After an acrimonious race, the GOP winner sets a much less partisan tone for voters who have long supported a moderate Republican.
Speaking to his supporters early Wednesday after a bruising election battle, Republican Erik Paulsen quickly said the words that most people in Minnesota's Third Congressional District seemed ready to hear, however they voted.
"I pledge to be working for all of you in the future because Third District residents expect bipartisan cooperation to find solutions to the challenges facing our country and I will roll up my sleeves to do that on day one," Paulsen said. "I look forward to earning your trust and being an effective voice for all of you in the Third District."
Paulsen, a 7-term member of the Minnesota House of Representatives and a onetime House Majority Leader, overcame criticisms of excessive partisanship to handily win the seat of retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad. The district includes much of the Twin Cities' western suburban area and Paulsen's election continues its history of voting Republicans into Congress since 1961.
Paulsen defeated Democrat Ashwin Madia, a first-time office seeker, 49 to 41 percent and Independence Party candidate David Dillon, who won nearly 11 percent of the vote.
Ramstad, a nine-term member of Congress, announced his retirement last year. His career has been defined by occasional departures from his party's orthodoxy on such things as the environment and social issues. In return, the district easily re-elected him and embraced his moderation.
All three candidates ran to the center, in Ramstad fashion. Paulsen, who had been criticized during the campaign for a conservative voting record on such things as banning gay marriage and on fighting abortion rights, performed strongly in districts where Madia needed support.
Paulsen lost only two of the district's cities -- Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center. He also finished strong enough in places such Bloomington and Coon Rapids to offset gains Madia had hoped to make on the coattails of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Madia campaign spokesman Dan Pollock said Madia pulled down single-digit wins in several areas where Obama swept through with double-digit victories.
In one precinct in Edina bounded by France Ave., the Crosstown Hwy., Hwy. 100 and West 58th St., for instance, Obama won 59 percent to 38 percent, but Madia prevailed over Paulsen by 47 percent to 43 percent.
In the end. Obama garnered 200,000 votes in the Third District compared to Madia's 151,000. Paulsen got about 4,000 more votes in the district than McCain. About 15,000 presidential race voters didn't vote in the House race.
Dillon expressed disappointment in his finish. Still, he garnered almost 40,000 votes, possibly reflecting disenchantment with the phalanx of attack ads against both Paulsen and Madia that came to characterize the campaign. After conceding defeat early Wednesday, Madia said he believed the "hyper-negativity" of the campaign may have pushed some voters to Dillon who would have otherwise gone to him.
Paulsen won despite being outspent by outside independent groups. At crucial moments, Paulsen found himself struggling on his own when independent groups such as the National Republican Congressional Campaign retreated from support to shore up vulnerable incumbents.
Paulsen did benefit from an infusion of money from the state Republican Party. Federal Elections Commission records show that the state party spent more than $224,000 on TV ads to paint Madia as a tax-and-spend liberal in the last four days of October.
Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey said the emphasis was to show that electing Madia would mean that taxes would be increased, a message that seemed to resonate.
Staff writers Randy Furst and Jim Foti contributed to this report. Mark Brunswick • 651-222-1636