Kari Dziedzic won the DFL primary for Senate District 59 Tuesday, grabbing the Democratic-Farmer-Labor nomination from a field of four other candidates.
Dziedzic will square off against Republican candidate Ben Schwanke in the general election on Jan. 10. She secured the nomination with 32 percent of the vote. Mohamud Noor came in second with 26 percent.
The winner of the general election will be the area’s first new voice in the state Senate in almost 30 years. The district, which includes the University of Minnesota area, stretches from Cedar-Riverside to north Minneapolis.
After the results came in, Dziedzic greeted friends and supporters on the second floor of Jax Café in Northeast Minneapolis.
“It’s exciting, very exciting, to represent this district. I’m ready to get to work in the next session.”
Dziedzic grew up in the area and went to the University when “it was a little more affordable,” she said at a candidate forum co-hosted by the Minnesota Daily on Nov. 28.
At the forum, Dziedzic touted her experience from her work as the executive assistant to former U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and her current work with Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein.
Although the general election isn’t until next month, David Schultz, a professor of public policy at Hamline University, said that Tuesday’s primaries would probably determine the next senator.
“It’s pretty likely that this person is going to win. For all intents and purposes, this is the election.”
Before the news of Dziedzic’s victory broke, Schwanke was upbeat about his chances.
“It’s going to be a tough fight, but we feel we have a strong chance to win this seat,” he said. “We feel people are willing to open up to new ideas like we saw in 2010.”
At the election-night party, Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, hugged Dziedzic supporters and friends. Kahn, who represents the University area in the House of Representatives, threw her support behind Dziedzic in the primary.
“Kari and her campaign team did an incredible amount of work in five weeks. If we were missing just one of these people, it wouldn’t have worked,” Kahn said.
Turnout for the special election primary was surprisingly large for the district, which had the fifth-lowest voter turnout of the 67 Senate districts in the 2010 elections.
More than 6,100 voters cast their ballots Tuesday. In contrast, about 2,400 people voted in the primary for the Senate District 61 special election in September.
Humphrey School of Public Affairs professor Larry Jacobs called voter turnout “the number one issue” to a candidate’s success in the primary.
But turnout in student-dominated areas around the University was poor: Just 32 people voted in the Dinkytown area, giving it the lowest turnout out of the district’s 25 precincts. The second-lowest turnout was at Coffman Union, where 50 people voted throughout the day.
University computer science junior Zach Zinsmaster said he had never voted before Tuesday’s primary.
“I figured I would contribute my opinion,” he said as he walked out of the Whole Music Club — the polling location in Coffman Union. He cast his vote for Noor.
Jacob Frey came in last in the primary with about 8 percent but captured more than 60 percent of the votes cast at Coffman Union and in the Superblock area.
“I have no regrets,” Frey said. “The numbers show we are the campaign for the next generation.”
To prepare for the election, candidates had only about a month to organize and campaign.
Gov. Mark Dayton announced the special election after he appointed Sen. Larry Pogemiller as the director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education in late October. Pogemiller had served as senator for the area since 1983.
Because of the brief nature of the election, it was “less about candidate personality and more about organization,” Jacobs said.
Dziedzic raised $36,000 in the short fundraising month — almost doubling the next-highest candidate’s total.
The general election will be held over winter break, when many University students are not in school or on campus.
Schwanke, currently a student at Augsburg College, voiced his displeasure about the date of the election.
In a concurrent special primary, Susan Allen won the DFL primary for the general election for the District 61B House seat. That seat was vacated earlier this fall by Jeff Hayden, who won the special election for the District 61 Senate seat in October.
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