Every election cycle, we get the requisite story about Carver County’s long history of voting Republican. 2012 was largely a continuation of that trend, with Mitt Romney racking up nearly 60% of the vote in the County, and Congressional and Legislative Republicans winning re-election. But there were some signs that the “suburbanization” of eastern Carver County may be starting to make Chanhassen and Chaska look more like their Hennepin County neighbors than like the rest of Carver County.
Let’s start off with the U.S. Senate race. For the first time in recent memory, a Democratic candidate won the county. Senator Amy Klobuchar cruised to victory by a double-digit margin over Republican nominee Kurt Bills. Klobuchar won eight of the nine precincts in House District 47B (all of Chaska, precincts 3-5 of Chanhassen, and precincts 1-2 of Victoria), and tied with Bills in the ninth. Much of that has to do with Bills’s historical weakness as a candidate, but it also speaks to the kind of Senator Klobuchar has been. (Keep in mind, Klobuchar lost Carver County six years ago to Mark Kennedy). Klobuchar has taken a moderate, low-key approach in the Senate, focusing on consumer issues and taking centrist positions on civil liberties and foreign policy, as well as many business issues.
Another notable result was on the marriage amendment. If you look at House District 47B, the marriage amendment lost by nine points (45.4% yes vs. 54.6% no/no-vote). The weak performance of the marriage amendment (compared to expectations) in traditional Republican areas like Carver County can in large part explain why it failed on a state-wide basis.
Interestingly enough, this vote puts eastern Carver County’s legislators, State Sen. Julianne Ortman and State Rep. Joe Hoppe, squarely in opposition with a large block of their constituents (While Hoppe’s 47B voted solidly against the amendment, 47A voted in favor of the amendment, allowing it to win SD 47 with 50.1%). Both voted in favor of putting the amendment on the ballot, and Ortman fought back hard against allegations that she hadn’t been supportive enough of the amendment during her campaign for the GOP endorsement against Bruce Schwichtenberg. Will Ortman and Hoppe back off of their support for their party’s divisive social agenda?
Meanwhile, the Carver County Commissioner races continued to show trends began in 2010. In that cycle, the three incumbent commissioners on the ballot withstood challenges from the right. This year, with all five incumbents up for re-election thanks to redistricting, all five incumbents were victorious. Four of those incumbents fended off challenges from the right. Tom Workman was the exception, as he was the lone incumbent who faced a less-partisan challenger.
What does this mean? Is eastern Carver County poised to “turn blue”? It may be too soon to say that, but it does show that demographic trends are likely over time to make this area more competitive than it has been in the past. And Democratic candidates with the right mix of qualities can get a fair hearing from voters in these areas. Democratic efforts should be focused on party-building and creating the infrastructure to support and develop these types of candidates that can compete and eventually win in eastern Carver County. Klobuchar and State Senator Terri Bonoff are good examples of the sort of moderate candidates that would fit that mold.
[Edited to clarify a point on the marriage amendment, 11:20 11/13]