Minnesota primaries 2018: The most intriguing battles to watch

Expect some tight races when voters select candidates next week.
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Man inside a voting booth

We're a week away from the 2018 primaries, when Minnesotans get to choose their favored candidates for a number of offices.

In a momentous year for Minnesota politics in which two U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs, there's a number of toss-up U.S. House races, and the fact the state will elect a new governor, next week's primaries will see the race to the 2018 mid-terms start in earnest.

BMTN has taken a look at some of the most intriguing primary battles to watch next week.

The race for governor – both parties

The DFL race is arguably too close to call at this stage.

The most moderate DFL candidate team, Lori Swanson/Rick Nolan, are arguably the frontrunners having been leading in recent polls, but are only just ahead of the centrist and progressive combo of U.S. Rep Tim Walz and Peggy Flanagan ticket.

And don't count out state Rep. Erin Murphy – and running mate Rep. Erin May Quade – either. They won the endorsement ahead of Walz at the DFL convention and are the most progressive DFL team in a year that progressives have been shocking political analysts, no better exemplified by the primary win of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York over 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley.

On the Republican side, Tim Pawlenty is the favorite for the nomination, in no small part thanks to name recognition and a vast campaign war chest that's far in excess of any other candidate running on either side this year.

The intrigue lies with opponent Jeff Johnson, the endorsed GOP candidate and a staunch President Trump supporter who ran on the Republican ticket in 2014. He offers an alternative to Republican voters not impressed by Pawlenty's previous tenure.

1st Congressional District – Republican candidates

CD1 will be one of the most scrutinized races in the country come November, with the district now a toss-up with Tim Walz stepping down to run for governor.

On the DFL side, former soldier and assistant secretary of defense Dan Feehan is pretty much a lock for the nomination.

But over at the GOP, the choice is seemingly between endorsed candidate Jim Hagedorn, a conservative blogger from Blue Earth who is running in the district for the 4th time, and Rochester-based state Sen. Carla Nelson.

Hagedorn has faced criticism from right-leaning news outlets including The Washington Examiner, which called him "the worst Republican candidate in America" because of controversial comments he has previously made in his blog, as well as losing to Walz in 2016 in a district that Trump carried by a massive 14 points.

The Star Tribune reports that the GOP nomination could depend on the tariffs enacted by the Trump administration, which is taking a heavy toll in the farm-heavy 1st District.

5th Congressional District – DFL candidates

Rep. Keith Ellison's decision to step down to run for Attorney General prompted a flurry of candidates to take his place.

With the 5th District, covering Minneapolis and the inner-west suburbs, a Democratic lock, this primary will effectively decide who becomes the district's next Member of Congress.

Leading the pack thanks to a DFL endorsement is state Rep. Ilhan Omar, who became the country's first Somali-American legislator when she won election to the Minnesota House in 2016.

Omar is running on a progressive platform, though her candidacy has had some speed bumps, not least when she announced she'd be returning $2,500 in speaking fees she accepted after becoming a state rep, violating House rules.

She is facing tough competition from politicians who have touted their experience, including former House Speaker Margaret Kelliher and state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, both of whom have been racking up endorsements of their own ahead of the primary.

Attorney General – DFL candidate

Republicans Doug Wardlow and Robert Lessard are competing for the GOP nomination, with Wardlow, the counsel for conservative Christian legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom, winning the endorsement at the Republican convention.

The Democratic race is far more open, with 5 candidates still in the race following the announcement from incumbent Lori Swanson that she would be stepping down.

The most recognizable name is Keith Ellison, who is the deputy chair of the Democratic National Convention and has been a prominent congressman for more than a decade.

But in June, Matt Pelikan pulled off a surprise when he was only narrowly beaten in the first round of ballots at the DFL convention behind Swanson, prompting Swanson to drop out and Pelikan to win the endorsement.

And also in the running is former commerce commission Mike Rothman, who this week was endorsed by the Star Tribune's editorial board, as well as former assistant Anoka County Attorney Debra Hilstrom and former Ramsey County Attorney Tom Foley.

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