First-time political candidate Dean Phillips ousted five-term Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, becoming the first Democratic congressman in the west metro suburban district in nearly 60 years.
After easily winning re-election four times, Paulsen lost to a 49-year-old Deephaven businessman and heir to the Phillips Distilling Co.
"We demonstrated that by working together, engaging in conversation with our neighbors and listening to those whose life experiences and perspectives differ than our own, we can overcome hatred and divisiveness and tribalism and begin the work of repairing our faults as a nation and as individuals," Phillips said.
Phillips overcame a slew of attack ads and responded with an energetic campaign with the slogan, "everyone's invited." He trekked the district in a vintage milk truck he called his "Government Repair Truck," boasted a grass-roots campaign with 2,000 volunteers and touted "radical hospitality" with public forums, a community picnic and even flash mob dances. On Tuesday, he said he'd host a town hall meeting next month, a jab at Paulsen, who was criticized for not hosting such forums in years.
Paulsen, 53, a longtime state legislator, was elected to Congress in 2008. This year, he was criticized by Phillips' supporters for being too conservative and not standing up to Trump, who lost the district by nearly 10 points in 2016. While Paulsen tried to distance himself from Trump, the president endorsed Paulsen late in the campaign.
The race became Minnesota's most expensive House race, with the two candidates and outside groups spending $20 million. The last Democrat to hold the seat lost re-election in 1960.
At Phillips' party at the Bloomington Hilton, tables were littered with stickers and signs emblazoned with Phillips' "government repair truck." There was also a professional-quality photo station — replete with iPads for viewing photos — for people to take photos with Phillips paraphernalia.
"I want Paulsen out of there," said Dianne Rundles, a Minnetonka resident who is retired. "He doesn't answer the public's questions ... and he's too much for Trump and Trump's [agenda]."
Ralph Bendjebar, a 71-year-old retired airline pilot, said he had been growing frustrated with Paulsen in part because of his party line votes.
"I am a Democrat, but on the other hand I appreciated people like [former Third District congressman] Jim Ramstadt or ... [former U.S. Senator] Dave Durenberger," Bendjebar said. "They were pretty much center of the road kind of people, moderate Republicans. That's an endangered species."
Bendjebar, who lives in Chaska, said a big reason he volunteered for Phillips' campaign was that Phillips was discussing campaign finance reform.
At in victory speech, Phillips vowed to try to bring together Republicans and Democrats.
"As I said from the beginning, I want to be a representative for all people in our district," Phillips said. "That includes everybody who voted for Erik Paulsen."
Kelly Smith and eric roper