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Minnesota Democrats dominate Election Day

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Democrats take House
Rep. Paul Thissen announces that the Democrats had taken back the Minnesota House at the Minnesota DFL Election Night Party at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in St. Paul, Minn. Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

For the past two weeks, Republicans have insisted that Minnesota was going to be a swing state on Election Day. That may be true -- in a way they didn't expect. It swung hard to the DFL on Tuesday.

President Barack Obama carried the state by eight percentage points. DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar defeated Republican Kurt Bills by more than 35 percentage points. The Democrats also claimed control of both chambers of the Legislature and picked up one Congressional seat.

DFLers in the Legislature ran a campaign criticizing Republicans for a state government shutdown and for using accounting tricks and one-time money to fix the budget deficit. DFL Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said the public agreed with them on policies.  

"The Republicans, they didn't lose because they're Republicans," Bakk said. "They lost because they are wrong."

Klobuchar said the voters sent a message that they want candidates to work together. She also said Democrats unified in opposition to the two proposed constitutional amendments that failed.

"There has been a lot of talk about how one of the reasons may have been to divide the electorate and create a wedge," Klobuchar said. "I don't think they're going to do that again because if anything it appears to have boosted turnout on our side."

Klobuchar was talking to reporters at the same time the networks declared Obama won re-election. In Minnesota, the Obama campaign spent about a year and a half organizing for Election Day. They had 11 field offices and more than 40 staffers working to turn out the vote. 

Jeff Blodgett, who ran the Obama campaign in Minnesota, said that organizing made a huge difference.

Tom Bakk
Sen. Tom Bakk announces that the Democrats had taken back the Minnesota Senate at the Minnesota DFL Election Night Party at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in St. Paul, Minn. Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"Grassroots organizing in campaigns actually does make a difference," Blodgett said. "It adds to the vote. It actually can win elections. And a combination of the Obama campaigns and the amendments campaigns together, I think, have driven a huge turnout tonight."

That turnout helped Democrats win control of state government for the first time in 20 years.  

The DFL victories left Republicans speechless. Throughout the year, Republican Party Chair Pat Shortridge said his top priority was to keep control of the Legislature and help re-elect U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack. 

The party failed in both attempts. Shortridge declined to comment about their losses to MPR News. State Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, said he was puzzled as to why Republicans lost so many races across Minnesota.

"I don't know what's going on nationwide," Dettmer said. "I thought nationally the Republican Party ran a great race so I don't know what's going on with our country right now." 

Part of the Republican party's problem may stem from millions of dollars in debt state party leaders have struggled to erase. 

The party was also divided this summer when GOP delegates elected supporters of Ron Paul to represent the party at the Republican National Convention. Republican Kurt Bills won his Senate endorsement in large part because he had Paul's backing. He told supporters on Election Night that Republicans need to figure out how to pull together.

"Many of you understand full well the many challenges that this campaign faced," Bills said. "If we don't become the party of addition and multiplication we're going to become the party of division and subtraction. That's the basic math of it. So it's time to start learning that once you have that endorsement process you come together and you run against the opponents. The opponents are the blue guys."

Bills said the party better unify quickly since there are five statewide races on the ballot in 2014. Democrats, meanwhile, will have the difficult job of governing on both the state and national level.