These races could decide which party takes control of the Legislature

Published 10:11 am Thursday, September 22, 2016

By Tim Pugmire and Brian Bakst FM

All 201 seats in the Minnesota Legislature are on the ballot Nov. 8.

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However, control of the House and Senate will likely be decided in a handful of battleground districts.

Here are some of the key races to watch in each legislative chamber:

Minnesota Senate

The DFL currently holds a 10-seat advantage over Republicans in the Senate — 38 to 28, with one vacant seat. Republicans would need to gain six seats for flip.

District 1 (northwestern Minnesota): Longtime incumbent Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, is retiring. The contest for the open seat is between DFLer Kip Fontaine and Republican Mark Johnson. The district voted for Republican Mitt Romney in 2012 and currently has two GOP state representatives.

District 2 (northwestern Minnesota): Incumbent Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, is the powerful Senate tax chair. But he’s facing a tough challenge from Republican Paul Utke in another rural district that leans Republican.

District 14 (St. Cloud area): Incumbent Sen. John Pederson, R-St. Cloud, is retiring. There is a three-way race for the open seat with Republican Jerry Relph, DFLer Dan Wolgamott and Libertarian Party candidate Steven Zilberg. President Obama won there in 2012, and Pederson’s predecessor was DFL.

District 17 (west-central Minnesota): Incumbent Sen. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, is facing a challenge from Republican Andrew Lang. This is another rural Romney district with two GOP House members.

District 21 (Red Wing area): First-term Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, beat a Republican incumbent four years ago. GOP candidate Mike Goggin is now trying to do the same.

District 24 (south central MN): First-term incumbent Sen. Vicki Jensen, DFL-Owatonna, is facing a challenge from Republican John Jasinski, who is the mayor of Faribault. It’s another Romney district with two GOP representatives.

District 36 (northern suburbs): First-term incumbent Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, is facing a tough challenge from Republican Jeffrey Lunde, the mayor of Brooklyn Park.

District 44 (western suburbs): Incumbent Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, is running for Congress. The battle for the seat she’s leaving open is between Republican Paul Anderson and DFLer Deb Calvert.

District 48 (Eden Prairie area): As Senate minority leader, Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, is trying to pick up seats statewide. But DFL leaders believe Hann is vulnerable at home, where Obama narrowly won in 2012.

Minnesota House

Republicans currently hold a 12-seat advantage over the DFL, 73 to 61. Democrats would need to gain seven seats to flip.

District 2A (northern Minnesota): Rep. Dave Hancock, R-Bemidji, is retiring. Republican Matthew Grossell and DFLer Jerry Loud are after the open seat, which Hancock won from a DFL incumbent in 2014.

District 5B (northeastern Minnesota): Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, is a five term incumbent. But he’s facing a tough challenge from Republican Sandy Layman, a former IRRRB commissioner. Green Party candidate Dennis Barsness is also in the mix.

District 12A (western Minnesota): First-term Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley, will again face DFLer Jay McNamar, who previously held the seat. This is one over several rematches of 2014 House races that Democrats lost.

District 14B (St. Cloud): House Ways and Means Chair Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, came out of legislative retirement in 2014 to defeat incumbent DFLer Zach Dorholt. Now Dorholt is trying to return the favor. College turnout is a big factor here.

District 17A (west central Minnesota): In another rematch, first-term Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, will again face DFLer Andrew Falk, who served three House terms.

District 17B (west central Minnesota): First-term Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, will again face DFLer Mary Sawatzky in a district prone to swing.

District 21A (Red Wing area): Incumbent Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, is retiring. DFL candidate Lisa Bayley is battling Republican Barb Haley for the open seat.

District 24B (Faribault area): First-term Rep. Brian Daniels defeated longtime DFL incumbent Patty Fritz two years ago. Fritz wants the seat back.

District 25B (Rochester): Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, is retiring. Former Republican lawmaker Fran Bradley ended his political retirement to try to reclaim the seat. The DFL candidate is Duane Sauke.

District 48A (western suburbs): Rep. Yvonne Selcer, DFL-Minnetonka, is retiring. She narrowly won her last reelection bid. That could make for a close open-seat contest between Republican Mary Shapiro and DFL candidate Laurie Pryor.

District 56A (Burnsville): First-term Rep. Drew Christensen, R-Burnsville, faces DFLer Jared Christiansen. Because it’s Christensen versus Christiansen.

District 56B (southern suburbs): First-term Rep. Roz Peterson, R-Lakeville, is facing a challenge from DFLer Lindsey Port in a competitive suburban district that regularly flips between the parties.

District 57A (southern suburbs): Rep. Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, is retiring. Republican Ali Jimenez-Hopper and DFL candidate Erin Maye Quade are after the open seat.

District 57B (southern suburbs): Incumbent Rep. Anna Wills, R-Apple Valley, is seeking a third term. But DFL leaders believe she could be vulnerable in a presidential year. Their candidate is John Huot.