St. Paul voters have whittled their mayoral choices to DFL incumbent Chris Coleman and Republican-endorsed political newcomer Eva Ng.
But Tuesday night's primary election was a bit of a snore, with only about 5 percent of eligible voters turning out at the polls. Ramsey County elections officials say the citywide voter turnout was the lowest in recent history.
Otherwise, the night went according to script: Coleman and Ng easily advanced to November's general election. While there were challengers, none mounted a serious campaign. Coleman dominated, securing 68 percent of the vote. Ng received 26 percent.
That mean's Coleman's sole challenger is a Republican-endorsed business executive with zero political experience.
But at her celebration party at a Selby Avenue bar, Ng, a petite, spunky woman just days shy of 51, says she has defied the odds ever since her parents moved their family from Hong Kong to Texas. She was influenced early by the frontier spirit of her adopted home state.
"Where the speed limit was 85 miles an hour, and gasoline was 19 cents a gallon," she said. "I love that freedom, the freedom of driving the speed limit you want, to get what I wanna get."
Ng bills herself as a "center-right conservative" and pro-business alternative to Mayor Coleman. She says his double-digit property tax hikes have hurt ordinary folks and admits there are aspects of some city ordinances she has trouble with. She also thinks the city doesn't sell itself well enough.
But one reason why her friends encouraged her to run has nothing to do with Coleman's past actions. It's his future. Coleman is strongly considering a run for governor next year.
"I think it's unethical," Ng said. "If he's seriously eyeing the governor's race, then he should step down and let someone else have a turn of running the government."
At the Chris Coleman party, several dozen supporters didn't seem to mind that the mayor has his eye on two races.
The St. Paul native, 48, made no mention of the governor's race in his speech. But in an interview, Coleman defended his higher ambitions.
"I also know that for us to be able to be truly be what we need to be, we need to have a different partner in the governor's office," Coleman said. "And I think that's true for cities across the state."
Despite a challenging economy, the Democratic mayor says St. Paul has much to be proud of under his leadership: preliminary construction of a light-rail line connecting to Minneapolis, 12 new downtown bars and restaurants, and out-of-school programs for children.
"Sometimes you get so focused on the home runs, you forget about the pieces that hold us altogether," he said. "There may not be a ribbon to cut around an out-of-school time program. But if we can get kids involved, get them on the right path, graduating on time and going to college, those are the things that will lay down the future for the city of St. Paul."
Coleman has raised about $177,000 for his re-election bid. Eva Ng has raised only about a fifth of that, at roughly $32,000.
But perhaps the biggest story of this race was that Coleman did not face a serious challenge from a DFL candidate.
Why not? One answer could be the mayor's style.
Unlike his past two predecessors, Coleman is known as a consensus-builder. And his politics align well with core DFLers, says University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs. For one, Jacobs says, Coleman hasn't antagonized the unions in the same way that former Mayor Norm Coleman did.
"There's been just a bit less acrimony between the mayor's office and some of the key constituencies in St. Paul politics," Jacobs said. "When you look back at incumbents who have run for re-election in St. Paul, they've usually run into trouble because they get into some controversy, or they run afoul of the Democratic electorate."
After all, Jacobs says, Norm Coleman alienated the DFL faithful after switching to the Republican Party. And his successor, former Mayor Randy Kelly, may have killed his own re-election bid by endorsing President Bush.
Jacobs says those kind of right-leaning moves by Kelly and Norm Coleman in the liberal stronghold of St. Paul opened the door for challenges.
"That tended to gin up the opposition to them, and made the primary and general election much more competitive," Jacobs said.
And, more interesting. While last night's election was a yawner, next year's governor's race should excite more political junkies -- and more voters.