Wave removes two from chairmen jobs
ST. PAUL -- A national Republican wave washed two Minnesota congressmen out of their committee chairmanships and one of them was facing even higher water that threatened his Washington job.
As it became obvious that Republicans would take control of the U.S. House, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson knew that meant he no longer would lead the House Agriculture Committee and Jim Oberstar understood he was out as Transportation Committee chairman. Peterson led by 13 points with 7 percent of the vote counted in his race against Republican Lee Byberg, but Oberstar faced a surprisingly tight contest with challenger Chip Cravaack.
While Democrats Peterson and Oberstar are gone as chairmen, Republican John Kline could lead an education committee in the reorganized House. He will begin his fifth two-year term in January after handily beating Democrat Shelley Madore.
In the northeast's 8th Congressional District, Oberstar, in Congress since 1975, faced what many described as his strongest opponent in Republican Cravaack. Oberstar led very early by 51 percent to 44 percent according to unofficial returns.
Across the southern counties, Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz led Republican state Rep. Randy Demmer by 18 points with 22 percent of 1st Congressional District votes counted.
The most expensive House race in the country was in the 6th Congressional District, which stretches across the northern Twin Cities to St. Cloud. Republican Michele Bachmann took a solid 51-41 percent lead over Democratic State Sen. Tarryl Clark's with 33 percent of precincts in.
U.S. House incumbents from the Twin Cities won easily Tuesday: Republican Erik Paulsen, Democrat Keith Ellison and Democrat Betty McCollum.
At the Democratic gathering in Bloomington, television screens showing the U.S. House Republican takeover news were shut off, replaced by music.
Republicans hoped the wave would stretch into the state Legislature and help them snare three statewide offices that now are Democratic-Farmer-Laborite.
Dissatisfaction with Democrat President Barack Obama was expected to help Republicans running for Congress, but the coattails also could stretch into state races.
While state legislative races received little statewide attention, who controls the House and Senate can be almost as important as who wins the governor's race.
The state Senate long has been a DFL bastion, but the House has been under DFL control for just four years. Few predicted a GOP takeover, but even Democrats admitted they could lose seats in both houses.
Democrats now lead the Senate 46-21 with 34 needed to hold control. In the House, it is the DFL 87, GOP 47, with 68 as the majority.
In three non-governor statewide races, incumbent attorney general and secretary of state Democrats won with about 60 percent of the vote.
One of the three races, one stood out as the most combative remained competitive Tuesday night: Republican Pat Anderson trying to regain the state auditor's office from Democrat Rebecca Otto, who won it four years ago. Otto led 55 percent to 40 percent with 20 percent of precincts reporting.
Otto accused Anderson of making mathematical mistakes when she was auditor. Anderson said Otto was too chummy with local government officials she was supposed to audit.
In the secretary of state race, incumbent Democrat Mark Ritchie won election to a second term, reminding voters that his handling of the controversial 2008 U.S. Senate race gained widespread praise. Republican opponent Rep. Dan Severson said Ritchie made lots of mistakes two years ago and that requiring Minnesotans to show a photo identification card before voting would reduce voter fraud.
Incumbent Democrat Attorney General Lori Swanson did little campaigning, but won big. Republican Chris Barden accused Swanson of running a disorganized and scandal-ridden office. Swanson emphasized her work to protect consumers while Barden centered his campaign on suing to get rid of the new federal health-care reform bill.
Also on the ballot were some statewide judicial races that took on political overtones after the Republican Party endorsed opponents to sitting Supreme Court justices.
Well-known Justice Alan Page, a former Vikings football star, beat Tim Tingelstad of Bemidji for the second time. And Justice Helen Meyer held off Greg Wersel, who has fought all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court to allow political parties access to judicial campaigns.
Republicans complained that too many vote scanning machines broke down Tuesday, and a party attorney's letter to Ritchie laid the groundwork for possible legal action if the GOP decided that is needed after the election.
Andrew Tellijohn and Martin Owings contributed to this story. Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.