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MN's DFL party's success at the polls surprises some

Minnesota political observers were surprised by the DFL’s walloping performance at the polls in Tuesday’s state House elections.

“I knew there would be Democratic gains because of their get-out-the-vote effort and the money coming in, but I don’t think we expected the magnitude of it,” said Steve Schier, professor of political science at Carleton College in Northfield.

Republicans have had a 28-seat majority in the House since the 2002 election.

Minnesotans woke up Wednesday morning to find the DFL was vying to even up the House with 67 members apiece.

The deciding race was declared for Republican incumbent Judy Soderstrom at 10 a.m. Wednesday, giving the Republicans a 68-66 edge.

Soderstrom, a first term representative from Mora, won with 50 percent of the vote over DFL challenger Tim Faust with 49 percent. The narrow margin of victory triggered an automatic recount.

In the end, House Republicans lost 13 seats, with the DFL defeating 11 incumbents.

The defeated Republicans included: Rep. Lynda Boudreau of Faribault, who was best known for sponsoring bills bringing stricter abortion laws and more liberal gun permit rules; Rep. Bill Kuisle of Rochester, the House Transportation Finance Committee chairman; five-term Rep. Bill Haas of Champlin, the chairman of another budget panel; and six-term Rep. Jim Rhodes, considered part of a shrinking group of moderate voices at the Capitol.

Other GOP members to fall were: Carla Nelson of Rochester, Peter Adolphson of Minnetonka, Doug Fuller of Bemidji, Doug Lindgren of Bagley, Stephanie Olsen of Brooklyn Park, Howard Swenson of Nicollet, and Lynne Osterman of New Hope.

The Republicans failed to elect successors to two seats vacated by incumbents. These seats included Dist. 14B in Stearns County where DFLer Larry Hosch was elected to the seat held by Assistant Majority Leader Doug Stang, who didn’t seek re-election. DFLer Bev Scalze of Little Canada won in Ramsey County’s Dist. 54B seat being vacated by Carl Jacobson, R-Vadnais Heights. Scalze had narrowly lost to Jacobson in the 2002 House elections.

Incumbent Arlon Lindner, R-Corcoran, who didn’t receive the Republican endorsement in the 2004 election, lost to Republican challenger Joyce Peppin of Rogers.

The DFL was able to hold onto its open seats. The only DFLer to lose a seat was Rebecca Otto of Stillwater.

House Minority Leader Matt Entenza said voters were upset by gridlock during the 2004 session, which led to no significant legislation being approved.

“The do-nothing Republican legislative session has come back to haunt them, and our message of moving back to the center on education and health care has been a winning formula,” said Entenza, DFL-St. Paul.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum said some incumbents were punished for the unproductive 2004 session and others were sunk by a huge Democratic turnout in favor of presidential candidate John Kerry.

“I knew we were going to lose seats,” said Sviggum of Kenyon. “I knew it was going to be a razor-thin majority if we held the majority.”

More than 77 percent of the eligible voting-age population cast ballots Tuesday, according to Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer. The turnout was the largest since 1960, Kiffmeyer said.

Schier predicted the DFL gains will have an impact on the next legislative session.

“I think it will embolden legislative Democrats to lay out alternatives to that of the governor and to press them forcefully,” Schier said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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