First-term state Rep. Dario Anselmo of Edina is not a typical Republican. He made that clear last session when he co-sponsored legislation to toughen gun purchase background checks and joined DFL gun-control supporters for a sit-in on the House floor.
"People either saw that as brave, foolish or at least being a good representative," said Anselmo, a businessman who describes himself as an "independent thinker."
It was probably good politics, too. Anselmo represents a swing district that narrowly elected him over DFL incumbent Ron Erhardt in 2016 and voted nearly two-to-one for Hillary Clinton in the presidential race over Donald Trump. It's a seat DFLers want badly to take back this fall.
House Democrats are targeting 12 suburban districts held by Republicans as potential pickups. In each, Clinton got more votes for president than Trump did in 2016. DFLers need to gain 11 House seats to flip control, and Edina is a top target.
Republicans, who've controlled the House for nearly four years, are confident they'll keep the majority with all 134 seats on the ballot in November. Anselmo's district, though, will be a key test.
Anselmo's DFL challenger, Heather Edelson, believes voters there want a change.
"I know Dario personally. He's a nice person," she said. "But what I will tell you is nice isn't going to cut it this year."
Edelson, who serves on local education and crime prevention committees, is a second-time candidate in District 49A. She unsuccessfully challenged Erhardt for the DFL endorsement two years ago. Gun safety is also a big campaign issue for Edelson. But she said it will take Democrats in charge to get something done.
"People are talking a lot about gun legislation," she said. "People in Edina — residents, both Democrats and Republicans, want to see it passed. I just don't see it happening under a Republican majority."
House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, likes her party's chances because of the quality of the candidates who have stepped forward. "When Donald Trump got elected, they said, 'Well, now I really have to get involved. I cannot stand on the sidelines with this going on.'"
Hortman said she believes history is on the Democrats' side, that the party opposite of the president picks up an average of 17 Minnesota House seats in midterm elections.
But GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt is confident about holding the majority and notes that House Republicans have their own pick-up opportunities, including seven districts currently held by Democrats where Trump won in 2016. One is in the suburbs. The rest are in rural areas, including two open seats.
Daudt, R-Zimmerman, said Democrats are trying to knock off some popular Republican incumbents, including Sarah Anderson of Plymouth, Kelly Fenton of Woodbury and Jenifer Loon of Eden Prairie, and he contends they're unlikely to succeed.
"We've got strong Republican women who have run elections in the past and have exceeded the base Republican numbers in their district," he said. "They've done that because they've done a great job of representing their district."
Anselmo believes his constituents won't vote against him as a Republican simply because of feelings they may have about President Trump. "In Edina," he said, "I think people feel pretty good about the economy."
Key districts in the fight for the Minnesota House
Here's a look at the Minnesota House races drawing the most attention from Democrats and Republicans. Each line shows the district, the incumbent and the challenger.
Democrats are eying these 12 incumbent seats in the Minnesota House where Hillary Clinton won in 2016:
• 33B Rep. Cindy Pugh, R-Chanhassen | Kelly Morrison, DFL
• 34B Rep. Dennis Smith, R-Maple Grove | Kristin Bahner, DFL
• 42A Rep. Randy Jessup, R-Shoreview | Kelly Moller, DFL
• 44A Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth | Ginny Klevorn, DFL
• 48B Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie | Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn, DFL
• 49A Rep. Dario Anselmo, R-Edina | Heather Edelson, DFL
• 52B Rep. Regina Barr, R-Inver Grove Heights | Ruth Richardson, DFL
• 53B Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury | Steve Sandell, DFL
• 54A Rep. Keith Franke, R-St. Paul Park | Ann Claflin, DFL
• 56A Rep. Drew Christiensen, R-Savage | Hunter Cantrell, DFL
• 56B Rep. Roz Peterson, R-Lakeville | Alice Mann, DFL
• 57B Rep. Anna Wills, R-Rosemount | John Huot, DFL
Republicans hope to take these seven DFL House seats where Donald Trump won in 2016:
• 3A Rep. Rob Ecklund, DFL-International Falls | Randy Goutermont, R
• 4B Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth | Jason Peterson, R
• 6A Rep. Julie Sandstede, DFL-Hibbing | Guy Anderson, R
• 6B Rep. Jason Metsa, Virginia (retiring), Shaun Hainey and Dave Lislegard, DFL | Skeeter Tomczak, R
• 19A Rep. Clark Johnson, DFL-North Mankato (retiring), Jeff Brand, DFL | Kim Spears, R
• 27B Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin | Christine Green, R
• 37A Rep. Erin Koegel, DFL-Spring Lake Park | Anthony Wilder, R