This report is Part 1 in a series on the incumbency advantage in Minnesota politics.

As the DFL makes yet another pitch to the voters of the 6th Congressional District in 2010 – perhaps with their most formidable challenger to date – Minnesota electoral history suggests the road to unseating incumbents such as Michele Bachmann is long and rocky.

A Smart Politics analysis of more than 560 U.S. House contests since statehood finds only 62 out of 487 incumbents who appeared on the general election ballot failed to win reelection, or 12.7 percent. For 2-term incumbents, like Congresswoman Bachmann, 88.2 percent have won a third consecutive term, or 75 out of 85 Representatives.

History also suggests the odds of unseating an incumbent in 2010 are even more difficult than this.

· Of the ten 2-term incumbents who have lost their bid for a third term, only six were defeated in non-redistricting years. While many pundits speculate that Representative Bachmann will be the most vulnerable member of the Gopher State U.S. House delegation if Minnesota loses a seat due to reapportionment, that (or any unfavorably drawn district lines) would not take effect until 2012.

· Of the six 2-term incumbents who were defeated in non-redistricting election cycles, only two have been Republicans. The GOP has historically dominated Minnesota politics – winning 368 of the 568 U.S. House seats in general and special elections since statehood (64.8 percent).

· It has also been 65 years since the last time a 2-term Republican has been defeated in a non-redistricting year: Richard Gale in 1944. (Arlen Erhdahl lost his bid for a third term after redistricting in 1982).

· The only other Republican to lose a third term in the history of the Gopher State was Horace B. Strait, all the way back in 1878. (Congressman Strait, for the record, would go on to reclaim his seat in 1880, and win two more terms after that).

Moreover, even with a strong candidate, there are few who believe a DFLer can win easily in the Republican-leaning 6th CD. Minnesota history also suggests 2-term incumbents do not get defeated without a fight: of the six 2-term U.S. Representatives who were defeated in non-redistricting elections, the average margin of victory was just 3.9 points, with five of the six incumbents losing by 2.8 points or less.

Unseated Two-Term Minnesota U.S. House Representatives, 1857-2008

U.S. Rep.
Horace B. Strait
Ossee M. Hall
Knud Wefald
Victor Christgau
Sticker (former GOP)
William I. Nolan
William A. Pittenger
Richard Gale
Coya Knutson
Alec G. Olson
Arlen Erdahl

* In 1932 Minnesota elected all nine Representatives to the U.S. House as at-large representatives. Six incumbents from 1930 lost in the statewide election. The margin of victory column (MoV) indicates the Representatives victory margin in the year he or she won their 2nd term. The margin of loss column (MoL) indicates the margin by which the two-term Representative lost his or her bid for a third term. Data compiled by Smart Politics.

History also suggests that the DFLers had their best shot at Bachmann last year, when she was a 1-term incumbent and Democrats were in the midst of their second consecutive wave election cycle.

Freshman Representatives have lost their re-election bid 20.3 percent of the time in Minnesota history – or nearly double that of sophomores (11.8 percent). Of the 118 1-term incumbents who appeared on the general election ballot, 94 have been victorious, with 24 losing their seat.

DFLers are thus banking on the fact that their likely contenders for the 6th CD seat, State Senator Tarryl Clark and former Independence Party Lieutenant Governor nominee Maureen Reed, are strong enough candidates to not only counter these historical trends, but also Bachmann’s formidable fundraising abilities. Through June, Representative Bachmann led the Minnesota U.S. House delegation in campaign funds raised for each of the first two quarters of 2009 – at $598,811 in total.

