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It was a Republican Minnesota election

ST. PAUL—Greater Minnesota Republicans flexed their muscle.

They helped provide the state House and Senate a GOP majority and forced some U.S. House races into closer-than-expected contests in the Tuesday, Nov. 8 general election.

While House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump deserves some of the credit in attracting rural voters to the polls, some legislative candidates outpaced the president-elect in votes.

Trump delivered a stronger challenge to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton than most political observers expected. Clinton won Minnesota with 46 percent to Trump's 45 percent, gaining a 42,741-vote victory out of an estimated 2.9 million voters.

The GOP candidate dominated rural areas in most of the country, counteracting Clinton's urban strength.

In part because of that rural Trump turnout, major media companies did not call Minnesota for Clinton until Wednesday morning. All 10 Minnesota electoral votes go to the Democrat.

To show Trump's strength, look at his 53 percent win in southern Minnesota, 46 percent in the southern Twin Cities and nearby areas, 18 percent to 40 percent in urban areas, 58 percent in the northern Twin Cities and near St. Cloud, 61 percent in the west and 54 percent in the northeastern quarter of the state.

In most areas, as went Trump, so went other Republican candidates.

"The election was much closer in Minnesota than any of the polls predicted," Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said.

There had been warnings that polls may not be able to accurately determine the Trump vote, but for the most part the returns seemed to take observers by surprise.

Dayton said the vote shows the deep division among voters.

The governor, a Clinton friend for two decades, said Trump "is going to have to lead by example for the rest of us," adding that is exactly what Clinton did in her concession speech Wednesday morning. "I hope and I pray that he rises above his campaign rhetoric."

Three Republicans fell short of unseating a trio of greater Minnesota Democratic congressmen: Rick Nolan, Collin Peterson and Tim Walz. Nolan's race was expected to be tight, but few thought the other two faced competition as tough as it turned out.

Nolan was pushed for the second straight election by Republican Stewart Mills. Unofficial returns showed Nolan getting 50.2 percent and Mills 49.6 percent.

The 8th Congressional District Nolan-Mills contest in the northeastern quarter of the state attracted more than $20 million, one of the most expensive races in the country.

Long-time U.S. Rep. Peterson was not expected to face much trouble from little-known and little-funded Republican Dave Hughes. But the race ended with Peterson winning by a smaller-than-usual 52 percent to 47 percent in the western part of Minnesota.

Across the southern part of the state, Walz held off an unexpectedly strong challenge by Republican Jim Hagedorn. It was 50.3 percent to 49.6 percent in the two candidates' rematch of the 2014 election.

Former radio talk show host Jason Lewis, a Republican, will take over retiring GOP U.S. Rep. John Kline's seat in the south Twin Cities and to the south. He beat Democrat Angie Craig 47 percent to 45 percent.

In other Minnesota U.S. House races, incumbents won: Republican Erik Paulsen in the western Twin Cities, Democrat Betty McCollum in the eastern Twin Cities, Democrat Keith Ellison in Minneapolis and Republican Tom Emmer in the northern Twin Cities to the St. Cloud area.

Also in Minnesota, Supreme Court justice Natalie Hudson easily won a six-year term. And voters approved a constitutional amendment taking legislative pay raise decisions out of lawmakers' hands. The amendment, approved by 77 percent of voters, establishes a 16-member panel to make the decision.

It looked like there was one victory all Minnesotans could share, regardless of political beliefs.

Secretary of State Steve Simon tweeted: "Great news! Minnesota voter turnout was 74 percent, which is either No. 1 in the U.S., or very close."

Even if it was good compared to other states, the figure still would be the lowest for a presidential election in Minnesota since 2000.

Turnout varied across the country. Wisconsin, next door to Minnesota, reported a 66 percent figure, the lowest since 1996. But overall, national media reports indicated turnout appeared to be up nearly 5 percent across the country.

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.