Suburban voters push Democrats to Minnesota victories

Published 2:03 am Wednesday, November 7, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Democrats regained control of the state House and took two congressional seats from Republicans in Tuesday’s midterm elections, while Democratic Rep. Tim Walz defeated Republican Jeff Johnson for governor and Democratic Sen. Tina Smith kept her seat.

Bright spots for Republicans included a flip of a traditionally Democratic congressional seat in northeastern Minnesota and a victory in a special election for a single state Senate seat that prevented Democrats from taking that chamber.

Voters retained Smith for the final two years of Al Franken’s term over Republican challenger Karin Housley.

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Rep. Keith Ellison was elected attorney general in a race clouded by a domestic abuse allegation that drew far more attention to the contest than usual. But it was the struggle for the U.S. House that had many national observers eyeing Minnesota, where Democrats flipped two GOP seats, Republicans flipped a Democratic seat, and the race for Walz’s seat remained tight.


U.S. House

In northeastern Minnesota’s 8th District, Pete Stauber, a St. Louis County commissioner and retired Duluth police officer, defeated former state representative Joe Radinovich in a race that was seen as Republicans’ best chance nationwide of picking up a Democratic seat. The seat opened up with Rep. Rick Nolan’s retirement.

In the suburban 3rd District, Democratic businessman Dean Phillips defeated Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen. Paulsen formerly ran his family’s liquor company and is a grandson of the late advice columnist Abigail Van Buren, better known as Dear Abby. In the suburban/rural 2nd, Democratic former medical device company executive Angie Craig defeated incumbent Republican Jason Lewis, who narrowly beat her in 2016.

In southern Minnesota’s 1st District, Republican Jim Hagedorn, a former Treasury Department official and son of a former congressman, was locked in a tight race against Democratic Iraq War veteran Dan Feehan, who was acting assistant secretary of defense for readiness in the Obama administration. The seat became open when Walz ran for governor.

History was made in the solidly Democratic 5th District, where state Rep. Ilhan Omar became the first Somali-American — and one of the first two Muslim women — elected to Congress. Omar faced Republican Jennifer Zielinski in the Minneapolis-area district.



Powered by surging turnout in the suburbs that pushed Democrats to commanding victories up and down the ballot, Democratic House candidates were on track to unseat enough Republican incumbents to take back the majority.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt conceded they would lose the majority that they’ve held since 2015. The final margin of Democrats’ majority was unclear as votes were still being tallied.

It had been considered a tall order, as Democrats needed to flip 11 seats to take control of the chamber. Republicans were bullish on their chances of defending longtime incumbents even amid a backlash against President Donald Trump and his party.

Democrats’ new majority expands the party’s foothold in state government. Walz won the open race for governor, but Republicans kept control of the state Senate in a special election in a rural St. Cloud-area district.

The special election was triggered when GOP Sen. Michelle Fischbach resigned the seat to be sworn in as lieutenant governor. It’s generally a safe GOP district, but Fischbach’s departure left the Senate deadlocked at 33-33, raising the stakes in Tuesday’s election. Minnesota’s 66 remaining Senate districts aren’t on the ballot until 2020.

GOP Rep. Jeff Howe, who has represented half of the district since 2013, defeated former Sartell mayor and county commissioner Joe Perske. With two weeks to go, more than $1 million of mailers and political spending poured into the race.


Other statewide races

Secretary of State Steve Simon sought a second term as chief elections officer, emphasizing his work on beefing up cybersecurity to protect the election system from hacker attacks, and on boosting voter turnout. His Republican challenger was former state senator and former Red Wing mayor John Howe, who highlighted the office’s lesser-known functions of business registrations.

In the race for the open position of state auditor, Republican Pam Myhra, a certified public accountant, former state representative from Burnsville and former audit manager for the accounting firm KPMG, faced Democrat Julie Blaha, of Ramsey, former secretary-treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, former math teacher and former president of the teachers’ union in the Anoka-Hennepin school district.

Associate Justice Margaret Chutich sought re-election to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Her opponent, family law attorney Michelle MacDonald, was making a third run for the high court despite a past that included having her law license suspended for professional misconduct allegations. She remains on probation.



Minnesotans embraced their expanded right to vote early. More than 600,000 people had already voted via absentee and mail-in ballots by Tuesday morning.