Analyst: Congressional primaries might fuel higher voter turnout

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Primary elections in August are not usually a big drawing card for Minnesota voters.

In 2016, the last primary in a presidential election year, just 7.4 percent of eligible voters showed up. That jumped up to nearly 23 percent in 2018. There’s evidence that might climb higher in 2020 because 423,032 voters have already sent in their absentee ballot, more than the 294,797 total primary voters who voted in 2016 and nearly halfway to the total votes in 2018.

Carleton College political analyst Steven Schier says a hotly-contested 5th District congressional race between Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and challenger Antone Melton-Meaux could bring out more voters.

"It’s rare that an incumbent has a serious primary challenge," Schier says. "In fact, it’s hard for me to remember the last time that really happened in a U.S. House race in Minnesota. So this is an extraordinary situation."

It’s also extraordinary to have two primary opponents each raise more than $4 million, and have outside groups inject more than $2 million more.

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The 7th District Republican race between Michelle Fischbach, Dave Hughes and Noel Collis could also see a big turnout.

Schier says Fischbach is considered the favorite for several reasons.

"She has more money than anybody else," Schier says. "She has the endorsements of the party and the president and the vice president. She’s also been lieutenant governor of Minnesota and she’s been a state senator from that area as well. All of those are significant advantages."

But Schier points out Dave Hughes ran credible races against incumbent Democrat Collin Peterson in two recent elections, losing by five percentage points in 2016 and four points in 2018. As for Collis, he’s raised more than $750,000 and is running TV ads as a long-shot contender.