In 1978, all three key statewide races in Minnesota were up for election—the Governorship, and both Senate Seats (the other Senate seat belonged to Wendell Anderson, who, as Governor of Minnesota, appointed himself to fill the seat vacated by Walter Mondale, when Mondale ascended to the Vice Presidency in 1976). But, there was a particular oddity to the three races—all three had incumbents who were never elected to the office in the first place. This became a well played issue by the Republicans—a billboard put up across the state read, "The DFL is going to face something scary -- an election".
When Hubert H. Humphrey died in office in January 1978, sitting Governor Rudy Perpich appointed Humphrey's widow, Muriel to sit until a special election could be held later that year. However, Muriel Humphrey opted not to seek election to the seat in her own right, and the DFL nominated former Texas Rangers owner Bob Short to run in the subsequent special election. Short was rather conservative by DFL standards of the time, and his positions on hot button issues such as abortion, motorboat usage in the Boundary Waters Canoe area, and government spending gave more liberal DFLers pause.
The Independent-Republicans, for their part, nominated the liberal RepublicanDavid Durenberger, creating an unusual race in which the Independent-Republican candidate ran to the left of the DFL candidate. In addition to the general sense of dissatisfaction voters felt for the DFL, the party also had to contend with a large number of liberal DFLers crossing party lines to vote for Durenberger. As a result, Durenberger won in a 26.9-percent landslide as the governorship and both U.S. Senate seats switched into Republican hands.