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Home / Politics / Osmek, Pugh, Metsa, Hawj win high-profile contests amid low voter turnout
The fields in all 201 Minnesota legislative contests this fall are now set after more than 40 primary races across the state were settled on Tuesday. In some instances, DFLers and Republicans won contests in partisan strongholds and have almost assuredly secured their place in the Legislature next session.

Osmek, Pugh, Metsa, Hawj win high-profile contests amid low voter turnout

David Osmek (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

The fields in all 201 Minnesota legislative contests this fall are now set after more than 40 primary races across the state were settled on Tuesday. In some instances, DFLers and Republicans won contests in partisan strongholds and have almost assuredly secured their place in the Legislature next session. In others, incumbent lawmakers were ousted by intra-party challengers.

As expected, voter turnout was very low. Official figures from the secretary of state’s office were not immediately available, but the race-by-race vote totals illustrate the public lack of interest in the contests. In the Minnesota Senate, DFL St. Paul Sen. Dick Cohen registered his party’s highest vote total with 5,797, while Mound City Council member and acting Mayor Dave Osmek tallied the largest GOP vote at 2,885. Turnout in those two districts stood at 13.77 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

Many Minnesota House primaries produced winners with three-figure vote totals. In the House 43B Republican primary, Kevin J. Klein won with just 336 votes — the lowest figure for any winning legislative challenger.
Despite the volatility that can attend low-turnout elections, the legislative primary docket yielded few surprises. In the season’s most dramatic and wide-open contest, Osmek beat Rep. Connie Doepke by a mere 107 votes out of 5,663 votes cast in Senate District 33 on Tuesday. The race to replace GOP Sen. Gen Olson in the western suburbs has been the most-watched contest at the Legislature since Doepke, a well-regarded former business executive first elected to the House in 2008, lost the GOP endorsement to Osmek in May.

Doepke was subsequently targeted with half a dozen negative literature pieces from conservative groups outside of the district, including a last-minute mailing from Koch brothers’ group Americans for Prosperity that pictured Doepke side-by-side with President Barack Obama. The mailer suggested that she didn’t fight hard enough against “Obamacare” while she was in the Legislature.

Doepke made a few missteps of her own during the campaign, suggesting in one mailing that she had the backing of U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen. The move earned a swift rebuke from Paulsen, who had openly backed Osmek.

In the same district, another incumbent Republican fell to a more conservative newcomer. Twenty-two year incumbent Steve Smith of Mound, the longest-serving member of the House GOP caucus, received just 30 percent of the vote in losing to Cindy Pugh, co-founder of the Southwest Metro Tea Party group.  Pugh had the backing of GOP House Speaker Kurt Zellers in the highly conservative district, while Smith, a pro-union Republican, had several labor groups working on his behalf.

Bucking that trend, incumbent GOP Sen. Julianne Ortman easily trumped a Republican primary challenge from activist Bruce Schwichtenberg in Senate District 47. Though Ortman, who currently serves as Senate deputy majority leader and chairs the Taxes Committee, was unable to earn the GOP endorsement back in May, she still beat Schwichtenberg with more than 58 percent of the vote in the primary.

On the other side of the aisle, two three-way scrums for DFL stronghold seats in the House shook out in a fairly predictable manner. In House District 6B DFL primary, union organizer and campaigner Jason Metsa beat activist Lorrie Janatopoulos and construction worker Dave Meyer in a race to take retiring Rep. Tom Rukavina’s seat in the House. Metsa was favored to win after earning the endorsements of most of the major unions and Rukavina himself.  Metsa won with more than 53 percent of the vote, with Janatopoulos tallying 41 percent.
Longtime activist Raymond Dehn came out the victor in a three-way primary in North Minneapolis’ House District 59B, which is open after Rep. Bobby Joe Champion opted to seek a Senate seat.  Dehn, who had the backing of unions like MAPE and Congressman Keith Ellison, beat out former Hennepin County staffer Terra Cole and attorney Ian Alexander with a 37 percent plurality of the vote.

In a last-minute DFL scrum to replace first-term Sen. John Harrington, who retired unexpectedly after session, DFL activist Foung Hawj was the surprise victor in St. Paul’s Senate District 67. Hawj (pronounced “Herr”) beat out former St. Paul City Councilman Tom Dimond and former legislative staffer Robert Humphrey with 44 percent of the vote.

In his 2010 primary run for the same seat, Hawj managed to garner only 11 percent of the vote in a crowded field, and Humphrey was the favorite to win this time around after getting the backing of Harrington and labor unions. Humphrey came in second with 39 percent of the vote, with Dimond bringing up the rear at 16.6 percent.
Incumbent DFL Sen. Lyle Koenen managed to fend off a primary challenge from Willmar-area DFL businessman Larry ice to run in west-central Senate District 17 this fall. In a DFL primary in the 17B House race, Education Minnesota local president Mary Sawatzky beat activist Jessica Rohloff with 65 percent of the vote.

In House District 11B, both major parties were involved in primary races.  Redistricting had paired Rep. Roger Crawford, R-Mora, with Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, but neither incumbent sought re-election. On the DFL side, former Rep. Tim Faust of Cloverdale claimed 59 percent of the vote in beating Pine City planner Nathan Johnson. Faust will face Republican nominee Ben Weiner, a berry farmer and U.S. Army National Guard Sergeant who beat Pine County Commissioner Mitch Pangerl in a close primary race Tuesday.

