Updated 12:35 a.m. | Posted: 9 p.m.
Republicans flexed their Election Day muscle Tuesday in U.S. House races across the country — but not in Minnesota.
DFL incumbents here bucked the trend, prevailing in two key northern Minnesota congressional districts where they were thought to be vulnerable.
In the tighter of those races, incumbent Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan squeezed out a win over Republican newcomer Stewart Mills in the race for the Minnesota 8th District.
On the other side of the state, DFL Rep. Collin Peterson won re-election in Minnesota's sprawling 7th District in a race against Republican challenger state Sen. Torrey Westrom that ended up not nearly as close as observers expected.
Overall, Minnesota voters were good to incumbents in congressional races, whatever their parties. In the Minnesota 6th, Republican Tom Emmer comfortably beat DFLer Joe Perske to win the seat opened by the retirement of Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann.
For much of the night, though, the focus fell on Minnesota's northern districts. Both were closely watched nationally for their potential to tip to Republicans.
In the 7th, Peterson had won re-election comfortably in years past, typically by double-digit margins. But national Republicans this year saw the district as a potential pickup.
Republican Mitt Romney pulled in 53 percent of the district's 2012 presidential vote; the 7th is also one of just a handful of congressional districts in the country where Republicans outnumber Democrats but a Democrat holds the seat.
In the end, though, Peterson prevailed easily. With 87 percent of precincts reporting, Peterson had pulled in 54 percent of the vote.
For most of the night, the 8th District race was too close to call as DFL Rep. Rick Nolan struggled with a stiff challenge from Republican Stewart Mills in the district stretching from the edge of the Twin Cities suburbs northeast to the Canadian border.
With about 72 percent of precincts reporting, Nolan had 49 percent of the vote and Mills was at 47 percent.
Long a DFL stronghold, the Minnesota 8th has toggled between Republicans and Democrats the past few elections as the district expanded south into more conservative precincts in the north metro area.
Republicans saw a chance this year to retake the district with Mills, an executive with his family's Mills Fleet Farm stores who's viewed as a rising young star in GOP circles.
The race became one of the most expensive House campaigns in the country with final spending by political groups unaffiliated with either candidate clocking in at more than $12.5 million.
The biggest spenders included the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the National Rifle Association, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the conservative American Action Network.
Political observers tagged Nolan as one of the most vulnerable incumbent House members. The presence of Green Party candidate Ray "Skip" Sandman had also been a concern for Nolan, who acknowledged on Tuesday that Sandman was taking 4 to 5 percent in some polls. Nolan said early in the evening it was bound to be a close contest, and he was right.
The candidates fought it out during the fall over taxes, health care, mining and gun rights as they sought to lure swing voters. Democrats portrayed Mills as a child of privilege with no sense of the struggles of everyday Minnesotans. Republicans attacked Nolan as a big spender out of touch with the district.
In other U.S. House races, Republican Erik Paulsen and DFLers Keith Ellison, Tim Walz and Betty McCollum easily won their re-election bids to the U.S. House Tuesday night. All three were considered safe for re-election and the vote totals reflected that.
Walz was in a surprisingly tight race early on in his southern Minnesota district. He wasn't expected to have much of a race for the Minnesota 1st, but Republican Jim Hagedorn showed some strength.
Walz, though, began pulling away during the evening. With 80 percent of precincts reporting, he had 54 percent of the vote versus 46 percent for Hagedorn.
In the 7th District, the GOP saw Westrom as a solid candidate and the money poured in. National Republican and Democratic groups spent some $9 million to try to influence the outcome.
Both parties made a big push with largely negative ads in the closing weeks. GOP groups pounded on Peterson as a career politician disconnected from Minnesota after 23 years in Washington.
Agriculture and the federal health care law became key issues in the campaign for the largely rural district. Peterson touted his position as ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee and his work as a key player navigating the farm bill through Congress.
"The Congress needs people like me who will work on a bipartisan basis," he said in September during a campaign swing in Willmar. "We need more people like me, not less."
Westrom, an 18-year state house veteran from Elbow Lake, vowed to work to limit the size of the federal government, repeal the Affordable Care Act and champion agriculture if elected. He also touted his farm credentials -- he grew up on a dairy farm and lost his eyesight in an accident at 14.
"We would come up with solutions. That's what Congress needs to do, is come up with solutions," he said earlier this fall.