Sep 9, 2021 - Politics
MN GOP gubernatorial candidate touts support from Iron Range Democrats
Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

As he announced his bid for governor, Republican state Sen. Paul Gazelka sought to make the case that he can build a broader coalition to help the GOP end its statewide losing streak.

  • One strategy he cited? Winning more votes on northern Minnesota's Iron Range.

What he's saying: "Democrat legislators on the Range have said if I run they'll support me,” the former majority leader said at a news conference Wednesday.

State of play: The Range, once a deep-blue bastion of DFL and labor support, has become redder in recent elections. Republicans successfully flipped the 8th Congressional District in 2018 — and protected their hold in 2020.

  • Former President Trump and his surrogates saw the region as key to his unsuccessful bid to carry Minnesota. But as Trump and others have found, running up margins in the region isn't necessarily enough to make the victory math work given population trends.
  • MPR News' David Montgomery points out that the 40,000 votes Republicans picked up on the Range between 2006 and 2020 pale in comparison to the 320,000 Democrats gained in the Twin Cities suburbs.

Between the lines: Gazelka's conservative stances on issues like abortion and gun control should appeal to GOP voters in what's expected to be a competitive primary.

  • But polling and past elections suggest they might make it harder to court those must-win suburban swing voters in a general.

On the other hand: Crime and public safety — issues Gazelka has promised to focus on — appeared to drive votes for the GOP in the burbs last year.

The intrigue: Gazelka confirmed that state Sen. Tom Bakk, the former DFL leader who left his party to caucus with Republicans, is one of his Range backers.

  • A source told Axios that Gazelka has privately floated DFL Rep. Dave Lislegard as another possible supporter. The Aurora Democrat didn't respond to requests seeking comment via his campaign.
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