Democrats head for majority in Minnesota House as GOP concedes

November 7, 2018

Democrats are poised to sweep into power in the Minnesota House with suburban voters responsible for the victory while Republicans appeared likely to hang on to their majority in the state Senate.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt conceded to House Democratic leader Melissa Hortman Tuesday night. Democrats, buoyed by high turnout and frustrations over President Donald Trump, were close to gaining at least the 11 seats they needed to win the House majority.

Democrats had a narrow path through the suburbs in districts won by Hillary Clinton, and it appears they were able to flip those seats despite strong performances from our candidates who consistently outperformed the top of the ticket in nearly every race, Daudt, R-Crown, said in a statement.

The new slate of state lawmakers will head to the Capitol in January with a long list of priorities, from lowering health care costs to preventing elder abuse to quickly wrapping up state tax policy changes. But they will have to contend with a newly divided Legislature and different administration in the governors office. Democrat Gov.-elect Tim Walz will bring his set of initiatives to the Capitol, as he tries to move past the past couple years of acrimonious stalemates between Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislators.

In the singularly important state Senate special election between Republican Jeff Howe and Democrat Joe Perske, and in numerous House races, the results were still coming in. But Howe had a sizeable lead over Perske.

A special election for the St. Cloud-area Senate district previously held by Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach will tip the balance of political power in that body, currently composed of 33 Republicans and 33 Democrats. Howe, a state representative, and moderate Stearns County Commissioner Perske largely agree on policy matters. They nonetheless landed at the center of an expensive competition, with outside groups and political party organizations spending more than $1 million on the high-stakes race.

In the House, Democrats have concentrated on suburban districts as their path to take the majority, after spending four years in the minority. They have spent heavily in 12 Republican-held seats where more voters elected Hillary Clinton in 2016.

There was a strong slate of Democratic candidates and large number of volunteers this year, House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, has said. Frustration over President Donald Trump is driving some of that energy, she said, noting she has even heard of Republican voters vowing to vote the Democratic Party slate to send a message to the president.

But ahead of Election Day, several Republican candidates in the suburbs said they were doubtful Trump would factor significantly into their races.

There is some dissatisfaction at the federal level, and theres a lot of people who dont like or support Donald Trump as our president, and I totally get that, Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, said. And so that permeates some of the mood right now. But I think people when it gets down to more local races they are looking at what youve done, what youve accomplished, do they know you.

Loon lost to Democratic challenger Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn.

A fiery congressional race between Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen and Democrat Dean Phillips which Phillips won Tuesday night was also expected to mobilize voters in cities such as Eden Prairie and potentially impact legislative outcomes.

House Republicans and backers had also poured money into suburban seats. Voters in such districts have been inundated with campaign mailers, as well as digital, radio and television advertisements.

Noncandidate organizations spent more than $100,000 in 23 House races, 16 of which were suburban districts, according to campaign finance data filed Oct. 22.

Republicans have also been eyeing some of the areas currently held by Democrats in greater Minnesota territory the GOP increasingly sees as its stronghold.

Days before the election, after knocking on doors with candidates across the suburbs, Daudtpredicted swing voters would not turn out en masse to support Democrats.

The reality is most Minnesotans, including in the suburbs, are pretty content with where their lives are right now, he said. The economy is booming, unemployment is at record low rates, were taking steps to reduce the cost of health care.

Legislative candidates have spent months talking with voters and will head to the Capitol in January with long lists of priorities, from preventing elder abuse to quickly wrapping up state tax policy changes to working with the next governor on a state budget. Above all, Minnesotans biggest concern is health care, candidates said. The next set of state lawmakers must decide whether to continue a tax on health care providers and whether the state should spend hundreds of millions more to assist insurance companies and prevent potential rate hikes.

Sandy Strand, 66, of Burnsville, was one of the many voters for whom health care was a top priority. She said she and her husband do not identify with a particular political party. She opted for Democrat Tim Walz for governor but said, A lot of offices we vote Republican. She was one of many voters who said Tuesday they are tired of the gridlock in state government.

I dont like the Senate, the House and the governor fighting all the time, Strand said.

Star Tribune staff writer Erin Adler contributed to this report. Jessie Van Berkel 651-925-5044

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