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Area DFL gets (most of) its blue wave

November 9, 2018

Rochester area DFLers gathered Tuesday night hoping for a blue wave, and by the end of the night, they got most of it.

With a few caveats.

Local Democrats jumped from their seats and pumped their fists in the air at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers training facility when Democrat Tim Walz was declared the next governor; when Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith won their U.S. Senate seats; and when Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Minnesota House.

“Flipping the (U.S.) House had to be the No. 1 goal, so in that respect, it is a major win for tonight,” said Pernell Meier, a DFL organizer. “Had we come out of this tonight with the status quo and Republicans essentially in control of all three branches of government, it would have been an absolute disaster.”

Not everything went he Democrats’ way. Republican Jim Hagedorn won the 1st Congressional District race over Democrat Dan Feehan by the slimmest of margins.

Also, first-time DFL candidates, Jamie Mahlberg and Tyrel Clark, came up short in their efforts to flip two conservative-leaning state House districts. State Rep. Duane Quam, a Byron Republican, won his fifth term, defeating Mahlberg 54 percent to 46 percent. And state Rep. Nels Pierson, a Stewartville Republican, defeated Democrat Tyrel Clark 54 percent to 46 percent.

Still, Tuesday’s midterm election results were a far cry from the emotional devastation that many Democratic candidates and activists felt when Donald Trump was elected president over their standard-bearer, Hillary Clinton, two years ago.

For some, that moment became a call to arms. Beth Thompson had never considered herself an overtly political person. But after Trump won, the Rochester resident became a DFL activist, knocking on 5,300 doors for Democratic candidates.

“I needed to wake to wake up Nov. 7 knowing that I did everything I could have done,” Thompson said.

Several Democrats at the IBEW said a successful evening would have been hard to imagine without Democrats at least taking control of the U.S. House.

“It’s certainly better than two years ago,” said state Rep. Tina Liebling, a Rochester Democrat who won her eighth term in the Minnesota House of Representatives. “We feel very relieved that the Democrats have taken back the U.S. House, because at least there’s an opportunity to put some kind of check on Trump.”

State Rep. Duane Sauke won a second-two year term by defeating Republican Kenneth Bush.

Democrats swept into power in the Minnesota House with the strong backing of suburban voters. They needed only 11 seats to win a state House majority and ended up gaining at least 15. Republicans retained their one-seat majority in the state Senate by winning a special election.

Liebling’s seniority puts her line to be a committee chair, possibly on health care. Even with a divided Legislature, Liebling expressed confidence that the two parties could work together.

“There are some Republicans who work on health care who I can work with,” Liebling said. “But we might have to scale back some of the things we would want to do, but yet there are some things that people can agree on.”

Clark and his team of supporters knocked on 15,000 doors and had 5,000 conversations with residents in House District 26B. Despite not winning the race, Clark said he could point to a “lot of small wins” that made the experience worthwhile.

Clark, whose tenure as Eyota mayor is coming to an end in a couple of months, was noncommittal about his future political prospects.

“I’m not throwing away the campaign signs,” Clark said. “But beyond that, I don’t know. We’ll see. There’s something in the future, but just what it is, I don’t know.”

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