Oct 18, 2022 - Politics

Control of Minnesota Capitol could hinge on incumbent vs. incumbent battles

Photo illustration of Rep. Zack Stephenson and Rep. John Heinrich

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photos courtesy of Minnesota House of Representatives

Two legislative races pairing incumbents from different parties could decide the balance of power at the Minnesota Capitol.

Why it matters: The next Legislature will decide how to spend the state's record surplus and tackle policies that directly impact Minnesotans and whichever party controls the chamber largely sets the agenda.

Zoom out: Both chambers of the divided Legislature are in play. Democrats are defending a narrow majority in the state House, where they effectively hold 70 seats in the 134-member chamber.

  • Republicans need a net gain of four seats β€” bringing their total to 68 β€” to flip the House.

Catch up quick: More than a dozen legislative incumbents were "paired" in the same districts thanks to the new redistricting maps, which were created by a panel of judges after the Legislature failed to act.

  • Most of those legislator vs. legislator races were resolved by retirements or primaries.

State of play: The two state House pairings left standing are both in battleground districts.

  • GOP Rep. John Heinrich and DFL Rep. Zach Stephenson are facing off in a North metro district that President Biden won by about 4 percentage points in 2020.
  • The second race pits GOP Rep. Spencer Igo against DFL Rep. Julie Sandstede in a Northern Minnesota district that former President Trump carried by double digits.

Zoom in: Heinrich and Stephenson both say they developed a good professional rapport over the last four years representing neighboring districts. They even occasionally worked across the aisle on issues that impacted their north metro constituents, such as improvements to Highway 10.

  • But redistricting put them both in the newly-drawn House District 35A, which includes the city of Anoka and part of Coon Rapids.

Between the lines: The new boundaries cover about a third of each incumbent's current district. Stephenson gained what he called "very purple to light blue" communities, while Heinrich lost some of his strongholds of support.

  • "Just the math [in the] redistricting certainly was a lot worse for me," said Heinrich, who is leaning on his hometown ties to Coon Rapids as he introduces himself to new voters.

The issues: As sitting legislators, both rivals have their own voting records. And their decisions have been fueling campaign ads and attacks.

  • Heinrich says he's focused on addressing concerns about crime β€” he's endorsed by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. He's also highlighting his opposition to a proposed gas tax hike supported by Stephenson and other Democrats in 2019.
  • Stephenson, meanwhile, is making the case that he's a moderate dealmaker. He called his opponent one of the House's "most conservative members," citing the GOP lawmaker's no votes on major deals on insulin prices and the opioid crisis.

What to watch: Outside cash is flowing into the race. Spending by DFL groups had already surpassed six figures as of the last filing deadline, while Republicans had spent just under $13,000, per MinnPost.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Twin Cities.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Twin Cities stories

No stories could be found

Twin Citiespostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Twin Cities.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more