State election briefs: Dems Nolan, Peterson hang onto House seats

Published 2:24 am Wednesday, November 5, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS — Rep. Rick Nolan fended off a strong challenge Tuesday from Republican hopeful Stewart Mills, hanging onto his northeastern Minnesota seat in the U.S. House for a second term.

Nolan’s victory caps off a big day for Minnesota Democrats, who protected incumbents in tight re-election bids that prompted millions of dollars in outside spending. In northwestern Minnesota, 12-term Rep. Collin Peterson beat Republican state Sen. Torrey Westrom.

“When reports came out that the campaign was in trouble, people stepped up in ways I have never seen before. There was just an incredibly powerful groundswell of support,” Nolan told The Associated Press after addressing supporters in Baxter.

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Mills spokeswoman Chloe Rockow said Mills didn’t plan to call Nolan to concede until after all election results were fully counted.

Firm leads in Democratic strongholds of the massive 8th District powered Nolan to re-election in his second stint in Congress — he also served in the House in the 1970s and early ‘80s. Nolan attributed his win to top-of-the-ticket help from Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Sen. Al Franken, as well as the Democratic party’s renewed focus on turnout in the 8th District after longtime incumbent Rep. Jim Oberstar’s shocking loss in 2010.

Elsewhere, Democrats in the Twin Cities metro and southern Minnesota and Republicans in suburban districts cruised to re-election.

Mills, a 42-year-old scion of the Fleet Farm chain of stores, had hoped to capitalize on the 8th District’s changing political face. He weathered attack ads from Democratic groups targeting his personal wealth — and his chin-length hair — in a race that topped the $10 million mark for outside spending.

Mills called for a “flatter, fairer” tax code and criticized Nolan for supporting President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, as well as votes to ban assault weapons and on other gun control measures.

Nolan, 70, defended his stance on guns, saying he doesn’t need an assault rifle to go hunting. He also played up a middle-class ethos in the waning days of his campaign. He, too, was the subject of millions of dollars of attack ads from outside groups.

Peterson, who has mostly coasted through previous re-election campaigns, got a first taste of outside money in the massive 7th District. Peterson faced pressure from Westrom, and the GOP took notice. The National Republican Congressional Committee seized on Peterson’s travel expenses from car leases and his personal plane, and spent millions on attack ads to try to paint the conservative Democrat as out-of-touch.

Peterson, 70, played up his agricultural expertise and stewardship of the 2014 farm bill to shore up support.


Democrat Swanson wins 3rd term as attorney general

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota voters have re-elected Lori Swanson to a third term as attorney general, extending the DFL Party’s 43-year lock on the office.

Swanson defeated GOP state Sen. Scott Newman of Hutchinson.

Swanson campaigned on her record of consumer protection as the state’s chief legal officer. She has gone after unscrupulous medical debt-collection agencies, and taken on for-profit colleges that she said misled veterans about their job prospects after graduation.


Democrat Otto re-elected as state auditor

MINNEAPOLIS — Democrat Rebecca Otto has won a third term as state auditor, beating Republican challenger Randy Gilbert.

The state auditor serves mainly as a watchdog over local government finances.

Last year as a member of Minnesota’s Executive Council, Otto voted against approving some copper-nickel prospecting leases in the Iron Range. She said she wanted financial assurances that taxpayers wouldn’t be stuck with the cleanup costs.

The move angered mining supporters and “dump Otto” signs began appearing in northeastern Minnesota, but it appeared not to affect her race.

Gilbert, a former mayor of Long Lake, highlighted his background as an auditor in the private sector, and campaigned in strong support of mining.


Simon keeps SOS in Democratic hands

MINNEAPOLIS — Democratic state Rep. Steve Simon has been elected secretary of state, defeating Republican former state Rep. Dan Severson.

Simon will take over as Minnesota’s chief elections officer from Democrat Mark Ritchie, who chose not to run again.

Simon, a private practice lawyer who represents Hopkins and St. Louis Park, served as chairman of the House Elections Committee and authored a law that makes it easier to vote early. He also supported making it easier for felons to regain voting rights and opposed a proposed voter ID requirement.

Severson, a former Navy fighter pilot, unsuccessfully ran against Ritchie four years ago. He campaigned for creating express lanes at the polls for voters who voluntarily show photo IDs.


Republican Tom Emmer wins Bachmann’s seat

MINNEAPOLIS — Republican Tom Emmer has won the congressional seat being vacated by Michele Bachmann.

Emmer defeated Democrat and Sartell Mayor Joe Perske and law student John Denney of the Independence Party.

Emmer, who lost a close race for governor in 2010 to Mark Dayton, was seen as a shoo-in for Minnesota’s only congressional seat after he easily won the GOP nomination. The 6th is Minnesota’s most conservative congressional district. Emmer raised far more money than his opponents combined.


Wright, Lillehaug retain Supreme Court seats

MINNEAPOLIS — Justices David Lillehaug and Wilhelmina Wright will stay on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Lillehaug, a former U.S. attorney for Minnesota, faced voters for the first time since Gov. Mark Dayton appointed him to the high court last year.

Lillehaug defeated Michelle MacDonald, a West St. Paul attorney who won the GOP endorsement for the officially nonpartisan office but fell out with party leaders after it emerged that she faced criminal charges over a traffic stop.

She was convicted in September of obstructing the legal process and refusing to submit to a chemical test, but acquitted of drunken driving.

It was also Wright’s first time on the ballot since her 2012 appointment. She defeated John Hancock, who didn’t actively campaign. She previously served on the Minnesota Court of Appeals.