Who says nothing changes in Minnesota politics? In the last decade, the Eighth Congressional District has switched from dependably DFL to swing territory. The northern exurbs used to swing; today they're safe for the GOP. The Red River Valley has turned from blue to reddish-purple. Rochester and Mankato are reliably Republican no more. The same goes for parts of suburbia.

Consider formerly rock-ribbed Edina: It went for Barack Obama twice for president, and today is represented in the Minnesota Legislature by two DFLers.

But my hunch has long been that while Edina's voting patterns shifted, its voters' thinking about most state issues has not. At heart, I'd guess, they are still moderate Republicans of the Eisenhower-Rockefeller-Romney (George, not Mitt) school. They're still in favor of strong public education; good roads and transit; minority and women's rights; a basic safety net for the needy, and quality care for the frail and disabled — all at a price that does not overtax businesses or punish success.

That hunch is hard to prove. But I take as confirmation this year's state House contest in District 49A. It's between a DFLer who's a former moderate Republican and a self-described "Eisenhower-modern" Republican whose family has Iron Range DFL roots.

The contenders are state Rep. Ron Erhardt, seeking his 11th term representing the leafy southwest suburb and his second term as a DFLer; and Dario Anselmo, former owner of the Fine Line Music Cafe and a first-time candidate who beat out a candidate deemed more conservative for GOP endorsement. Both are pro-choice on abortion, pro-equality on marriage, and pro-mass transit, including light rail.

The Tea Party isn't on the state House ballot in Edina this year. Neither is Grover Norquist, of "no new taxes" fame. No matter which candidate goes to St. Paul in January, the winner will evince the staying power of a political philosophy that was once potent in this state — and maybe can be again.

Erhardt might claim that the fact that he's still in office already shows as much. He was purged by the GOP in 2008 after leading a brave band of six House Republicans in overriding then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a bill containing a gas tax increase. Erhardt ran as an independent that year and came in second in a three-way race, losing to Keith Downey, now state GOP chair.

The seat was open again in 2012, and Erhardt was back on the ballot as a DFLer. He had not changed his mind on the issues, he told Edinans in a tireless door-knocking campaign that belied his 83 years. He took a new party label because his former party had left him, not vice versa, he said. He reclaimed the seat with 56 percent of the vote.

Anselmo's political bio is shorter. He moved to the Twin Cities with his mother, Barbara, when she and his father, retired St. Louis County Judge Arthur Anselmo, divorced. Barbara married grocery store heir Russell Lund Jr., who was convicted of murdering her in a 1992 case that attracted national notice.

Though he drew inspiration from Ronald Reagan, Anselmo, now 52, supported candidates of both stripes as a downtown Minneapolis business owner for 20 years. He sold the Fine Line last year and began nursing the idea that he could "bring people back into politics" as a pragmatic, pro-business candidate. He's making his first bid for elective office.

Anselmo's defeat of Polly Peterson Bowles — who has an even longer political lineage — for GOP endorsement told me that it's not 2008 anymore. The Republican conventioneers who dumped Erhardt six years ago evidently stayed home, or decided that they needed a candidate with a more centrist image if they wanted to dump Erhardt a second time.

The upshot is a legislative race more akin to ones Edina knew a few decades ago, when the differences between the major-party candidates on issues were shades of gray, not black and white.

For example, Anselmo isn't a "no new taxes" guy, but he dislikes the state's new top-tier income tax rate, among the highest in the country and likely paid by a larger share of the population in Edina than in most Minnesota towns. Erhardt agrees. He voted against the 2013 tax bill for that reason. He wants to use his clout as one of the most senior members of the House tax committee to try to scale that rate back.

Anselmo says he's a multimodal guy on transportation, but won't say flatly that paying for the improvements Minnesota needs will require a higher gas tax. He's eager to look for more efficient spending at the Minnesota Department of Transportation and is open to other revenue sources, he says.

Erhardt doesn't shrink from a higher gas tax. But he too is keen on MnDOT efficiencies. As chair of the House Transportation Policy Committee, he successfully pushed the agency this year to direct savings from a bridge project to the construction of a long-sought additional lane on Interstate 494 between I-394 and I-694.

That points to what may be a pivotal factor for some voters — Erhardt's seniority, in both legislative tenure and age. His seniority assures him and Edina of clout at the Capitol. His age raises more personal questions — even in one of the most "senior" municipalities in the Twin Cities, where active elders are on alert for ageism.

"I'm astounded at how many 70- and 80-year-olds live here," Erhardt told me when I asked him what he was gleaning on his daily door-knocks.

He agreed with my thesis that even though Democrats have been winning lately, not much has changed in Edina's fundamental mind-set about Minnesota's shared life. "Basically, this district still leans Republican. But I always had Democrats voting for me when I was a Republican, and now I have Republicans voting for me as a Democrat."

I'll allow that this much has changed: For Anselmo to unseat Erhardt, he's going to need more Democrats voting for a Republican than Erhardt ever had.

Lori Sturdevant is an editorial writer and columnist. She is at lsturdevant@startribune.com.