Tim Pawlenty’s decision Tuesday not to seek an unprecedented third 4-year term as Governor of the Gopher State not only emboldened the candidacies of the long list of DFLers already on the campaign trail, but also raised the issue as to what type of candidate the Republican Party should run in an increasingly left-leaning state to give the GOP its best chance in denying the DFL the governor’s office for a sixth consecutive election cycle.

As the state Republican Party looks to fill Pawlenty’s shoes on its side of the ballot in 2010, one name that has the mouths of many centrists and independents watering is the prospective candidacy of former 9-term Republican Congressman Jim Ramstad from Minnesota’s Third Congressional District.

Ramstad, in many ways, would be the nightmare candidate for the DFL – a liberal Republican with a cool temperament and strong name recognition, especially in the Metro area, with moderate to liberal stances on a number of social issues that would undoubtedly take several of the sharpest arrows out of the quiver of whomever emerges as the DFL nominee.

An October 2008 SurveyUSA poll of Ramstad’s 3rd CD gave the Congressman extremely high favorability numbers among likely voters of all partisan stripes:

Jim Ramstad Favorability Rating in 3rd CD, October 2008

Party
Favorable
Neutral
Unfavorable
Republican
68
18
8
Independent
62
22
11
Democrat
46
30
12
Total
58
24
10

Source: SurveyUSA Poll, October 6-7, 2008.

But how well could Ramstad perform outside of his district in a statewide race? And how politically reflective is the 3rd District of the Gopher State overall?

As it turns out, the 3rd CD has proven to be a very good thermometer by which to measure the political temperature of the state in recent years. During the last five statewide elections for the presidency (2004, 2008), the governor’s office (2006), and U.S. Senate (2006, 2008), the 3rd CD has averaged just 3.3 points off the total vote percentage for the winning candidate statewide. In short, if you can with the 3rd, you can win the state.

For example, in the 2008 presidential race, the difference between Barack Obama’s vote total in the 3rd CD (52.4 percent) was just 1.7 points off his total statewide (54.1 percent).

Ramstad’s old district ranks right at the top, along with the 1st and 8th CDs, as the most reflective of Minnesota overall in high-profile statewide elections:

Average Difference between Vote for Winning Candidate Statewide and Vote in Congressional Districts in High Profile Minnesota Statewide Elections, 2004-2008

District
Points
8th
2.4
1st
3.0
3rd
3.3
7th
5.8
2nd
6.3
6th
8.9
4th
9.1
5th
18.9

Note: Table averages the absolute value of the difference in the vote for the winning candidate statewide and the vote for that candidate in each congressional district in Minnesota presidential, U.S. Senate, and gubernatorial races from 2004-2008. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

Despite all these positives, Ramstad, to be sure, is not the dream candidate for the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Ramstad has received low ratings in the past from groups such as the NRA, and the Congressman has on occasion self-effacingly referred to himself as a RINO (Republican in name only).

In fact, given the increasingly polarized nature of political parties, Ramstad, like Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania in 2010 and Joe Lieberman in Connecticut in 2006, may no longer be electable in his party’s primary – especially for statewide office.

Then again, perhaps Ramstad will surprise everyone and run as an independent. The switch would complement his track record in Congress as a true centrist: back in 2006, the Republican congressman was rated fairly dead center along the partisan spectrum – the 199th most liberal and 231st most conservative member of Congress, according to National Journal.

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1 Comment

  1. Nikoli Orr on June 4, 2020 at 10:49 pm

    “…to give the GOP its best chance in denying the DFL…sixth consecutive election cycle” Hm, not quite. That was to have been FIFTH nonconsecutive cycle, though its gubernatorial ticket did finish ahead of the DFL’s in 1998 (actually won by the then-Reform Party w/ 37%).

    Also, was Ramstad actually more liberal than either Republican predecessor “Bill” Frenzel or Clark MacGregor?