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DFL wins back the Legislature; marriage and voter ID amendments defeated

Steve Perry//November 7, 2012//

DFL wins back the Legislature; marriage and voter ID amendments defeated

Steve Perry//November 7, 2012//

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House Minority Leader Paul Thissen told a victory party just before 1 a.m. that Speaker Kurt Zellers had called “to congratulate us on taking back the House.” (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)
The first entirely Republican-controlled Legislature in modern Minnesota history ended abruptly on Tuesday night.

Abetted by President Barack Obama’s 9-point win in the state and by the defeat of two GOP-sponsored constitutional amendments, DFLers retook control of both chambers in convincing fashion. House Democrats posted a net gain of 11 seats in winning a 73-61 majority, and their Senate counterparts gained a total of eight seats in claiming a 39-28 advantage.

To no one’s surprise, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar won in a landslide, beating GOP nominee Kurt Bills 66 percent to 30 percent. Democrats also picked up a seat in Minnesota’s congressional delegation with former Congressman Rick Nolan’s defeat of GOP U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack in the 8th District. In one of the most watched — and expensive — congressional races of 2012, Nolan received nearly 55 percent of the vote in a surprisingly comfortable 9-point win.

GOP U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann won by a razor-thin margin in the 6th Congressional District, edging hotelier Jim Graves by just a few thousand votes out of over 300,000 cast.

The Republican-sponsored ballot initiative to ban gay marriage in the state constitution failed to cross the 50 percent-plus threshold for passage, winning support from just over 47 percent of the state’s voters. A second initiative, to require photo ID at polling places as a condition of voting, scored even lower, winning around 46 percent approval. Until polls began to turn late in the campaign, most analysts from both parties had considered the photo ID measure a virtual certainty to pass.

Democrats reclaimed majorities in both chambers of the Legislature by dominating in the three dozen most closely contested races. Of the 36 contests identified by Politics in Minnesota and Capitol Report as competitive (see this post), the DFL won 30: 17 of 20 in the House and 13 of 16 in the Senate.

DFLers took all three seats in the legislative districts representing the suburban Edina (District 49) and Eagan (District 51) areas, as well as two of three seats in Woodbury’s District 53. They also swept the hard-fought trio of incumbent-on-incumbent matchups in north central Minnesota’s District 5, which runs from Bemidji in the west to Grand Rapids in the east.

In losing those races, Republicans also saw several valued members of their House and Senate caucuses go down to defeat, including House Capital Investment Chairman Larry Howes of Walker, Rep. Keith Downey of Edina, and Sens. Ted Daley of Eagan and Ted Lillie. After redistricting maps were released in February, Lillie had moved his residence in order to run in SD 53.

Senate Republicans also lost two of the three races that saw GOP incumbents retire from seats that appeared safely red in local voting tendencies.  They prevailed in southwestern Minnesota’s SD 22, where Republican nominee Bill Weber won the seat formerly occupied by Sen. Doug Magnus. But they lost Sen. Mike Parry’s District 24 seat and Sen. Chris Gerlach’s Apple Valley/Rosemount seat. DFLers Vicki Jensen and Greg Clausen won those contests.

In the face of what turned out to be a strong DFL tide, a few Republican candidates did win closely fought races: Karin Housley beat former DFL Rep. Julie Bunn in east-metro SD 39, Rep. Kathy Lohmer won reelection in HD 39B, and Rep. Deb Kiel won a second term in northwestern Minnesota’s HD 1B.

The legislative election also saw what was likely the closest outcome in state history: In HD 8B, Rep. Mary Franson beat DFL challenger Bob Cunniff by a single vote in a race headed for automatic recount. State law requires recounts on any race that ends in a margin of one-half of 1 percent or less. As of Wednesday morning, the Franson race appeared to be the only automatic recount among the 201 legislative races on the ballot.

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