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DFL takes back control of House; GOP holds Senate with special election victory

ST. PAUL — DFLers won control of the Minnesota House of Representatives as election results rolled in Tuesday night, Nov. 6.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt of Crown conceded defeat at 11 p.m., when he phoned House DFL Leader Melissa Hortman to congratulate her on winning a majority of seats. Hortman is expected to be elected the next speaker.

“Democrats had a narrow path through the suburbs in districts won by Hillary Clinton, and it appears they were able to flip those seats despite strong performances from our candidates who consistently outperformed the top of the ticket in nearly every race,” Daudt said in a statement.

Republicans retained control of the Senate by winning a special election to preserve their one-vote majority and ensuring that divided government will continue in Minnesota.

Senate GOP Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said his party’s victory in an open St. Cloud area district means that “You can’t call it a blue wave.”

DFLers took charge by unseating some longtime House incumbents in what had been safe Republican districts before Trump was elected. Among those upset were powerful Education Finance Committee Chair Jenifer Loon, a five-term veteran from Eden Prairie; and six-term Rep. Sarah Anderson of Plymouth, chair of the State Government Finance Committee.

In the Senate special election, GOP Rep. Jeff Howe defeated DFL Stearns County Commissioner Joe Perske in the race to succeed former Sen. Michelle Fischbach, who resigned last summer after being elevated to lieutenant governor.

Minnesota voters braved a chilly rain-snow mix Tuesday to cast ballots in high-profile elections for governor and attorney general, two U.S. Senate seats and at least four hotly contested congressional races around the state. They also were voting in less-noisy contests that decided which party would be in charge of the Legislature next year.

Most of the 134 seats in the state House are in reliably red (greater Minnesota) or blue (Minneapolis and St. Paul) districts. So the battle for control was waged most intensely in about 20 swing districts, primarily in the suburbs.

While Minnesotans across the state were being inundated with negative TV attack ads, voters in competitive suburban districts were also buried in stacks of campaign mailings and visits by door-knocking legislative candidates and their supporters.

Republicans rolled into the election with a 77-57 House majority. So Democrats needed to pick up 11 additional seats to take back control, which they last held in 2013-14. While Republicans had conceded loss of the House, complete results were not available as this edition of the Pioneer Press was published.

DFLers had history on their side. It’s called the midterm penalty for the president’s party.

Since 1952, the party of the sitting president has lost an average of 17 Minnesota House seats in midterm elections. This election was expected to be a referendum on President Donald Trump, and his approval rating in recent polls in Minnesota have hovered just below 40 percent.

But most Democratic legislative candidates focused on “bread-and-butter issues,” Hortman said in a recent interview. They emphasized providing affordable health care, better education, abortion rights, cleaner air and water and transportation improvements.

Daudt said Republican candidates were running on expanding their popular record of reducing health care costs, cutting taxes, and increasing funding for roads and bridges and for schools.

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