Once-conservative Rochester tilts left in election

By Matthew Stolle

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

In the battle for the area’s political soul, the Rochester area took a definite leftward lurch on election night.

It was illustrated in Rochester at the Ramada Hotel and Conference Center, where area Republicans had gathered to watch the election returns. And as it became clear that the GOP would suffer its worst drubbing in decades, one disheartened woman couldn’t help but note the party’s fallen state.

"For eight years, we never had the defeat. We always had the party," she said about previous presidential elections.


Olmsted County not only voted for the Democratic presidential candidate -- 50 percent to 47 percent -- for the first time in 44 years. But area DFL incumbents for the Minnesota House of Representatives won with the kind of commanding margins that Republicans used to enjoy when their party dominated the area.

DFL Reps. Tina Liebling and Kim Norton each captured 62 percent of the vote in their successful re-election bids, and freshman DFL Congressman Tim Walz captured 61 percent of the vote in Olmsted County in his crushing defeat of GOP challenger Brian Davis.

Have Democrats become the entrenched, permanent majority in the Rochester area? Not necessarily, most observers say.

While the DFL has strengthened its position here, most local political observers believe that what the area has become is more independent.

"I don’t think anything is permanent in politics, because I really think the voters respond to the party and to the candidates who most closely align with their concerns," said Sheila Kiscaden, a former 14-year state senator whose political career illustrates this region’s political sway. Kiscaden was elected to the Senate in 1992 as a Republican. In 2002, she was re-elected to the Senate as the Independence Party’s only elected legislator, and then she closed our her legislative career, caucusing with the DFL and running for a short time in 2004 as a DFL lieutenant governor candidate.

In fact, what Olmsted County displayed were the characteristics of a split personality. Rural areas went for John McCain, while the city voted for Barack Obama. On a political map of Olmsted County, what you see is an island of Democratic blue representing the city of Rochester surrounded by a vast sea of Republican red in the rural areas. The two exceptions were Byron and Chatfield, which went for Obama.

But it wasn’t all DFL. Others point to GOP incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman’s strong showing against DFL challenger Al Franken in the area. Coleman won the county with 47 percent of the vote compared to Franken’s 38 percent.

It’s far from clearly a one-party town. The fourth state House race with a district part of Rochester went to incumbent GOP Rep. Randy Demmer, who convincingly reclaimed his seat.


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