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Pioneer Editorial: Amendment strategy hurt Republicans

In the world of politics and elections, it can be dangerous to read too much into vote results.

But, in the case of Tuesday’s general election, in which Minnesotans went to the polls in record numbers, the electorate’s tidal wave of support for Democrat-Farmer-Laborite candidates and DFL-favored positions on two constitutional amendments is difficult to read any other way.

Take a look at what happened in the Minnesota Legislature.

In 2010, Republican momentum at the polls gave the GOP control of the Senate and House for the first time in 38 years.

On Tuesday, Minnesotans reversed the 2010 vote, handing the DFL a slightly larger margin in both chambers.

In the Senate, the DFL will enjoy a 39-28 edge over Republicans in the 2013-14 biennium, a two-seat flip compared to the GOP’s 37-30 advantage in 2011-12.

Over in the House, Democrats will hold a 73-61 advantage in the next biennium, compared to Republicans’ 72-62 edge in the all-but-completed one.

What was the tipping point?

Some might be quick to point to the GOP’s handling of the state budget, the 2011 government shutdown or negative campaign rhetoric.

Candidates on both sides can claim they ran clean campaigns this fall. On face value that might be true, but both parties engaged in mudslinging, half-truths and misleading attacks on their opponents. Fine print on all those direct mail brochures show the state parties and political action committees bankrolling the advertisements knew little boundaries on negative campaigning.

A more likely scenario for the sweeping and decisive win by DFL candidates was GOP leaders’ attempt to legislate through the constitution.

Republican-backed amendment proposals – defining marriage and requiring an ambiguous photo ID to vote – were defeated by Minnesotans. According to exit polls and voter interviews, those amendments were the primary reason for some Minnesotans to cast ballots.

Instead of focusing on solving the most critical issues – the state’s budget, education funding, bonding for infrastructure and property taxes – Minnesota GOP leaders turned the 2012 election into a debate on social values.

Both amendments failed to garner majority support and motivated voters to give DFLers the edge they were seeking in the election.

It might be tempting to conclude voters’ dissatisfaction also pushed Rick Nolan to victory in the 8th Congressional District or helped President Barack Obama carry Minnesota.

Nolan’s return to Congress came via a landslide victory over a controversial Chip Cravaack. But consider this: Obama beat Republican challenger Mitt Romney by a 52.6 to 45 percent margin Tuesday. Decisive but certainly shy of Obama’s 54.1 to 43.8 percent edge over challenge John McCain.

Our conclusion is Minnesota Democrats must use their position to legislate wisely and judiciously, otherwise they’ll be on the other end of the tidal wave in 2014.