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Minnesota voters keep status quo in special legislative elections

Voters in Cottage Grove Precinct 8 cast their votes in a Minnesota Senate special election Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, at the Washington County Service Center. Katie Nelson / Folrum News Service1 / 4
Long registration lines were seen at the Washington County Service Center after work for a special Minnesota Senate election Monday, Feb. 12, 2018. Katie Nelson / Forum News Service2 / 4
Hundreds had already cast their ballots by 5 p.m. at the Washington County Service Center in Cottage Grove in the Minnesota Senate special election Monday, Feb. 12, 2018. Katie Nelson / Forum News Service3 / 4
Residents in Washington and Dakota County communities turned out to vote in the special Minnesota Senate election Monday, Feb. 12, 2018. Katie Nelson / Forum News Service4 / 4

ST. PAUL -- Political organizations targeted a pair of Minnesota special legislative elections, only to see voters opt for no change in political power.

A Democrat will replace a Democrat in the state Senate while a Republican takes over for a House Republican after elections Monday, Feb. 12.

In the unofficial final tally in the Senate race for southern Washington and northwestern Dakota counties, Democrat Karla Bigham had 51 percent of the vote and Denny McNamara 47 percent, with Libertarian Emily Mellingen well behind.

"By claiming victory in a district (President Donald) Trump carried in 2016, Karla’s win shows the immense energy behind our party heading into this pivotal election year," Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party said.

The Senate seat in the southeastern Twin Cities and a south-central Minnesota special state House election drew more money and eyeballs than usual as Democrats looked to extend a series of special election victories across the country in recent weeks and Republicans tried to increase state Senate control.

In the House race, Republican Jeremy Munson cruised to victory with 59 percent of the vote to Democrat Melissa Wagner's 40 percent. Wagner did not even carry her home area, Butternut Valley Township, which went 64-38 for Munson.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said that he looks forward to working with Munson when the Legislature convenes for the year on Feb. 20.

"Jeremy was born and raised in rural Minnesota and he understands issues affecting families in his area," Daudt said.

The House district, which leans Republican, includes parts of Blue Earth, Le Sueur, Waseca and Watonwan counties.

The two special elections were called to replace lawmakers who resigned after being accused of sexual misconduct: Sen. Dan Schoen, D-St. Paul Park, and Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center.

Democrats across the country have done well in special elections in recent weeks, including a state Senate contest across the border in Wisconsin from the Minnesota Senate seat on Monday's ballot.

McNamara and Bigham are former state representatives and Bigham is Washington County commissioner.

Most attention was focused on the Senate race, to see if voters would increase Republican control of the body slightly. A Bigham Senate win kept the Republican edge at the thin 34-33 seat margin.

The win keeps alive Democrats' hope that a court will remove Senate President Michelle Fischbach, R-Payneville, from the Senate, giving them a chance to take control in a special election. Democrats say she cannot be both a senator and lieutenant governor and are expected to refile a lawsuit a judge tossed out Monday by a judge who said it was filed too early.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.