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  1. Being Goode on September 9, 2009 at 6:57 am

    Congresswoman Bachmann will win by 8% or perhaps more.
    Redistricting is the only hope the DFL has in the 6th.
    In a lot of the issues that cause people to vote, particularly
    in the 6th Bachmann resonates with them

  2. Jim on September 9, 2009 at 8:52 am

    Tarryl Clark has no chance to beat Michele Bachmann. She forced the only candidate who did have a chance to beat her out of the race due to selfish political ambition. After the votes that Sen. Clark took last session on increasing taxes in MN Michele will be able to run a campaign on taxes, which will keep her looking sane. It’s when she gets off the low taxes message that her insanity shines through. Tarryl will be lucky to reach 40% after Michele is done beating her up on taxes. Tinklenberg doesn’t have the voting record that Tarryl has, and has name ID that she will not have. The Dem’s should learn from the republicans that if you want to unseat in a heavily leaning district you need to run someone who the voters can get to know and trust, and sometimes that takes multiple election cycles to do. Tinklenberg running again would not have been a disadvantage, it would have been a huge advantage because he has the name recognition and the trust of 43% of the voters in that district. Had he ran again, he would have needed to only keep that 43% in line and convinced 3% of the 10% that voted for Ind. Bob Anderson. The 6th is a safe republican seat now, thanks to Tarryl Clark and her blind political ambition. Hopefully Tinklenberg holds onto his money and decides to run again after redistricting.

  3. James Brazier on September 9, 2009 at 9:50 am

    This analysis excludes the factor of public notoriety as a public figure in the re-election chances of an incumbent. Bachmann has attracted public attention in the worst ways as a member of Congress. Besides the negative attention she garnered, she has neglected being the representative of the district in advocatings its needs in the distribution of federal aid. Also, her opponent for her first two elections, while a skilled politician, could never move from issue advocacy in her campaign to running genuinely for Congress. Bachmann has never faced a formidable election opponent skilled in running and winning public office. District voters do not always appreciate a political polarizer and may flock to someone intent on representing all the district instead of its social right-wingers.

  4. Colin on September 9, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    Michelle Bachmann seems intent on breaking with all kinds of traditions, common sense, and rationality. Try this same kind of pre-game, statistical analysis on the Ventura victory and you would automatically conclude that it would be an unwinnable race for him. Hence, I ignore those who say something is not possible simply because it had been tried unsuccessfully before. Eric is right, however, that the race SHOULD be a cakewalk for Bachmann if she doesn’t sleep with any Argentineans and lie about it. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t harm her own cause by stuffing both feet in her mouth almost daily.

  5. Aubrey Immelman on September 11, 2009 at 12:41 am

    Interesting report. For a complementary perspective, here’s my analysis, using a different set of variables:

    Can a Democrat Beat Bachmann?
    Election 2010 Outlook in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District

    Variables examined:

    1. Party-political affiliation
    2. Past voter behavior as a predictor
    3. Personal qualities of the candidate
    4. Structural considerations

    Link to analysis:

    Related reports:

  6. candy on September 29, 2009 at 6:34 am

    Does anybody know if there is an independent running in the sixth district?
    I voted for Tarryl Clark for two elections but her 2009 voting has reflected steady voting for the democratic agenda.
    She voted to raise taxes on the middle class (income of $31,000 per year and up) to 6.5% in the 2009 senate.
    She voted to spend $150,000 on a program that studies the destruction of the forest floor by Worms.
    She voted for the lights on bill, which was a cop-out bill for the democrats that were unable to balance the budget on time.
    She also voted to get paid her wage while she and other democrats held the state of MN in limbo.
    Good thing the Governor had the guts to veto the bill that was full of outrageous spending and nothing cut to help MN have a balanced budget.
    Tarryl Clark is not representing her constituent’s views but is representing her party’s agenda instead.
    She no longer answers her email from her constituents, which she had done two years ago.
    Her voting record shows she does not care about the people in the sixth district and if we elect her she will continue to betray our votes.
    Both republicans and democrats have betrayed the voters.
    Both parties need a strong message from the voters.
    Vote for neither party if there is a choice and help take our state and country back to freedom and less taxation.
    We live in a republic and the people are the rulers not the government.
    Minnesotans are loosing their jobs.
    Both parties need to join the unemployment line in 2010.

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