Residents of Mendota and parts of Mendota Heights and Eagan will go to the polls on Tuesday, Dec. 5 to select a new state legislator to represent them in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
This special election for Minnesota House District 52B (population 42,760) was triggered after Democrat Ruth Richardson resigned her seat in the Minnesota House on Sep. 1. The former representative left her seat to focus on her job leading Planned Parenthood North Central States.
Richardson first won the seat in 2018, defeating incumbent Republican Regina Barr by a margin of 53-46. However, the geographic boundaries of the district have changed dramatically since 2018 due to redistricting.
Now, Democrat Bianca Virnig and Republican Cynthia Lonnquist will face off in a special election that favors the Democrat.
Bianca Virnig (Democrat-Farmer-Labor)
Virnig won the DFL primary by just 3 points (60 votes) on Nov. 16. She currently serves as a board member on the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school board. Her campaign platform includes efforts to “destigmatize access to abortion care” and advocate for “LGBTQIA+ rights.” Additionally, Virnig has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood and Moms Demand Action.
In her role as a school board member, Virnig was the lone dissenter in a vote to end the mask mandate for students of the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school district. Additionally, FairVote Minnesota, an advocacy group that promotes ranked-choice voting, is supporting Virnig’s candidacy.
Prior to last month’s school board elections, Virnig led a letter that painted her opponents as conspiracy theorists.
Cynthia Lonnquist (Republican)
Lonnquist, a small business owner and former technology executive, won the uncontested Republican primary for this special election with 230 total votes. Previously, Lonnquist ran for the same seat in the 2022 general election against then-incumbent Richardson. However, Lonnquist lost to Richardson by roughly 23 points.
According to Lonnquist’s campaign website, she is campaigning on three issues: “Public Safety,” “Supporting Schools,” and “Fighting Inflation.” Among her goals, Lonnquist aims to bring tax relief to Minnesota families and “promote school safety by supporting school resource officers.”
Special elections can often be unpredictable given their placement on the calendar and the very few people who know when and where said special election is occurring.
For example, one of the most recent special elections for a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives occurred on Feb. 4, 2020. In that special election, only 3,124 people voted in total. However, just a few months later in the regularly scheduled November general election for the very same seat, 24,373 turned out to vote.
As such, special elections are typically won by those who simply turn out their voters in stronger numbers. With a 69-64 majority in the Minnesota House of Representatives, Democrats are attempting to keep their majority from shrinking.
However, given the low voter turnout and unpredictability, special elections do offer a unique political opening to candidates who are facing an uphill climb.