Every year there are confusing issues in the campaigns for the U.S. Congress. This year, though, even the basics are confusing. That's because this is a redistricting year, the once-every-decade year that congressional district boundaries change based on population shifts in the the new census. A court panel re-drew the districts this year and now many voters in the Twin Cities suburbs are unclear about which district they're in and who they'll be voting for in November.
It isn't uncommon for a politician to take the time to talk with voters about his or her background, key issues and political philosophy. But this year congressional candidates are also telling voters which congressional district they live in and who's on the ballot. The new redistricing lines have clearly confused many voters.
People going to the Washington County fair a few weeks ago were interested in the bingo, the rides and the food. Washington County residents are used to voting for or against 6th District DFL Congressman Bill Luther. But this year, he's moved into the new 2nd Congressional District to face Republican John Kline for the third time. Second District Republican Mark Kennedy's home was moved out of the old 2nd and into the newly redrawn 6th.
The two incumbents essentially flip-flopped much of their districts. Kennedy is running against DFL newcomer Janet Robert and Independence Party candidate Dan Becker in the new 6th.
If you're confused, you're not alone. Many voters at the Washington Country Fair didn't know who was going to be on the ballot in November.
"Everybody's confused," said Pat Schultz of Stillwater. "We were just over there at the booths and even the people at the different parties have trouble figuring out so it's a little confusing right now."
"I'm not sure that I was certain that we lost Luther, but I'll have to study up on it before the election I guess" said Dale Schnarr of Stillwater.
"I know it's changed, they just changed it," Don Seidler of Hastings. "I just got a letter in the mail but I haven't looked at it yet."
"These are two very hotly contested races so the parties will be heavily involved. A lot of money is going to spent here."
- Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report
Congressional candidates in the new 6th and 2nd Districts say they're spending a lot of time explaining the new district lines. The newly drawn 6th District takes up a large part of Washington County, the northern Twin Cities suburbs and runs north to St. Cloud. The newly drawn 2nd District contains the southern Twin Cities suburbs and runs south to Faribault and Red Wing.
Republican Mark Kennedy spent his time at the Kimball Days Parade a few weeks ago telling voters that he's the Republican candidate in the new 6th District, that he didn't move into the new district and he lives in Wright County. The freshman Republican, who currently represents the 2nd District, says it's become a daily part of his campaigning.
"A lot of times they'll say 'I'm not in your district,'" Kennedy said. "And I'll say 'Where are you from?' And more than half the times they are in my district and I'll have to educate them on where they are voting."
John Kline, the Republican challenger in Minnesota's new 2nd Congressional District, has twice run unsuccessfully against Luther in the old 6th District. After the 2000 election, he said he wouldn't run again, but changed his mind after his home ended up in the newly mapped 2nd. His new district includes parts of the old 6th, 2nd and 1st Districts.
"When I'm campaiging in Goodhue County, for example, I've had people come up to me and say, 'Why are you running against Gil?'" Kline said. "Well, of course, I'm not running against Gil Gutknecht and Goodhue County is no longer in the 1st District and that's the first thing they're grappling with and at this stage of the campaign it still sort of dominates. The 'who are you' and 'why are you here?'"
Luther, a DFLer, says voter confusion may continue through November. He says several voters may be surprised when they visit the voting booth in November and don't see the expected candidate on the ballot.
"There still will be a considerable amount of that because, in part, the advertising does not stop at the boundaries of the districts," Luther said. "So when we put ads up on TV or radio, it means that those ads are crossing district lines. Some of that will kind of perpetuate this kind of confusion."
The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter says voters may be confused as they sort out the new district, but says most will be well educated about the ballot come November. She says the candidates in the 2nd and 6th District races are well funded and running in competitive districts.
"These voters between now and November are going to be peppered with information from all sides," Walter said. "These are two very hotly contested races so the parties will be heavily involved. A lot of money is going to spent here."
Walter says some voters may be confused since there are also races for U.S. Senate and governor underway this year. She says the media is devoting plenty of resources to those races. She says no matter what district the Congressional candidates who have the money to run advertising and are successful at face-to-face politics will win the race.More from MPR