DFL veterans are being pushed out by more progressive challengers

There’s a growing trend of long-serving DFL legislators in Minnesota facing primary challengers.

Dick Cohen

This article has been corrected to make clear that Hiang Murphy is running against Democrat Tim Mahoney


There’s a growing trend of long-serving DFL legislators in Minnesota facing primary challengers. Several weeks ago, we outlined how at least five Democrat state representatives, all from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, faced primary challengers.

Even more interesting is that the state party doesn’t appear to be backing its incumbents. Already, two of those state representatives—Tim Mahoney and Jean Wagenius—said they won’t seek re-election in 2020.

Now, a DFL Senator has joined their ranks.

Sen. Dick Cohen (D-St. Paul), was facing a tough primary fight from former Democrat House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, who stepped away from her position as Majority Leader to launch a failed bid for governor in 2018. 

The challengers to the incumbents, all billing themselves as more “progressive,” are focusing on the issues of climate change, criminal justice, and “social equity.” It remains to be seen whether 2020 could see more challengers take on Democratic incumbents in relatively safe districts, but it is likely that Mahoney, Wagenius, and Cohen won’t be the only incumbents to get pushed out.

Hoang Murphy, is a a Vietnamese American, is also mounting a challenge against incumbant Democrat Rep. Tim Mahoney: 

“For too long our communities have let other people carry the banner of our self-interest and they carry it poorly,” Hoang Murphy said. “It’s time for us to pick up that banner for ourselves and do the best that we can and in the ways that we know how.”

Murphy has an amazing success story. He spent time in a refugee camp, and was eventually placed with a foster family at the age of eight. He then went on to earn a master’s degree, and has worked as a teacher, and worked at the Department of Education. Murphy now runs a non-profit in the community, which is majority non-white. His non-profit helps foster kids, just like him when he was a boy.

“I think it’s a damn shame that we can see the Capitol dome from the east side but not all of us feel like that we can walk through those doors,” Hoang Murphy said. “If elected, I’m taking everybody with me.” 


Willis Krumholz

Willis L. Krumholz is a fellow at Defense Priorities. He holds a JD and MBA degree from the University of St. Thomas, and works in the financial services industry. The views expressed are those of the author only. You can follow Willis on Twitter @WillKrumholz.