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Why Moorhead mayoral candidate's strongly partisan comments matter

by Mike McFeely

I wrote on this blog a couple of weeks ago about some very opinionated, inflammatory letters to the editor  written by current Moorhead mayoral candidate Mike Hulett prior to the 2008 presidential election. Hulett called then-candidate Barack Obama a "socialist" numerous times, a phrase often used by Tea Party and other right-wing Republicans to discredit Obama.

Hulett has referred to himself as the "non-adversarial" and "collaborative" candidate for mayor in Moorhead. My point in writing about his letters from several years ago was this: With Hulett's fiery rhetoric regarding a Democrat (and other confrontational letters directed at those who have opinions different than Hulett's), can he truly paint himself as a non-adversarial personality? And given Moorhead's Democratic tilt, does he view the majority of people he wants to represent as "socialists" since they overwhelmingly backed Obama in 2008 and 2012?

Fair questions, thought I. But I also thought it fair to look up some election results from Moorhead in 2008 and 2012, just to give an idea of where Moorhead sits electorally.

It helps illustrate why Hulett's comments could be viewed as problematic for many Moorhead residents, even though the mayor and city council are nonpartisan in the city.

You can see Moorhead's precinct-by-precinct results in major races in 2008 and 2012 by clicking here: Election results for Moorhead 2008, 2012.

A note: The following election results are from the Minnesota Secretary of State web site and include the city of Moorhead only (not surrounding townships or rural cities in Clay County).

Let's start with the presidential election results from 2008, the race between Democrat Obama and Republican John McCain:

  • Obama defeated McCain 10,480 votes to 7,249.
  • Obama received approximately 59 percent of the vote, compared to about 41 percent for McCain.
  • Of the 13 precincts in Moorhead in 2008, Obama won 12. In the only precinct where McCain received more votes than Obama, what was then Ward 3-Precinct 3, the Republican received 50.51 percent.
  • Obama's performance in Moorhead outstripped his statewide performance in Minnesota. Obama did 5 percent better in Moorhead than statewide, 59 percent to 54.2 percent.

Let's go next to the presidential election of 2012, won by Obama over Mitt Romney.

  • In Moorhead, Obama received 10,287 votes compared to 7,609 for Romney. 
  • Obama received approximately 57 percent of the vote, while Romney received 42 percent.
  • Of the 14 precincts in Moorhead in 2012, Obama won 13. Romney did better than McCain in the one precinct he won, garnering 57.6 percent of the vote in Ward 3-Precinct 8.
  • Obama's vote percentages in Moorhead again were again about 5 percent better than his statewide performance. He received a little more than 57 percent in Moorhead, 52.7 percent in Minnesota.

The 2008 U.S. Senate race between Democrat Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman would give Republicans hope ... if 2012 didn't happen. The '08 race was a three-way race that included Independent candidate Dean Barkley, who pulled a significant number of votes statewide. 

  • Coleman received 8,115 votes to 7,915 Franken in Moorhead.
  • Of the 13 precincts, Coleman received more votes in seven of them.
  • With Franken and Coleman finishing in a race close enough to trigger a recount statewide, Coleman's Moorhead numbers outdid his statewide tally.

The 2012 U.S. Senate race between Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Republican Kurt Bills blunted any momentum Republicans might have felt locally in bucking the results of statewide races.

  • Klobuchar walloped Bills 11,972 votes to 4,914 in Moorhead.
  • Klobuchar received nearly 71 percent of the vote, compared to 29 percent to Bills.
  • Not only did Klobuchar win all 14 precincts, she didn't receive less than 61 percent in any precinct.
  • Klobuchar did better in Moorhead than statewide, where she received 65.2 percent.

The 2012 race for state representative in the newly named District 4A between DFLer Ben Lien and Republican Travis Reimche, I think, best illustrates Moorhead's tilt to the left. The seat was the old District 9A, for 10 years held by popular Republican Morrie Lanning before he retired. For a decade before that it was held by Republican Kevin Goodno. This was the perfect opportunity for Lanning's hand-picked candidate, Reimche, to establish that Moorhead was still a solid Republican town. It didn't happen, and it wasn't close.

  • Lien, the DFLer, beat Reimche 9,565 votes to 7,494.
  • Lien outdistanced Reimche by about 12 points, 56.07 percent to 43.93 percent.
  • Lien won 12 of 14 precincts.

The race in 2012 for the state senate seat in District 4 that represents Moorhead (and a large swath of northwestern Minnesota) was also a fight to replace a retiring longtime politician. In this case, the retiring senator was DFLer Keith Langseth. The results of the race between former state representative Kent Eken, the DFLer, and well-known political newcomer Phil Hansen, nearly mirrored the results of the Lien vs. Reimche race.

  • Eken received 9,433 votes in Moorhead, compared to Hansen's 7,945.
  • Eken won 52.48 percent of the vote, while Hansen got about 46 percent.
  • Like Reimche, the Republican Hansen only won 2 of 14 precincts (the same ones as Reimche, by nearly the same percentages).
  • --Eken's performance in Moorhead marginally outstripped his percentages in the entire district.

The bottom line: Especially given the results of the Lien-Reimche race and Obama outdoing his statewide performance with Moorhead voters, it appears Moorhead has transitioned from a one-time Republican town to a Democratic one.

I left out three races of interest, two in 2008 and one in 2012.

In 2008, Rep. Morrie Lanning, Republican, easily defeated DFL challenger Mark Altenburg for the District 9A seat. I omitted this because Lanning was an anamoly. No matter how other Republicans or Democrats did in local or statewide races, Lanning would win easily. He was a popular representative, before which he was a popular mayor for many years. His popularity transcended party.

The same could be said of U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a conservative Democrat who has represented the massive Seventh District for years. He easily won re-election in 2008 and 2012, but his victories have never been indicative of party. Peterson represents a large, conservative, rural district ... but has rarely been seriously challenged despite the "D" behind his name. 

(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on KFGO-AM in Fargo, N.D. He can be reached at mike.mcfeely@mwcradio.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)