ST. PAUL, Minn. — Millions of dollars in attack ads and mailers are pouring in ahead of an election that will determine control of the Minnesota Legislature.
With no statewide candidates on the ballot, donors have instead focused on races considered pivotal in the fight to decide which party will lead the House and Senate, campaign finance reports released Wednesday show. Republicans are aiming to keep control of the House, while Democrats are defending the Senate.
Here’s a look at who’s raising money, who’s spending it and some of the races most affected by it:
DEMOCRATS WITH A CASH ADVANTAGE
Democratic fundraising arms of the House and Senate have outraised and outspent their Republican counterparts so far this year— including Senate Democrats’ $2.4 million haul, nearly four times Senate Republicans’ $688,000 total. Senate Democrats head into the election homestretch with $1.3 million on hand, compared to the $300,000 in Senate GOP hands. House Democrats held a slim cash lead over Republicans in that chamber.
That money will play a critical role as the two parties jostle over control. House Democrats need to win seven seats to regain the majority they lost in 2014. Flipping six Democratic seats in the Senate will give Republicans the majority.
With no gubernatorial elections or other statewide races to worry about, the money is flowing fast to legislative races.
Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a Democratic group and one of the biggest spenders in state politics, has already spent nearly $2 million on advertisements or mailers supporting DFL candidates. That’s already more than it spent in all of 2014, when its attention was divided between House elections and Gov. Mark Dayton’s re-election.
Republican-allied groups, meanwhile, spent less so far but have stockpiled cash. The Minnesota Action Network, formed by former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, had more than $645,000 at the ready to deploy on behalf of Republicans in key Senate races.
With more than a month to go, the numbers are sure to keep climbing. But the reports from the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board won’t provide a complete picture. Some groups operate outside the traditional regulatory system and won’t have to disclose donor and spending information.
All 201 legislative seats are on the ballot, but they won’t be treated equally when it comes to political spending.
Topping the list so far is a rematch in St. Cloud, where Republican Rep. Jim Knoblach defeated Democratic incumbent Zach Dorholt by 69 votes in the most expensive race of 2014. More than $200,000 in outside advertising has hit the district so far, according to the reports, dwarfing the candidates’ own spending. A neighboring Republican-held seat in St. Cloud and another GOP district near Rochester are also on the radar.
In the Senate, a longtime Democrat’s exit from a Republican-leaning district to run for Congress has set off an expensive election that could figure heavily into the eventual control of the chamber. The Plymouth-area seat being vacated by Sen. Terri Bonoff has already seen $173,000 in outside spending.
With scant public polling in legislative districts, the flow of outside money is one of few indicators of which seats may be factors in the legislative majorities.
THE TRUMP EFFECT?
The presidential election is altering the flow of money in Minnesota politics.
Bolstered by their hope that Republican nominee Donald Trump will hurt GOP candidates down the ballot, Democratic groups are turning their attention to Republican incumbents in swing districts. In Plymouth, Republican Rep. Sarah Anderson’s district has rarely seen an attack ad or mailer in her five terms. This year, groups like Alliance for a Better Minnesota and the state’s Democratic party have combined to fund more than $75,000 in efforts to oust Anderson.
But it cuts both ways, as Republican outfits have put a new focus on rural districts where they believe Trump may help Republican candidates — or Democrats may be hurt by Hillary Clinton. Groups like the Minnesota Jobs Coalition have funded more than $50,000 in attacks against Rep. Paul Marquart of Dilworth, one of few remaining Democrats in a district that votes Republican in presidential elections.