If there's one lesson to learn from Eagan politics in the last decade, it's that nothing is for certain in this battleground community.
Take, for example, the 2008 and 2010 House District 38B race. Riding a wave of anti-Republican sentiment following the George Bush presidency, local Democrat Mike Obermueller narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Lynn Wardlow by a margin of 519 votes.
Fast forward two years, and Wardlow's son, Doug Wardlow, beat out Obermueller by 643 votes, returning control of District 38B to the Republicans in an election year that saw significant gains for the Tea Party platform and conservative candidates statewide.
Unlike more ideologically homogenous communities in Dakota County, including the Democratic enclaves of Inver Grove Heights and South St. Paul or the conservative core in Farmington and Lakeville, Eagan is more vulnerable to the whims of the national political climate.
An analysis of the city's precinct results in 2006, 2008 and 2010 shows a stronger Republican presence in the southeastern portion of the city, while Democrats typically prevail in Eagan's western precincts. But the parties' holds in either area can be tenuous, as the local Minnesota House elections illustrate.
In the 2008 House elections, winning candidates carried seven of the 23 voting precincts in District 38A and 38B—which include all but one voting precinct in Eagan, plus three precincts in Burnsville—by a margin of less than 5 percent. Another 11 precincts had 5 to 15 percent margins, according to election results compiled by the Minnesota Secretary of State.
In the 2010 House elections, the divide was even more apparent. That year, winning candidates eked out a victory by a margin of less than 5 percent in 10 of the districts' 23 precincts. No party carried any precinct in the city by a voting margin of more than 15 percent.
The narrow victories aren't confined to the city's House elections, either. In 2010, District 38 Sen. Ted Daley (R) secured a victory over opponent Jim Carlson by 1,083 votes, or 3.55 percent of the vote. But in eight of the 23 precincts in the district, victory for either candidate was again decided by a margin of less than 5 percent.
Given Eagan's status as a bellwether, it's not surprising that Minnesota Public Radio identified both House Districts 38A and 38B as "key races" statewide this year.
Outside PACs are also spending heavily in the district, according to political news website Politics in Minnesota. The publication reported that—as of Oct. 22—the conservative Freedom Club State PAC spent $100,000 in attack ads against Democrat Jim Carlson, while the liberal Alliance for a Better Minnesota has spent $32,700 on advertising against Daley, Carlson's foe. The Freedom Club also spent $50,000 in support of Wardlow, according to the website.