Caucus night set for Tuesday

Area voters get in on ground floor of races for governor, U.S. House

by Tom Coombe
One of the biggest election years in Minnesota history formally begins Tuesday.
That’s when precinct caucuses for both major political parties take place across the state, including in Ely.
An intraparty DFL skirmish for the Eighth District U.S. House seast and a wide-open governor’s race are two of the biggest draws as Minnesota - for the first time in 40 years - has elections for all of its state offices and seats in Congress.
Both Democrats and Republicans will hold separate caucus sessions at Vermilion Community College.
The gatherings are set to begin at 7 p.m., with registration starting roughly a half-hour before.
Once every two years, caucuses are held around Minnesota in what is the opening step toward further party participation later in the year, at the county and state levels.
Caucus-goers pass resolutions, elect delegates and weigh in on races of regional or state interest and even for president every four years.
This week, however, starts the march to state conventions in the spring and likely primary elections in August.
Decisions made at caucus sessions in Ely and elsewhere also seem certain to shape some high-profile electoral contests.
Perhaps the largest is in the Eighth District, where incumbent Rick Nolan is facing a challenge from political upstart Leah Phifer as he looks to hold on to the U.S. House seat he’s held for six years.
Phifer, who has Ely family ties, has set herself apart from Nolan on the issue of copper-nickel mining and is looking to topple the incumbent and move on to face Republican Pete Stauber in the fall.
Nolan and Phifer are fighting for delegate support across the spacious Eighth District, which extends from northeastern Minnesota to the edge of the Twin Cities suburbs.
The DFL race seems likely to be decided by delegates elected to the Eighth District convention.
With Gov. Mark Dayton not seeking a third term, numerous candidates are vying for the state’s top elected office.
Both Democrats and Republicans will elect delegates this week who will help decide the party’s nomination, but it seems likely voters will have the final say in a summer prrimary.
The governor’s race is just one of several statewide contests this year.
Because of the resignation last December by U.S. Sen. Al Franken, Minnesotans will vote on two Senate races in 2018.
Both incumbents, DFLers Amy Klobuchar and recent appointee Tina Smith, are running.
While the caucuses present the chance to take part in the political process, only a small percentage of voters usually take part locally and around the state. The events are open to anyone who is eligible to vote in the general election in November.
Caucus participants will also select representatives to move on to the next level in the party process, generally the county unit convention, the next step on the path to each party’s state convention.
Both parties usually have enough seats at the next convention for all local caucus-goers interested in moving on.
Democrats from Ely, WInton, Morse, Fall Lake and Unorganized Townships 22 and 24 are invited to gather at Vermilion. Eagles Nest Lake DFLers will caucus in Tower.
Ely area Republicans also will gather at VCC - including the cities of Ely, Winton and Tower, Breitung, Greenwood, Eagles Nest, Morse, Fall Lake and unorganized townships.
Further information about caucus locations can be accessed online at the Minnesota Secretary of State website, at