Democrats eye state Senate control, House upset in Minnesota

February 12, 2018 - 11:20 am

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota voters were choosing successors Monday for two state legislators who resigned amid sexual harassment allegations, as Democrats sought to remain in striking distance of taking back the state Senate and add a solidly Republican state House seat to their list of upsets leading up to the midterms.

The rare Monday special elections were triggered by the resignations of GOP Rep. Tony Cornish and Democratic Sen. Dan Schoen late last year after they were accused by several women of sexual harassment. It follows surprise victories in legislative and congressional seats that President Donald Trump soundly won, including recent Democratic victories for Missouri and Wisconsin legislative seats.

Democratic odds were long in the rural southwestern Minnesota House seat, where Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by more than 35 percentage points. Cornish regularly cruised to re-election by even larger margins before resigning halfway through his eighth term. Local GOP chairman Jeremy Munson faces Democratic social worker Melissa Wagner.

Even a shocking upset won't affect control of the House, where Republicans currently hold a 76-57 majority.

But the stakes on the state level were higher in the race to fill a Senate seat that includes Cottage Grove and other suburbs of St. Paul. A win for Republicans would give them a two-seat margin in the chamber, squashing Democrats' hope of retaking control later this year.

A Democratic victory would put extra pressure on the lawsuit against GOP Sen. Michelle Fischbach, who ascended to become Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's lieutenant governor but is trying to remain in her Senate seat. If she's forced out, another special election could decide the Senate majority.

Schoen's departure opened up a swing district — Schoen won the seat by more than 6 percentage points in 2016 while Trump narrowly edged Clinton. Two Republicans hold the district's House seats.

The race features two former legislators, Democrat Karla Bigham and Republican Denny McNamara.

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