Republicans wrested control of the Minnesota House on Tuesday, providing a bulwark for the GOP against newly re-elected DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and a DFL Senate.
Republicans needed to flip seven seats of the 134 member House to win the majority. With the races that had been called by Wednesday morning, the GOP had ousted at least 11 incumbent DFLers.
Among those they had defeated were DFL Reps. Shannon Savick, Patti Fritz and Andrew Falk in outstate Minnesota.
A Republican House could stand in the way of Dayton’s second-term initiatives and force compromise among the two parties and the two houses of the Legislature.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, who hopes to be the next speaker, said he would be willing to work with anyone to bring about the fiscal prudence and business climate his party sees as priorities.
“I’m very proud to announce that we’re putting an end to single-party DFL control,” Daudt said, predicting that Republicans would pick up at least 10 seats. The Republican from Crown arrived at the GOP’s election night party after midnight, as workers were breaking down the finery, breathing new life into Republicans’ flagging energy.
“This really was a tight contest,” Daudt said.
House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, had just a one-term tenure, like the Republican speaker before him. Now he will try to lead the DFL in the minority.
“We have a lot to be proud of. … We’re going to keep fighting for it,” said Thissen.
A House divided
The election offered Minnesotans a choice of whether to embrace the policies of the past two years during which the DFL controlled both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office — and increased taxes and spending and legalized gay marriage and medical marijuana.
Instead, Minnesotans chose divided government.
Strategists for both parties said they found an electorate less engaged than in years past and more frustrated than ever with the torrent of negative mail pieces, TV, radio and Internet ads that flooded mailboxes, inboxes and airwaves.
Daudt said a Republican House would seek to reduce taxes and regulations, create a stable nursing home funding stream, build and fix roads and bridges and work to end the state’s racial achievement gap in education.
Republicans won the majority by beating the DFL’s geographically broad but fragile coalition of urban, suburban and rural seats.
While holding their urban base and winning several tight suburban races, the DFL lost seats in rural Minnesota.
DFL Rep. Jon Ward, DFL-Baxter, who lost to Republican Joshua Heintzeman in District 10A, said he had been prepared for any result.
“I don’t have any regrets,” Ward said. “It was remarkable. There were many, many, many progressive policies, financial decisions, that we made over the last few years that made this state better and I’m proud of having participated in that.”
In the final days, the two parties were battling fiercely in nearly two dozen districts.
$13 million and counting
Zach Rodvold, who managed the DFL effort, counted 30 districts where Republicans and their outside allies spent significant money, nearly all of them in districts that had been held by DFL incumbents.
Much of that money was invisible to state campaign finance regulators because it came from political nonprofits, which operate outside the state’s campaign finance purview.
The GOP’s Patrick agreed that Republicans successfully expanded the map, and he credited the party’s aggressive effort to recruit candidates with allowing them to challenge more DFL districts.
With so much at stake across so many districts, money rained down, with this year’s House contests likely to become the most expensive in state history.
St. Cloud battle
Candidates and their allies have spent more than $13 million in the election, with 20 races seeing more than $100,000 in noncandidate spending.
Spending was expected to top $1 million in the St. Cloud district of DFL Rep. Zach Dorholt, who was challenged by former Rep. Jim Knoblach.
Political action committees and other groups not controlled by the candidates had spent nearly $800,000 as of three weeks ago, with spending ramped up even more in the final weeks.
Dorholt and Knoblach combined to spend almost $150,000 from their own coffers, with Knoblach spending about twice as much as Dorholt.
“Whomever gets elected needs to do something about campaign finance reform, because this is just absurd,” Dorholt said late Tuesday.
With all precincts reporting Wednesday morning, Knoblach had won the race by a mere 69 votes -- 5,674 to 5,605. That put the race -- with a difference of 0.62 percent separating the candidates -- slightly out of range of a state-paid recount. The state will pay for a recount if a legislative race is closer than one-half of one percent.
In a number of races, though, recounts are possible. In the Minnetonka area, for example, DFL Rep. Yvonne Selcer had defeated Republican Kirk Stensrud by only 36 votes. That's a difference of one-tenth of one percent of the total votes cast.
The parties will now decide their new leaders. Daudt said he deserved to be speaker, but he said he expects a challenger. Some Republicans were readying for the fight even before the results were known.
Staff writers Eric Roper, Jennifer Brooks and Karen Zamora and data editor Glenn Howatt contributed to this report.