If it were possible to make a Minnesota midterms-scented candle, it would probably smell like sweat, corn, and piles of money from strangers.
Minnesota’s candidates for the nation’s House of Representatives are fueled by millions in outside spending -- that is, funds raised by third parties. It’s your moneyed individuals, your political committees, your corporations, your unions.
In fact, Minnesota’s U.S. House race is second in the nation for independent expenditures at a cool $38 million, according to data from the Federal Election Commission. It’s sitting just above Texas and Georgia at $36 and $35 million respectively, and following California at a whopping $90 million as of Thursday morning. (That's likely to change. The numbers are climbing quickly.)
Lest we sell ourselves (or our elections) short, let’s remember that Minnesota only has eight districts, as opposed to California’s 53, or Georgia’s 14. If you break it down by outside spending per district, Minnesota’s actually at the top of the list at $4.75 million.
That’s not to say all this wealth is being lavished upon each district equally. Districts 1, 3, and 8 are the ones getting most of the attention -- and the money -- at around $9 to $11 million apiece.
That should come as no surprise. Those are Minnesota’s most heated district races this year. In District 1, down on Minnesota’s southern border, we have the void created by Tim Walz, who is leaving his congressional seat to run for governor. It remains to be seen whether Democratic newcomer Dan Feehan or perennial Republican candidate Jim Hagedorn can claim it.
In District 3, the suburbs just west of the Twin Cities, longtime Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen is scrambling to keep his territory from Democratic distillery fortune heir Dean Phillips. And in District 8, a meaty northeastern chunk of the iron range, Rick Nolan’s retirement has left the ground clear for Democrat Joe Radinovich and Republican Pete Stauber.
These are the races that are balancing on the edge of a knife, and to each party, they represent a promising chance to claim swaths of the House. There are plenty of people, businesses, and PACs that are more than willing to invest in that.
If you delve into who’s spending so much on District 1, the spreadsheet reads like a series of chess moves by the NRCC and the DCCC -- the leading Democratic and Republican political committees. That’s without mentioning the frequent hundred-thousand-dollar bursts from the America First Action super PAC, which supports “the agenda of the Trump/Pence administration.”
Most of that is being spent on “media” -- political ads -- which is why you hate watching TV right now.
Elections often have the momentous feel of encroaching responsibility. It’s a time when the people are supposed to take their futures into their own hands, decide for themselves who should lead them and who should get the heck out of office. But it’s important to remember that elections are not just won and lost. They are, in some respects, bought -- often by acronyms rather than people.
And Minnesota’s race distinguishes itself as one of the most expensive in our nation.