Trump wave rolls across Minnesota politics

Trump supporters celebrate.
Trump supporter Aimee Arnold of Delano, right, reacted to the announcement that Donald Trump will be the next president Tuesday night.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

Updated Nov. 9, 3:15 a.m. | Posted: Nov. 8., 7:13 p.m.

Donald Trump helped drive a Republican train through Minnesota state and local politics Tuesday. That muscle helped the GOP keep the Minnesota House and take control of the state Senate. It made a couple of Minnesota U.S. House races extremely close.

Here's a look at some of the campaigns that made for a long night and early morning in Minnesota.

Minnesota House

Republicans held a 12-seat advantage over Democrats, 73 to 61, in the Minnesota House before Election Day. Democrats needed to gain seven seats to win majority control. But it was clear early in the evening that it wasn't going to happen.

Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman, said the Republican muscle in the House was evidence that "Minnesotans soundly rejected" DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's push for a united DFL government.

History was also made another way Tuesday in the House.

Ilhan Omar greets people at the DFL party.
New elected Ilhan Omar greets people at the DFL party at the Hilton Hotel in Minneapolis.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

In District 60B, which includes parts of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, southeast Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis organizer Ilhan Omar won election and will become the nation's first Somali-American legislator.

The seat was represented for decades by DFLer Phyllis Kahn. Omar defeated Kahn in a primary contest as Kahn was seeking her 22nd term in the Minnesota House.

Minnesota Senate

 Scott Gregory of New Hope cheers as Fla. is called.
Scott Gregory of New Hope cheers as another state went to Trump.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

Democrats held a 10-seat advantage over Republicans in the Senate, 38 to 28 with one vacant seat. Republicans needed to gain six seats to take control of the body.

But by early Wednesday morning, DFL Party Chair Ken Martin conceded Democrats were "fighting for dear life" to hang on to the Senate.

Hours later, Republicans tipped control their way.

One of the highest profile DFL losses came in northwest Minnesota where Senate Taxes Committee Chair Rod Skoe of Clearbrook lost badly to Republican Paul Utke.

Rod Skoe
Sen. Rod Skoe, left, D-Clearbrook, talks with a Senate colleague at the State Capitol in 2013.
Jim Mone | AP 2013

Skoe, one of the Senate's most prominent Democrats, had said outside groups were targeting him with mailers, commercials and social media campaigns, including one that used an altered photo of him with gun-control advocate and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Trump's outstate power didn't extend into the Twin Cities suburbs. As Republicans were taking control of the Senate DFLers defeated Senate Republican Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie.

Hann was beaten by DFLer Steve Cwodzinski, a recently retired high school civics teacher.

Paul Anderson, Rep. candidate in Senate District 44
Paul Anderson, Republican candidate in Senate District 44 on Oct. 20, 2016.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Throughout the race, Democrats tried to paint Hann as out of sync with his suburban district's voters on light rail transit and other issues.

Republicans picked up a Senate seat in the west metro relatively early in Tuesday night voting. Paul Anderson edged out DFLer Deb Calvert the district held by state Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka. Bonoff lost her race for Congress Tuesday against GOP U.S. House Rep. Erik Paulsen.

They also scored a victory in southern Minnesota where incumbent state Sen. Vicki Jensen, DFL-Owatonna, lost to Republican John Jasinski.

By early morning Wednesday the GOP found itself in striking distance of Senate control.

"Turnout looks solid to strong, so I think what's happening is that Donald Trump's pull in greater Minnesota has been more significant than Hillary Clinton's pull" in the Twin Cities area, said MPR News analyst Todd Rapp.

Rapp suggested voters also went Republican to send a message of unhappiness over big projected jumps in health coverage costs for people who buy coverage outside of an employer, a byproduct of the federal Affordable Care Act, which was nearly universally opposed by Republicans and embraced by state Democrats.

Minnesota congressional races

Jason Lewis with volunteers
Jason Lewis, a former radio show host, looks on as volunteers at his Burnsville campaign headquarters make calls in July.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Three U.S. House races in Minnesota were some of the most closely watched in the nation.

In the 2nd Congressional District, DFLer Angie Craig and Republican Jason Lewis campaigned to replace retiring Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline. Lewis won.

The 8th Congressional District rematch between incumbent DFL U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and Stewart Mills was one of the most competitive and one of the most expensive U.S. House races in the country.

Nolan prevailed.

Republicans hoped support in the district for Trump would lift Mills in a district that has historically been reliably Democratic.

After midnight, Nolan addressed the press.
After midnight, Rep. Rick Nolan addressed the press, saying he was going to go to bed and acknowledging that the count was very close at his election night party at the Arrowwood Lodge in Baxter.
Vickie Kettlewell for MPR News

Bret Sample, a retired steelworker and veteran from McGregor, said he was a former DFLer supporting Mills.

"I didn't leave the party, the party left me," said Sample. "The Democratic Party is no longer farm, labor. It's special interests."

Trump initially appeared more a liability in the 3rd Congressional District. DFLers worked hard throughout the campaign to tie Trump and Paulsen together. But incumbent GOP U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen defeated state Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka.

