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GOP thankful in tough year

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ST. PAUL -- Barack Obama may have won the big race of the day, but Tuesday's Minnesota votes gave Republicans a reason to smile, too.

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For instance, Republicans kept Democrats from obtaining a veto-proof majority in the state House. The GOP's Michele Bachmann rallied to retain her U.S. House seat after hinting on national television that Obama may be anti-American. And amid a strong national Democratic showing, Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman bucked the trend with his own strong showing -- even if the final outcome of the Senate race will not come until after a recount.

"This exceeds all expectations," Minnesota GOP Chairman Ron Carey said. "In a Democratic year, we are pretty thankful."

Republicans also are a little poorer for it.

The state party dumped about $500,000 into key campaigns in the past two weeks -- money not budgeted.

The GOP went back to donors for more money to help state legislative candidates, Bachmann and fellow U.S. House candidate Eric Paulsen. It helped.

Carey said that spending the money now was important for the party. "If we lost a seat, how much is it going to cost to win it back, millions?"

The party spent about $300,000 on Paulsen's race, which he won, keeping the western Twin Cities seat in Republican hands. He will replace Jim Ramstad, the Jamestown, N.D., native who retired from the House this year.

Another $100,000 went to Bachmann, who upset a lot of people when she questioned whether Obama was anti-American on MSNBC. That money and 70 young volunteers who made thousands of telephone calls for her last weekend were credited for her being elected to a second term.

Democrats maintained control of the Minnesota House and will return to St. Paul in January with two more seats. They fell three short of the 90 they wanted to have a large enough majority to overturn any Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty veto.

Still, House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said the addition of two seats gives Democrats the largest House advantage in 30 years. He said enthusiasm for Obama helped Democratic legislative candidates, but the party's success "was really a vote of confidence from the people of Minnesota saying we led the state well the past two years."

Sertich said there were districts in which voters picked Republicans Coleman and presidential candidate John McCain, but also favored Democratic legislative candidates.

"These elections really are about the local communities and the people running," Sertich said.

State Republicans did well considering the challenges they faced with Obama's popularity and many Democratic gains around the country, said House GOP leader Marty Seifert of Marshall.

"I think our success was marked by holding the loss to two seats," Seifert said. The last-minute infusion of state Republican Party spending helped in some legislative races, but Democrats and supporting groups still outspent Republicans in many districts, he said.

Seifert said he will decide by this weekend whether to seek the minority leader position again when House Republicans gather Nov. 15. He said his caucus members are pleased Democrats missed obtaining a supermajority.

"I think it's relief that they didn't get to 90," Seifert said.

Among the notable House races was former Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer returning to elective office as a state representative from her northern Twin Cities district.

Democrats won 87 of the House's 134 seats.

At 12:15 a.m. Wednesday, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, arrived in the Democratic headquarters at the State Office Building. The room erupted in applause.

"It's been a very good night," Kelliher said. "We don't know the full extent of it yet, and there's a lot of volatile stuff, but I think we should hold even."

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.

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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.
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