Here’s a roundup of how all the legislative primaries turned out:


Senate District Winning Candidate Losing Candidate
1 (GOP) Steve Nordhagen – 1574 votes (72.8%) Jual Carlson – 589 votes (27.2%)
5 (DFL) Tom Saxhaug – 3,981 votes (72.4%) Laverne Perderson – 1,518 votes (27.6%)
10 (DFL) Taylor Stevenson – 2,873 votes (57.3%) Anne Marcotte – 2,134 votes (42.6%)
15 (DFL) Sally Knox – 1183 votes (62.3%) Ron Thiessen – 708 votes (37.4%)
17 (DFL) Lyle Koenen – 3,019 votes (57.2%) Larry Rice – 2,259 votes (42.8%)
20 (GOP) Michael Dudley – 2,590 votes (86.2%) Gene Thomas Kornder – 400 votes (13.3%)
30 (GOP) Mary Kiffmeyer – 1,620 votes (73.4%) Paul Bolin – 586 votes (25.7%)
33 (GOP) Dave Osmek – 2,885 votes (50.9%) Connie Doepke – 2,778 votes (49.1%)
39 (GOP) Karin Housley – 1,941 votes (67.2%) Eric Langness – 945 votes (32.7%)
40 (DFL) Chris Eaton – 2,005 votes (81.0%) Tim Davis Jr. – 470 votes (19.0%)
45 (GOP) Blair Tremere – 978 votes (54.4%) Tim Hall – 821 votes (45.6%)
46 (GOP) Paul Scofield – 544 votes (56.4%) Roger Champagne – 420 (43.5%)
47 (GOP) Julianne Ortman – 2,114 (58.4%) Bruce Schwichtenberg – 1,504 (41.5%)
55 (DFL) Kathy Busch – 1,059 votes (87.3%) Josh Ondich – 151 votes (12.5%)
57 (DFL) Greg Clausen – 1,456 votes (78.6%) Mike Germain – 395 votes (21.3%)
64 (DFL) Dick Cohen – 5,797 votes (89.4%) Alexander Jeffries – 685 votes (10.6%)
65 (DFL) Sandy Pappas – 2,505 votes (76.7%) Marcus Walker – 760 votes (23.3%)
67 (DFL) Foung Hawj – 2,142 votes (44.2%) Robert Humphrey – 1,897 votes (39.2%) Tom Dimond – 806 votes (16.6%)
House District Winning Candidate Losing Candidate
2B (GOP) Steve Green – 790 votes (53.4%) David Collins – 688 votes (46.5%)
4A (GOP) Travis Reimche – 768 votes (69.4%) Ken Lucier – 262 votes (23.6%) Ben Larson – 76 votes (6.8%)
4A (DFL) Ben Lien – 853 votes (74.3%) Sue Wiger – 295 votes (25.7%)
6B (GOP) Jesse Colangelo – 677 votes (64.3%) Dan Darbo – 376 votes (35.7%)
6B (DFL) Jason Metsa – 3,305 votes (53.6%) Lorrie Janatopoulos – 2,550 votes (41.3%) Dave Meyer – 309 votes (5%)
7A (DFL) Tom Huntley – 3,337 votes (81.5%) Brandon Clokey – 756 votes (18.5%)
8B (DFL) Bob Cunniff – 1,342 votes (75.8%) Bruce Campbell – 428 votes (24%)
10B (DFL) Joe Randinovich – 2,422 votes (76%) David Schaaf – 765 votes (24%)
11A (DFL) Mike Sundin – 2,365 votes (57.5%) Bruce Ahlgren – 1,743 votes (42.4%)
11B (GOP) Ben Wiener – 1,848 votes (57.4%) Mitch Pangerl – 1,371 votes (42.6%)
11B (DFL) Tim Faust – 2,193 votes (62.6%) Nathan Johnson – 1,311 votes (37.4%)
15B (DFL) Brian Johnson – 480 votes (77.8%) Bruno Gad – 137 votes (22%)
17B (DFL) Mary Sawatzky – 1,994 votes (65.9%) Jessica Rohloff – 1,031 votes (34%)
24A (GOP) John Petersburg – 1,488 votes (66.1%) Larry Johnson – 763 (33.9%)
33B (GOP) Cindy Pugh – 2,251 votes (70.3%) Steve Smith – 949 votes (29.6%)
35B (DFL) Sam Scott – 497 votes (70.8%) Samuel Beard – 205 votes (29.2%)
37B (GOP) Tim Sanders – 978 votes (89.7%) Torey Hall – 112 votes (10.3%)
43A (DFL) Peter Fischer – 1,534 votes (53.6%) Bob Hill – 1,324 votes (46.3%)
43B (GOP) Kevin Klein – 336 votes (55.4%) Bob Zick – 270 votes (44.5%)
51A (DFL) Sandra Masin – 828 votes (88%) Milton Walden – 112 votes (11.9%)
52A (GOP) Joe Blum – 704 votes (53.7%) David Meisinger – 606 votes (46.3%)
55B (GOP) Tony Albright – 897 votes (78.8%) Tim Jesperson – 242 votes (21.3%)
59A (DFL) Joe Mullery – 1,441 votes (77.3%) Marcus Harcus – 424 votes (22.7%)
59B (GOP) Gary Mazzotta – 98 votes (55.4%) Bill McGaughey – 79 votes (44.6%)
59B (DFL) Raymond Dehn – 876 votes (37.12%) Tera Cole – 857 (36.31%) Ian Alexander – 627 votes (26.7%)

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