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Editorial: District 54 race redefines 'special'

Special elections typically don't garner much attention — sometimes even with local voters. That's because such most elections carry no statewide ramifications.

The Feb. 12 special election, however, is special indeed.

And we're not talking about the fact it pits former House representatives Democrat Karla Bigham of Cottage Grove and Republican Denny McNamara of Hastings against each other, as interesting as that has proved to be.

Two factors are at work here.

One, this could be the first step in Democrats regaining Senate control — at least they hope it is. The DFL clearly has spent big money with that in mind. The GOP has countered, of course, and outside groups also have filled District 54 residents' mailboxes with flyers galore. The door-knocking has been steady. The phone banks are hot.

Remember, when St. Paul Park Democrat Dan Schoen resigned from the state Senate after being accused of sexual misconduct, Republicans held a one-vote edge in the 67-member body. You may think that if Bigham wins the seat, the Democrats remain one vote down and nothing changes. You would be wrong.

And this brings us to the second factor: the Minnesota Constitution.

The key backdrop to this contest is the constitutional crisis Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton helped to create when he appointed his lieutenant governor to fill the U.S. Senate void — the seat vacated by Al Franken, another politician felled by accusations of sexual misconduct. Tina Smith headed to Washington, D.C., and her office needed filling.

The Minnesota Constitution kicked in, promoting to the No. 2 spot the third in the chain of command: the Senate president ... who happens to be Republican Michelle Fischbach.

The Democrats say Fischbach no longer can be a senator, which would put the Senate in a 33-33 tie.

Republicans say this is a temporary job and her Senate job is the one she was elected to fill and still does. (Remember, Dayton's term including that of the lieutenant governor ends in early 2019.) Republicans argue that Senate power currently sits 34-32 with the District 54 seat open.

If McNamara wins, the balance would be 35-22 (with Fischbach) or 34-32 (without, so Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, probably won't spend the money and time to take Fischbach to court. If Bigham wins, however, expect the simmering political, constitutional pot to boil over.

One vote either way would make all the difference in the Minnesota Senate.

One vote — yours — could make all the difference in the District 54 special election. We urge you to cast it.