DFLers took control of the Minnesota House on Tuesday, capturing a string of suburban districts from Republicans in an apparent election rout that had legislative leaders calling the outcome long before all the votes had been counted.
After DFLers picked off eight GOP seats in early returns without a loss, their caucus leader, Rep. Margaret Anderson Kelliher of Minneapolis, said: "I feel confident we're going to be in the majority."
Kelliher stood poised to take over in January as House speaker from Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, who has held the reins of the House for eight years. Sviggum told the Associated Press late Tuesday that the DFL would be in control of both the House and Senate for the next two years.
Among the veteran GOP legislators toppled were Reps. Phil Krinkie of Lino Lakes, Tim Wilkin of Eagan and Greg Davids of Preston, although all three lost by tiny margins that will result in automatic recounts.
Eight-term Rep. Krinkie, chairman of the Taxes Committee and a leading fiscal conservative, lost by 55 votes to DFLer Paul Gardner in Tuesday's unofficial tally.
Four-term Rep. Wilkin lost by 50 votes to DFLer Sandra Masin, and Davids, an eight-term incumbent, fell by 49 to Ken Tschumper.
They held onto toughly contested districts in Brooklyn Park, Champlin and Faribault. As this edition of the Star Tribune went to press, DFLers were leading in six other districts now held by the GOP while trailing in only one of their own.
If those early trends held, the DFL stood to reverse the GOP's current 68-66 edge in the House to a comfortable 79-55 majority.
Meanwhile, the DFL's unbroken control of the state Senate since 1973 was heading for a strong increase from its current 38-29 majority, even though DFL Majority Leader Dean Johnson was trailing in his Willmar-area district following an intense campaign waged over issues of abortion and same-sex marriage.
DFLers unseated Republican Sens. Mady Reiter of Shoreview, Brian LeClair of Woodbury, Mike McGinn of Eagan, Bill Belanger of Bloomington and Cal Larson of Fergus Falls while also winning a seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Bob Kierlin of Winona. Meanwhile, the DFL withstood serious challenges to several incumbents in the Twin Cities suburbs.
Hamline University Prof. David Schultz had predicted that the DFL would capture four seats left open by Republican retirements while losing only one vacated by a DFLer. In all, 23 House seats and nine in the Senate were open.
University of Minnesota political scientists Eric Ostermeier and Lawrence Jacobs issued a report last week pronouncing the GOP's control of the House "most at risk."
They noted that in 2004, when the DFL grabbed 13 House seats from the Republicans, it performed particularly well in swing districts. That year, the DFL retained all eight seats that it had won in 2002 by less than 10 percent of the vote, while taking nine of 21 seats the GOP narrowly gained in 2002.
"The GOP's hold on the 12 [closely contested] districts that it won in 2004 is likely to be hotly contested in 2006," Ostermeier and Jacobs wrote.
The two researchers at the university's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance also noted that if Republicans were to capture the Senate, they would first have to defend their own incumbents in 11 of the 21 districts that were competitive in the previous Senate election, in 2002.
On the plus side for the GOP, however, the DFL had to hold onto seven seats left open by retirement compared with two for the Republicans.
State government has been divided on partisan lines since the late 1980s, when the DFL controlled the House, the Senate and the governor's office. The Legislature itself has been split since 1998.