- US Senate: Mark Dayton, that lovable, tongue-tied, liberal bombthrower, has (thankfully) relinquished his seat, leaving what will no doubt be the most contentious race of 2006. On the Republican side, everyone is lining up behind Mark Kennedy, who narrowly beat Patty Wetterling for the 6th District House seat in 2004. The DFL - surprise, surprise - is split between Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar and Mother Minnesota Patty Wetterling. Both have large resources that will they will spend attacking each other while Kennedy waits in the wings to throw his GOP blood-money at one of them after the primary. The Klobuchar-Wetterling race certainly will be interesting for operatives I've talked to in both campaigns. I have a feeling it will be a disheartening urban (Klobuchar)-rural (Wetterling) divide. Luckily, much of Minnesota thinks Kennedy is an opportunistic straw man, but, then again, we did elect Norm Coleman.
- Governor: Last year at this time one would have said there was no competition capable of dethroning Teflon Tim Pawlenty. Remember when his national aspirations (Vice President shortlist, anyone?) seemed a matter of fact, rather than a dim reminiscent chuckle? Well, a government shutdown, minced language over his no-tax "pledge," and continuing furor and frustration over under-funding successful programs (not to mention the question mark hanging over all the damn stadium proposals), has left some crud sticking to Pawlenty's normally non-stick exterior. Thus far, no fewer than four DFLers have stepped up to the Pawlenty challenge. Current AG Mike Hatch has been picking up endorsements left and right, but he'll face strong opposition from Becky Lourey (DFL-Kerrick), better known as Cindy Sheehan's mid-wife. The left-wingers will certainly come out for Lourey, as will the Iron Rangers. But will she be able to withstand the Hatch juggernaut? Stay tuned...
- Attorney General: Probably one of the most overlooked races will be the position that Hatch currently holds: Attorney General. Think about it, outside of the Senate and the governor's, it's the only other statewide campaign. It's also a high-profile race, which will be even more high-profile with Matt Entenza (DFL-St. Paul), who was minority leader in the Minnesota House during the past session, and undoubtedly wants the position to diversify his resume. His competition will be a spry Jeff Johnson, who was a GOP representative out of Plymouth. Johnson has to be the underdog in this race, what with Entenza's name recognition, not to mention his vast superiority.
- All US House seats: Of course, all the US House seats will be up for grabs. If the Democratic Party wants to accomplish its goal of retaking the House, they will have to win some tough races in traditionally Republican parts of the state. With Kennedy boosting out of his 6th District seat, there'll be an open contest up near St. Cloud, and if a strong (moderate) DFLer steps up to the plate, the Democrats could just take it. Most other seats seem a pretty safe bet for the incumbent, except for the 2nd District, which turned slightly bluer in 2004. John Kline, whose main credentials seem to be that he carried the nuclear trigger box for Ronald Reagan back in the day, may be vulnerable, but his main competition is Colleen Rowley, better known as the FBI 9/11 whistleblower and another Cindy Sheehan sister souljah. If the DFL wants it, they're going to have to go after it hardcore.
- Minnesota Legislature: There are too many races to count for the Minnesota Legislature, but I will say this: the DFL stands to make some even bigger gains than they did in 2004 (they retook the Senate and reached near-parity in the House in 2004, if you'll recall). The hottest races will be in the inner-ring suburbs - think Edina, Eagan, Woodbury, etc. - where moderate Republicans have traditionally held sway. Many of those moderate voters feel uneasy with the arch-conservative vector of recent years, a la Michele Bachmann and her ilk, and may be looking to bat for the other side...so long as they feel comfortable with the candidate. In some of the races I've looked at so far, the DFL is putting up strong candidates who will give the GOP a run for their money in those districts. The North Metro continues to mystify and puzzle me.
So there you have it, PePpers. Be prepared. It could get ugly.