ST. PAUL, Minn. — Two veteran state senators from the Iron Range broke with other Democrats on Wednesday to form their own independent caucus in a closely divided legislative chamber.

Sens. Tom Bakk, of Cook, and David Tomassoni, of Chisholm, said in a statement that they've left the Senate Democratic Caucus to start a caucus for moderates that will also focus on the economic interests of northern Minnesota. They expect to become committee chairs.

Minnesota Public Radio reported that the split will give Republicans a bit more breathing room heading into a 2021 session where they were facing a one-seat majority. The lineup now will be 34 Republicans, 31 Democrats and the two independents. Democrats will keep their majority in the Minnesota House.

"We are not going to become Republicans. That's not what this is about. That's not who we are," Bakk told MPR. "We're going to do our very best to vote what's in the best interest in our districts. Sometimes that will be be with Republicans. Sometimes that will be with Democrats."

Tomassoni was elected Senate president last week in a deal engineered to keep the Senate under GOP control in case Democratic Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan were to be appointed to replace U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, if Klobuchar takes a Biden administration post, which would then result in the Senate president replacing Flanagan as lieutenant governor.