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November surprise: Top five state Leg upsets

Staff//November 3, 2010//

November surprise: Top five state Leg upsets

Staff//November 3, 2010//

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Loren Solberg
Loren Solberg

Few political prognosticators believed the Republicans had much chance of winning majorities in both the state House and Senate. But when the electoral smoke cleared early Wednesday morning that’s exactly what had occurred. The GOP established a 37-30 majority in the Senate and a 72-62 hold on the House (barring any changes via mandated recounts). Here’s a lookat five of the biggest upsets in Tuesday’s legislative contests:

Bernie Lieder (House District 1B): Republican Debra Kiel‘s upset of Rep. Bernie Lieder in House District 1B ends a nearly three decade career at the Capitol for the DFL’s transportation finance division chairman. Lieder, a 13-term incumbent and the oldest member of the Legislature, lost his re-election bid by just 134 votes. Despite that small margin, Lieder’s loss represented a huge swing in votes compared to recent results. Since first being elected in 1984, Lieder won with an average of 60.3 percent of the vote, including 58.8 percent just two years ago. Last night, he reached just 49.46 percent. (Jake Grovum)

Loren Solberg (House District 3B): With Chip Cravaack surging in his ultimately successful bid to beat 18-term DFL Congressman Jim Oberstar, House Republicans dared to dream by speculating last month that state House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, could get taken down in the wave. Carolyn McElfatrick, a retired nurse from Grand Rapids, defeated the 14-term incumbent by two-and-a-half percentage points. The race was a rematch from 2008 when Solberg trounced McElfatrick by a little more than 15 percent of the vote. The area hasn’t been represented by a Republican in 30 years. The race was mostly an internal affair with very little if any outside money. Republicans, however, reported a larger grass roots presence this time for McElfatrick in terms of the old fashioned retail politics involving lawn signs and volunteers doorknocking. Iron Range writer and DFL political operative Aaron Brown noted on his blog that the southern portion of the district in Aitkin County has become a Republican stronghold. The northern portion in Itasca County is also trending toward the Republicans, he said. (Charley Shaw)

Al Juhnke (House District 13B): It’s difficult to imagine Uncle Al not roaming the halls of the Capitol. Perhaps best known for sponsoring the “Minnesota Hotdish Bill” in 2000, which sought to protect potluck suppers from overzealous health inspectors, the Willmar legislator was a renowned character in St. Paul. Few political observers had pegged Juhnke to be in much danger this year. His district has a pronounced GOP tilt (John McCain won the area by six percentage points in the 2008 presidential contest), but Juhnke always seemed to find a way to squeak by during his 14 years in office. His dedicated focus on ag and veterans issues undoubtedly partly explained his longevity. But this time around GOP challenger Bruce Vogel, a real estate agent, tripped up Juhnke by a 53-47 percent margin. (Paul Demko)

Andy Welti (House District 30B): DFLer Andy Welti‘s defeat of Republican Bill Kuisle in 2004 was one of the biggest upsets in the state that year. At the time, Welti was a 24-year-old school teacher and political newcomer from Plainview running as a DFLer in a district that had voted for the likes of Tim Pawlenty and George W. Bush. But he managed to keep his seat in a repeat challenge from Kuisle in 2006 by about 3 percentage points, and again in 2008 with a more than 10 percent spread. That’s why his 52-48 defeat by GOP newcomer Mike Benson Tuesday night came as a surprise. Welti didn’t make it on to election watcher’s early lists of endangered seats. It was late, dismal polling numbers for SD 30 DFL Sen. Ann Lynch (who was also defeated) that led GOP and DFL insiders to suggest his seat would flip. (Briana Bierschbach)

Don Betzold (Senate District 51): Veteran Sen. Don Betzold, DFL- Fridley, had weathered tough re-election contests before. His 2006 campaign saw a large amount of political spending by both parties. But with Republicans this year chasing a pasture full of more vulnerable DFLers, Betzold’s seat wasn’t on many people’s radar screen. In the end Republican Pam Wolf beat Betzold by a little more than 5 percent. Wolf had lost to Betzold in 2006 by 9 percent. One GOP-leaning lobbyist said he regarded the district as likely DFL, but not safe for the party. One red flag for DFLers is the northern 51A part of the district where Rep. Tim Sanders, R-Blaine, won election by a little more than 10 points. The solid DFL profile of the southern District 51B wasn’t enough to sustain Betzold for a seventh term. Interestingly, 51B showed strong support for state Rep. Tom Tillberry, DFL-Blaine, who got 8 percent of the vote over his challenger. Betzold won by less than 2 percent in 51B. Wolf soundly defeated Betzold in 51A to the north by 11 points. (C.S.)

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