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DFL won Twin Cities suburbs. But is it a shift or a blip?

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Phillips' supporters cheer his win.
Supporters of Minnesota 3rd Congressional District Democratic candidate Dean Phillips cheer as his victory was announced during an election results party hosted at the Hilton in Bloomington Nov. 6, 2018.
Liam James Doyle for MPR News

A Democratic wave in the Twin Cities suburbs led to the defeats last week of two incumbent GOP U.S. House members and helped shift control of the state House back to the DFL.

The key question now: Is it permanent?

The next speaker of the Minnesota House, herself a suburban Democrat, believes it is and that the Twin Cities suburbs will soon be the DFL Party's power base in Minnesota following those sweeping Election Day victories.

"Unless Republicans change their party back to a mainstream, reasonable-type party, I don't think that they have any chance of getting suburbanites back," Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said in an interview with MPR News. "Suburbanites are moderate folks. They believe in climate change. They are generally pro-choice. They believe in investing in their public schools. They take transit to work. And the Republican Party has completely left all of those issues."

Sasha Williams celebrates as Democrats take control of the Minnesota House.
Sasha Williams celebrates as Democrats take control of the Minnesota House on Nov. 6 in Eagan.
Ellen Schmidt for MPR News

GOP leaders see the landscape very differently, arguing the losses were simply part of the historical pattern for midterm elections rather than a rejection of Minnesota Republican policies or President Trump.

Whatever the explanation, the results were clear. Republican U.S. House Reps. Jason Lewis and Erik Paulsen were beaten as their suburban bases switched, and DFLers gained 18 seats to flip the state House, with many of those wins scored in the suburbs.

"I don't think things are changing in the suburbs," said Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan. "What happened in the suburbs was a result of that pendulum swing on the national level, which is what we've seen historically over time."

When district maps are redrawn following the 2020 census, it's certain the suburbs, growing in population, will become an even more important place for politics. But what will those suburban voters do in the 2020 election?

Shoppers who stopped to talk to a reporter recently outside an Eden Prairie grocery store didn't feel like last week's election guaranteed a permanent suburban shift to Democrats.

Trump was not to blame for Paulsen's loss, said Terri Neff of Minnetonka. She said she didn't vote for Paulsen's opponent, Dean Phillips. But she credits the DFLer with campaigning smarter than Paulsen.

"Dean Phillips ran an excellent campaign," said Neff, adding she hoped the district's Democratic shift wasn't permanent.

Tom Pritzker
Outside a grocery store in Eden Prairie across the street from outgoing Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen's office, Tom Pritzker of Plymouth said he doesn't think recent DFL victories in the suburbs assure Democrats of a long-term hold on the suburbs.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Tom Pritzker of Plymouth described himself as a lifelong Democrat happy for the Democrats' suburban victories, but he said he doesn't think that assures the party's long-term hold on the suburbs.

"I think politics goes a little bit in cycles," he said. "I think there was a little bit of Republican backlash."

DFL strategist and MPR News political analyst Todd Rapp agreed Republican losses in the suburbs had more to do with the president than political ideology.

"The suburbs primary turned against Donald Trump's presidency and not necessarily all of the policies," he said. "I have a feeling they're mixed on those, but rather the tone."

Rapp, though, said the suburbs will be a difficult place for Republicans if the status quo at the top of their party prevails.

"I don't think this is yet a permanent change in how these people are going to vote. I do think however as long as Donald Trump approaches the presidency with his current strategies there's a good chance they will stay with the Democratic Party."