By MARTIGA LOHN
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Republican control of the Minnesota Legislature teetered on the brink late Tuesday as Democrats jumped ahead of GOP candidates in several key races in the Twin Cities suburbs.
Former maverick Republican Ron Erhardt made a political comeback in Edina, winning an open House seat — as a Democrat — four years after he left the Legislature. In the same district, Democratic attorney Melissa Franzen was leading GOP Rep. Keith Downey in a hotly contested race for an open Senate seat previously in Republican hands.
Republicans were defending more vulnerable incumbents in the Senate than Democrats were, complicating their fight to keep control. A turnover of four Senate seats would flip control — six in the House, where a good number of open seats scrambled the outlook. In the northwestern suburbs, former Democratic state Rep. Alice Johnson was leading Republican Sen. Pam Wolf in the Blaine area. In a matchup of incumbents in the Willmar area, Democratic Sen. Lyle Koenen led Republican Sen. Joe Gimse.
In Brooklyn Park, Republican Sen. Benjamin Kruse conceded to Democratic school board member John Hoffman.
The GOP swept into power just two years ago, capturing the Senate for the first time in nearly four decades and the House after four years in the minority. But Senate Republicans struggled after taking power, with a sex scandal reshuffling top leadership and a related lawsuit running up big legal bills.
Republicans collided with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton in a dispute over taxes and spending that led to a nearly three-week government shutdown last year. In the end, a massive deficit was erased without raising state taxes, giving the GOP majorities bragging rights they took to the campaign trail. Democrats sought to tie Republicans to the shutdown and gridlock, pointing out that the state faces another projected deficit in the coming budget period, while the state remains behind on school payments. Republicans ran against Dayton's proposal to raise income taxes on the wealthy.
Dayton appealed to voters to give Democrats full control of the Capitol for the second half of his term. He campaigned for Democratic legislative candidates in selected races.
Battlegrounds were clustered in suburbs such as Eagan and Edina and scattered across the state from Bemidji to Northfield and Rochester.
The party that controls the Legislature will set the agenda leading up to Dayton's re-election bid in 2014. If Republicans keep control or just one chamber changes hands, Dayton would face problems fulfilling promises he made as a candidate in 2010. A power shift in one body would put more pressure on the other as Dayton's only remaining opposition.