In 2006 a 4-candidate field will battle with the winner likely emerging with just a plurality of the vote. Smart Politics Projection: Ellison, DFL hold.

MN U.S. House-6: Three-term Republican Mark Kennedy stepped down from his US House seat in the 6th District to run for the U.S. Senate, giving his 2004 DFL opponent, children’s rights advocate Patty Wetterling, another shot at victory. Kennedy unseated 4-term DFL incumbent David Minge in the 2nd Congressional District in 2000. The race was extremely competitive, decided by 155 votes (0.1 points). After redistricting, Kennedy ran in 2002 in the new 6th District that had a bigger Republican base, and beat DFL nominee Janet Robert by 22 points. In 2004 Kennedy beat Wetterling by 8 points – the most competitive US House race in Minnesota that year. This race has been one of the most interesting—and difficult—to watch in the nation, let alone the Upper Midwest, pitting a ‘celebrity’ DFL political outsider against a well-funded GOP nominee. Wetterling too has made impressive strides in fund raising and in drawing state and national attention to her campaign – particularly with her “ethics” television ads that appeared in the wake of the Mark Foley scandal. Smart Politics Projection: Bachmann, Republican hold.

MN U.S. House-7: Eight-term DFL incumbent Collin C. Peterson is one of the three-dozen “Blue Dog” democrats in the US House. Peterson defeated seven-term GOP incumbent Arlan Stangeland by 7 points in 1990. Peterson then narrowly won in 1992 (by 1 point) and 1994 (3 points) before thoroughly dominating his GOP counterparts from 1996-2002 by an average margin of victory of 37 points. In 2004 Peterson beat his Republican opponent David Sturrock by 32 points. Peterson’s consistent routs of his Republican opponents for nearly a decade mask the fact that the 7th is a fairly conservative district – by Minnesota standards – voting for George W. Bush in the 2000 election. While a Minnesota democrat might not be safe in Western Minnesota, a Blue Dog democrat like Peterson is. Smart Politics Projection: Peterson, DFL hold.

MN U.S. House-8: Sixteen-term DFL incumbent James Oberstar serves as the highest-ranking democrat on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Republican nominee Rod Grams has previously represented Minnesota’s 6th District (defeating 10-year incumbent Democratic Gerry Sikorski in 1992) and the state in the U.S. Senate (replacing the retiring Dave Durenberger in 1996). Oberstar was first elected to Congress in 1974 when he filled the open seat left by 14-term congressman John A. Blatnik in Minnesota’s 8th District. Oberstar beat his Republican opponent in that election, Jerome Arnold, by 36 points. Oberstar has outlasted his predecessor by winning a string of 16 straight elections, by an average victory margin of 46 points. The GOP has failed to field a candidate against Obserstar in two elections (1976 and 1978), and the closest a Republican candidate has come to beating Oberstar is 29 points in 1992 (Independent-Republican Phil Herwig). Oberstar has won by more than 40 points in 9 of his 16 campaigns, and beat 2004 GOP challenger Mark Groettum by 33 points. Smart Politics Projection: Oberstar, DFL hold.

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