Paulsen fits the district very well and most Republicans were comfortable with he re-election, said MPR News political analyst Maureen Shaver. Bonoff, she added, got into the race late.

Rep. Tim Walz
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill March 20, 2007 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong | Getty Images 2007

One race, surprisingly, continued to linger into the wee hours Wednesday: In Minnesota's 1st Congressional District, Democratic U.S Rep. Tim Walz remained locked in a very close race to keep his seat. He survived.

There was less drama in Minnesota's other congressional races. Republican Tom Emmer comfortably won re-election as did DFL U.S. Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison.

Legislative pay amendment

Minnesotans have voted by a massive margin to put an independent commission in charge of deciding whether state legislators should get a raise.

The change to the state's constitution will take some political pressure off legislators, who have long struggled with setting their own pay.

The last time legislators gave themselves a raise was in 1999. Since then, they've made a base pay $31,140 a year plus an allowance to help cover daily expenses during session.

State Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, said he sponsored the change to the state's constitution because he thinks it's a conflict of interest for legislators to set their own salaries.

"The people of Minnesota didn't send us to St. Paul to argue about our pay should be," he said. "They sent us there to discuss and address their concerns."

A bipartisan 16-member commission will be appointed by the governor and the Minnesota Supreme Court's chief justice. Sitting or former legislators and their spouses will be barred from the commission. So will lobbyists, judges and state employees.

The group will meet every two years to decide whether legislative pay should go up, down or stay the same.

Some commission supporters say that the Legislature's low salary deters capable candidates who would like to run for office.

Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow, Lake said he thinks it's more likely legislators will get a raise now that the question is out of their hands — and that's one reason he opposed the amendment when it was wending its way through the Legislature.

He said it was a good for legislators to feel wary about giving themselves a raise.

"This citizen's panel will much [more quickly and easily] raise legislative salaries, which is what I argued on the Senate floor when I voted against it," he said. "It's been a very high standard."

The commission will start its work in January.

Supreme Court race

Incumbent Minnesota Supreme Court justice Natalie Hudson defeated challenger Michelle MacDonald Tuesday night. Hudson, who will serve a six-year term, was appointed to the bench by Gov. Mark Dayton last year to replace retiring justice Alan Page.

Natalie Hudson
Gov. Mark Dayton announces the appointment of Judge Natalie E. Hudson to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2015.
Renee Jones Schneider | Star Tribune via AP 2015

Hudson, who previously served on the court of appeals for 13 years, said she is very grateful to voters for the victory.

"This is a job I truly love and it is my privilege, true privilege, to serve the citizens of Minnesota in this capacity," she said. "And I'm just pleased that I'll have the opportunity to continue doing so."

Hudson has also served as an assistant attorney general for the state of Minnesota, as St. Paul city attorney and as assistant dean at Hamline University School of Law.

Tuesday night's loss marked Michelle MacDonald's second unsuccessful attempt to be elected to the state's highest court. In 2014, she was defeated by David Lillehaug.

School races

Minneapolis voters overwhelmingly renewed a school district operating levy that supplies about 13 percent of the district's budget. Campaign manager Donald McFarland called the 83 percent "yes" vote an indication of confidence in new Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff.

Unofficial results also put three new members on the Minneapolis school board.

Statewide, several of the 10 districts looking for capital project money failed to pass their referendums.

Minnesota School Boards Association communications director Greg Abbott said a tax provision that would have reduced the impact of bond issues on farmers failed to get through last legislative session when Dayton vetoed the tax bill over a wording error.

Thirty-two school districts asked for operating money, according to the school boards association. Unofficial results had North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale voters passing an operating levy increase for the first time since 2002.

Election officials throughout the day Tuesday reported a largely orderly process at Minnesota voting sites.

In Rochester and some other Minnesota towns, election judges said same-day registration was high. At one point, Rochester election judge Randi Kirchner said she had to request more same-day registration forms to keep up with demand.

"There's just been such a commitment to not letting a hurdle stand in the way," she said early in the evening. "They'll do what they need to do to make sure they're registered and have their voice heard and their votes count. It's great. It's exciting to see."

Glitches appeared to be minor. At one Eagan polling site, a handful of voters had their candidate selections appear on the voting machine display screen after they submitted their ballots. They included Jim West, who said people standing behind him in line could easily see whom he voted for.

"Considering the emotion that's behind this election, yes, I would like to keep my vote confidential," said West. "To have it on the screen like that was shocking."

The biggest complaints seemed to revolve around attempts to influence voters near polling sites. Minnesota law prohibits electioneering within 100 feet of a voting site. When some voters in the south and west metro complained of campaign signs improperly planted on polling place property, election officials moved quickly to remove them.

Many Minnesotans had already cast their votes before Tuesday. Secretary of State Steve Simon told MPR News that the number of early voters had surged late Monday, bringing the total to more than 650,000.

Four years ago early voters totaled only 267,000, Simon said. Minnesota law has been liberalized to allow voters to cast absentee ballots without having to attest that they would be away or unavailable on Election Day.

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