What to Expect in Minnesota’s August Primary

July 19, 2018

While national anticipation is building over the midterm elections in November, Minnesotans still need to head to the polls on August 14 for the primary races that will select our general election candidates.

As a refresher, a primary election is when voters select a single candidate out of numerous of the same party. All races will be on one ballot (view a sample ballot here), but in Minnesota you can only vote in one party’s primary – either the GOP or DFL. When results roll in on the night of August 14, candidates will know whether they get to continue their run for office and be on the November 6 ballot.

Candidates across the state are in full campaign mode as Minnesota has a higher-than-usual number of offices on the ballot this fall, many of which have competitive primary races next month. Here’s what – and who – is on the ballot and what to watch for as primary results role in:


On the DFL side, this is the primary that kicked off the candidate filing chaos in June. When current Attorney General Lori Swanson (who withdrew from the DFL endorsement for her current job) filed to run for Governor at the last minute, she picked retiring U.S. Representative Rick Nolan as her running mate. The Swanson/Nolan ticket faces off against U.S. Representative Tim Walz and State Representative Peggy Flanagan as well as State Representative Erin Murphy, who carries the endorsement from the delegates at the DFL Party’s state convention. Her running mate is first-term State Representative Erin Maye-Quade. This is hotly contested race, especially through the lens of Metro vs. Greater Minnesota. Read more on this divide here from the Star Tribune.

Republican primary voters will see familiar names on their ballot under “Governor and Lieutenant Governor.” Party-endorsed candidate Jeff Johnson was the 2014 Republican candidate for the same office. He selected Donna Bergstrom – a retired Marine Corps intelligence officer and guardian ad litem from Duluth – as his running mate. He will face former two-term Governor Tim Pawlenty and current Lt. Governor and former State Senator Michelle Fischbach.

Attorney General

When Attorney General Swanson announced her bid for the governor’s office, U.S. Representative Keith Ellison declared he would run for attorney general, leaving the seat he has held in Congress since 2007. State Representative Debra Hilstrom, former Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman, and former Ramsey County Attorney Tom Foley also stepped forward in the last few days of filing. Matt Pelikan, who launched a strong challenge to Swanson that resulted in his endorsement at the DFL convention, is the fifth notable candidate in this race. No doubt, this is one of the more contentious primaries on the ballot and one of the most interesting constitutional office primaries Minnesota has seen in years.

The GOP Attorney General race is less crowded, with former State Representative and endorsed candidate Doug Wardlow running against former State Senator and well-known outdoorsman Bob Lessard and perennial candidate Sharon Anderson.

The Minnesota House

All 134 state House seats are up for election this fall, with about two dozen primaries. About half of these primaries will determine the candidates for open seats with no incumbent in the race. While these primaries are still important, the heat will turn up for House races on August 15, when all attention turns to the general election. Republicans are focused on keeping – and increasing – their majority. Democrats would need to flip 11 seats to flip control of the House.

Both of Minnesota’s U.S. Senate seats

In a scenario that hasn’t happened in Minnesota since 1978, both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats are up for election in the same year. Two-term Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL) faces four primary opponents. If she prevails, as expected, Klobuchar will likely face State Senator Karin Housley in November. Housley, the endorsed Republican, faces two lesser-known primary opponents.

The other seat is currently held by Senator Tina Smith, formerly Governor Dayton’s Lt. Governor. Smith also faces five primary opponents, one of which is former George W. Bush administration ethics official Richard Painter, who has identified himself as an anti-Washington Democrat. Republicans are looking to win this seat and have endorsed State Representative Jim Newberger, whom also faces several lesser-known primary opponents.

Congressional Districts

The 5th Congressional District, a stronghold district for the DFL, is being vacated by Keith Ellison. Six candidates with diverse backgrounds are on the primary ballot. Several of the most-watched are State Representative Ilhan Omar (the first Somali-American legislator in history and the DFL-endorsed candidate), current State Senator Patricia Torres Ray and former Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher.

While there are three GOP candidates in the primary – Jennifer Zielinski is the endorsed candidate – the district is widely considered a safe DFL seat. For the past 76 years, only four men have represented the 5th in Congress and observers expect a one of the three DFL women to emerge as the next member of Congress.

Important primaries will also be contested on the Republican side in the 1st District (party-endorsed Jim Hagedorn vs. State Senator Carla Nelson) and the DFL side in the 8th District (a large field, including State Representative Jason Metsa, former Representative Joe Radinovich and former Duluth TV newswoman Michelle Lee). The winners of these primaries will become part of the national political discussion this fall, as they are running in districts that are among the 30 hottest seats in the country.

Your vote matters

Regardless of which primary you vote in or who you vote for, your voice and participation matter! Please remember to mark your calendars and get out and vote on August 14! For information on where to vote – or how to vote early – visit the Secretary of State’s website.