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The top 15 Minnesota House races to watch

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A tree stands in front of the State Capitol
A tree stands in silhouette in front of the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. in 2017.
Evan Frost | MPR News

It's easy to forget that control of the Minnesota House of Representatives is up for grabs on Nov. 6.

There are so many other races listed on the ballot above state representative, including a wide-open governor's race, an attorney general contest, two U.S. Senate seats and competitive congressional races in plenty of areas. But there's a lot at stake in the battle to control the 134-seat Minnesota House.

Republicans currently control the entire Legislature, ending the last session with a 77-57 majority in the House. If things break their way, they could control all of state government if they win the governorship on Election Day and retain a long-held Senate seat.

Democrats need to pick up 11 seats to win back control of the House for the first time since 2014. They're confident that things favor them in a midterm election where their party base is energized in opposition to the presidency of Donald Trump.

But only a small number of House seats are considered competitive. MPR News talked to operatives on both sides, looked at historical voting trends and and analyzed the final round of campaign finance reports before Election Day, which provide a roadmap to the districts parties and outside groups consider most in play.

We've narrowed it down to 15 House races to watch. The list isn't all encompassing: it doesn't include a single central Minnesota Senate seat on the ballot in a special election after the incumbent, Republican Sen. Michelle Fischbach, who left the Legislature ahead of a run for lieutenant governor. The victor in that race will break a 33-33 tie and determine which party controls the chamber.

It also doesn't include St. Cloud's House District 14B, which is held by state Rep. Jim Knoblach. He left the race in September after his daughter told MPR News that he behaved inappropriately toward her for most of her life. He denies the allegations but still suspended his bid for re-election, and operatives on both sides think Democrat Dan Wolgamott will win.

District 19A

Incumbent: None
Cities covered: North Mankato
Outside/party spending: $148,776

DFL Rep. Clark Johnson beat Republican candidate Kim Spears two years ago by roughly 1,200 votes. This year, Johnson won't be back on the ballot, but Spears will. He's running for the now open seat, after Johnson opted to retire, against Democrat and St. Peter City Councilor Jeff Brand. Republicans see this as one of their pickup opportunities.

District 34B

Incumbent: Dennis Smith (R) 
Cities covered: Maple Grove
Outside/party spending: $304,482

Two years ago, two-term Republican Rep. Dennis Smith beat DFL candidate and IT consultant Kristin Bahner by less than 3,000 votes. She's back again to challenge him this year, and outside groups have been pouring money into the race to defend Smith, signaling they think it's one to watch on Election Night.

District 36A

Incumbent: None
Cities covered: Coon Rapids, Champlin
Outside/party spending: $300,862

This suburban district favored Donald Trump in 2016 — but not by much. He won the district by roughly 3 percentage points, and the incumbent, Republican Rep. Mark Uglem, is leaving the seat. Democrats think they have a chance with Zack Stephenson, a prosecutor. Republicans recruited high school teacher Bill Maresh.

District 37A

Incumbent: Erin Koegel (DFL) 
Cities covered: Coon Rapids, Blaine, Spring Lake Park
Outside/party spending: $311,552

Republican and businessman Anthony Wilder is taking on incumbent DFL Rep. Erin Koegel for the second time, after Koegel won the seat two years ago by just 539 votes. Back then, it was a three-way contest that included a Libertarian Party candidate who received 1,600 votes. There's no third party candidate this year, and Wilder said he's working to win over those voters.

District 38B

Incumbent: None
Cities covered: Hugo, Dellwood, White Bear Lake, North Oaks
Outside/party spending: $224,609

Former House Majority leader Matt Dean's exit from the district to run for governor is creating an unexpectedly competitive race in an area that was considered reliably conservative. DFL activist Ami Wazlawik is challenging former Republican state auditor Patti Anderson for the open seat, and groups are dropping in to help both sides

District 42A

Incumbent: Randy Jessup (R) 
Cities covered: Arden Hills, Shoreview, Mounds View, Spring Lake Park
Outside/party spending: $254,958

This is another district that went heavily for Hillary Clinton — by 14 points. But Republican Rep. Randy Jessup won the House seat in a narrow victory. This year, he's being challenged by attorney Kelly Moller, and Democrats like their chances in taking the district back.

