Republicans retained control of the Minnesota House, giving the GOP an important bulwark against DFL influence at the State Capitol with which to fight for lower taxes and smaller government.

The House GOP expanded its majority, adding two seats to end the night with a controlling 57 percent.The GOP strengthened its firm grip of rural districts while also winning unexpected suburban races.

Rep. Ron Erhardt, DFL-Edina, in his 11th term — first as a Republican and then with the DFL — lost his re-election bid to Dario Anselmo, a local businessman.

Anselmo said he represented "new ideas, new energy and new leadership to the challenges that our state faces."

Nolan West, a former GOP legislative aide, won his House seat in Blaine despite revelations that he had written Facebook posts approving of the Confederacy and calling Abraham Lincoln America's worst president.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said, "Voters spoke loudly tonight" for a GOP majority during Gov. Mark Dayton's final two years in office.

GOP Chairman Keith Downey credited the GOP standard-bearer: "Donald Trump had a positive effect on down-ballot races," Downey said.

DFL Chairman Ken Martin acknowledged the party would remain in the minority in the lower chamber.

"We just lost too many seats in greater Minnesota," he said. "Lost some surprise seats in the suburbs," he added.

Because of Trump? "This is a wave election that's happening all over the country," Martin said. "They're going to write the story on this election for many moons to come. I mean the reality is no one saw this coming. This sort of wave election and the way it is. It's impacting races, congressional races and Senate races, legislative races, all over the country right now. And unfortunately Minnesota isn't immune from that."

The continued GOP majority breaks a cycle in which Republicans controlled the House after nonpresidential elections, while the DFL took the majority during presidential elections.

The results will have a significant impact on the next two years in St. Paul, where a divided government will again mean half measures and some degree of gridlock at a State Capitol that includes DFL Gov. Mark Dayton in the final two years of his second term, while control of the Senate remains in doubt.

Republicans promised during the campaign to thwart Dayton's efforts to pass a higher gas tax for transportation.

They also are skeptical of Dayton's efforts to create universal prekindergarten in public schools.

The House GOP will seek to use the state's surplus to cut taxes, while pushing a regulatory environment friendlier to business interests. It will continue to demand an immediate end or major changes to MNsure, the state's health insurance marketplace.

Republicans hit the DFL hard this election season over MNsure and a spike of 50 percent or more in premiums for people who buy their health insurance on the individual market, which includes about 250,000 Minnesotans.

In the near term, Daudt can claim a voter mandate as he negotiates with Dayton to give relief to Minnesotans socked with the premium hikes. They are in talks to hold a special session soon after the election.

Daudt attributed the GOP wins to the "resounding failure" of MNsure and the Affordable Care Act.

It was not entirely clear which issues broke through in the House races. Interviews with voters provided scant clues about legislative races, as the presidential contest sucked up most of the oxygen of the 2016 election, and voters expressed few knowledgeable opinions about House contests.

The two parties, their financial backers and outside interest groups in business and labor unions spent millions of dollars on TV, radio and mail ads for control of the House, widely viewed as the state's most competitive and important contest.

The battle for the House also had significant personal stakes for the political futures of key players in both parties.

Daudt is suddenly in the forefront of GOP contenders in the 2018 governor's race.

After leading the GOP in its 2014 victory, he again showed an ability to raise money and run a strategic statewide campaign in a year widely believed to be better for the DFL because of higher presidential turnout and the unpopularity here of Trump.

Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, had hoped to win instant redemption after losing the speaker's gavel in 2014. He is considered a potential candidate for the governor's race.

It's unclear who will now lead the DFL caucus minority.

Staff writers Eric Roper, Emma Nelson and Liz Sawyer contributed to this report.

J. Patrick Coolican • 651-925-5042