The party has never won the governorship whilst losing the office of attorney general

In a report published two months ago, Smart Politics discussed the vulnerability of Keith Ellison holding his Attorney General seat this cycle, noting his 2018 victory came despite running a party-record 7.5 points behind the DFL gubernatorial nominee.

A recent KSTP/SurveyUSA poll highlights this disparity finding Ellison unable to sustain Tim Walz’s top-of-the-ticket support. The poll found Ellison (down seven points to attorney Jim Schultz) running 15 points behind Walz (up eight points over former GOP State Senator Scott Jensen).

The survey suggests Ellison is thus poised to add another unwanted record to his electoral resume – becoming the first DFL nominee for Attorney General to lose in a cycle in which his party’s gubernatorial nominee was victorious.

To date, the DFL has won the governorship 11 times in Minnesota since the 1944 merger of the Democrats and Farmer-Laborites, and in each of those 11 cycles the party has also claimed the state attorney general’s office:

  • 1954: Orville Freeman (governor) and Miles Lord (attorney general)
  • 1956: Freeman and Lord
  • 1958: Freeman and Lord
  • 1962: Karl Rolvaag and Walter Mondale
  • 1970: Wendell Anderson and Warren Spannaus
  • 1974: Anderson and Spannaus
  • 1982: Rudy Perpich and Skip Humphrey
  • 1986: Perpich and Humphrey
  • 2010: Mark Dayton and Lori Swanson
  • 2014: Dayton and Swanson
  • 2018: Walz and Ellison

Note: Prior to the DFL merger, Democrats won the governor’s office five times without winning the AG seat: John Lind (on a fusion ticket) in 1898, John Johnson in 1902, 1904, and 1906, and Winfield Hammond in 1914. [Republicans won 36 straight attorney general elections from 1859 through 1930].

The KSTP/SurveyUSA poll also found Minnesota Auditor Julie Blaha trailing her GOP challenger Ryan Wilson.

The last time Republicans held both the offices of Auditor and Attorney General was during the early 1950s, when former Governor J.A.A. Burnquist won his seventh term as AG in 1952 while Auditor Stafford King was in the middle of his sixth of 10 terms. [State auditors were elected every four years at that time while contests for attorney general were held every two years].

Until the last decade, it used to be quite common for Minnesotans to split their ballot and elect members of both parties to state executive offices.

From 1954 through 2006, at least one DFLer and one Republican was elected in 15 of these 16 cycles with the post-Watergate DFL sweep of 1974 the only exception.

Each party won at least two offices in nine of these 16 cycles.

It should be noted that the DFL did withstand the national GOP waves of 2010 and 2014 in constitutional office elections – sweeping all four despite losing the state house in each of those cycles and the state senate in 2010.

Projecting the electorate to do the same if there is a third such wave in 2022, however, seems to be an unlikely scenario.

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