District 44A

Incumbent: Sarah Anderson (R) 
Cities covered: Plymouth
Outside/party spending: $373,244

Republican Rep. Sarah Anderson's district is the exact profile Democrats are targeting this fall: a suburban seat that went for Hillary Clinton two years ago by 14 points. But Anderson is running for her 7th term and she's survived tough races before. She's facing a rematch this year with Ginny Klevorn, whom she beat by 8 points in 2016. Her district has had the most spending by the parties and outside groups so far.

District 49A

Incumbent: Dario Anselmo (R) 
Cities covered: Edina
Outside/party spending: $97,165

Republican Rep. Dario Anselmo served as a moderate Republican in his Democratic-leaning district, breaking ranks on issues like gun control. But some think that might not be enough in a district that borders south Minneapolis and went for Hillary Clinton by 27 points. Heather Edelson, a therapist who works in mental health, is running on the Democratic side.

District 52B

Incumbent: Regina Barr (R) 
Cities covered: Inver Grove Heights, Mendota Heights, Sunfish Lake, Eagan
Outside/party spending: $288,714

Republican Rep. Regina Barr was one of the bright spots for Republicans in 2016, picking up a long-held DFL seat by fewer than 200 votes. This year, Democrats want to take that seat back, and they think they've got a good shot in a district that voted for Hillary Clinton by nearly 8 points. Attorney Ruth Richardson is running for the Democrats.

District 53B

Incumbent: Kelly Fenton (R) 
Cities covered: Woodbury
Outside/party spending: $252,763

Republican Rep. Kelly Fenton is running for her third term, and she did well two years ago, beating her DFL opponent by more than 10 percentage points. But Republicans have swooped in to spend more money defending her seat this year, after her district favored Hillary Clinton in the last election. Her opponent this year is Steve Sandell, a former teacher who is getting help from groups like Everytown for Gun Safety.

District 54A

Incumbent: Keith Franke (R) 
Cities covered: South St. Paul, St. Paul, Cottage Grove, Newport, Grey Cloud Island Township
Outside/party spending: $309,624

Rep. Keith Franke has strong name recognition in this blue-collar district as the former mayor and owner of two local businesses. That's helped him hang on to a district that favored Hillary Clinton in the last election. He has a new challenger this cycle, DFLer Anne Claflin, an environmental scientist.

District 55A

Incumbent: None
Cities covered: Shakopee, Louisville Township, Jackson Township
Outside/party spending: $144,945

Republicans have a tough race on their hands in a district that would usually be reliably conservative with former Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke running for the Democrats. He's well known in the district, and the seat is unexpectedly wide open, after incumbent Rep. Bob Loonan lost a primary to Erik Mortensen, who runs his own business.

District 56B

Incumbent: Roz Peterson (R) 
Cities covered: Burnsville, Lakeville
Outside/party spending: $317,825

This suburban district is consistently one of the most competitive in the state. For years it flipped back-and-forth between parties, but Peterson held on to the seat and won a second term two years ago. Now she's being challenged by Alice Mann, a doctor who is talking about her experience in health care, the biggest issue on the campaign trail this fall.

District 57A

Incumbent: None
Cities covered: Apple Valley, Lakeville
Outside/party spending: $369,839  

DFL Rep. Erin Maye Quade won her Apple Valley House seat two years ago after years of Republican control, but she left the seat this summer to run for lieutenant governor, putting an already competitive district directly in Republican sights. Republicans recruited real estate agent Matt Lundin to run for the seat, while Democrats have fielded Robert Bierman, who runs his own flooring and furnishing company.

District 57B

Incumbent: Anna Wills (R) 
Cities covered: Apple Valley, Rosemount, Coates
Outside/party spending: $212,316

Anna Wills comfortably defeated Democratic challenger and realtor John Hout two years ago, but he's back again this year, and Democrats feel good about their chances after the district went for Hillary Clinton by more than 4 percentage points. There are similar elements at play in the nearby House seat 56A, where Republican Rep. Drew Christensen is the incumbent.

Correction (Nov. 1, 2018): An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that there is an incumbent on the general election ballot in District 55A.