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Big spending pushes some Minnesota legislative races near the $1M mark

ST PAUL -- Minnesota's legislative races have ballooned into big money affairs with massive influxes of cash smacking voters every time they open their mailboxes, turn on their televisions or radios and cruise around the web.

ST PAUL -- Minnesota’s legislative races have ballooned into big money affairs with massive influxes of cash smacking voters every time they open their mailboxes, turn on their televisions or radios and cruise around the web.

The most expensive races for state House and Senate are already nearing the $1 million mark, according to a Pioneer Press analysis of data released Tuesday. By late October, independent groups - political parties, unions, businesses and other moneyed interests - had already spent more than $14.6 million on state House and Senate races. Candidates have piled on another $8 million.

In the east metro, the Burnsville/Lakeville race between Republican Rep. Roz Peterson and Democratic challenger Lindsey Port has seen more than $700,000 in spending. The western suburban Edina race for an open state Senate seat has been blasted with more than $850,000 of combined independent and candidate spending.

Those figures, based on spending through Oct. 24, come before the crucial last weeks of this year’s election and do not include spending from political nonprofits, which do not have to report spending to the state.

The massive spending underscores the power the 201 members of the Legislature can have in shaping the state’s policies and direction.

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If Republicans keep control of the state House and take over the state Senate, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton will find it all but impossible to raise taxes to build the state’s roads and bridges or push through his desired state budget, but larger tax cuts and cuts in state spending become more likely. If, on the other hand, voters decide they prefer Democrats in the House and Senate, it’s likely the state will take another look at the minimum wage law, local governments will probably get a boost in state aid, and state colleges and universities may get more state assistance.

  WHERE’S THE CASH GOING?

Although all members of the Legislature will get an equal vote once the session starts in January, only key districts are seen as battlegrounds for control. The top 20 races alone have seen nearly $10 million in spending:

The most expensive races, scattered across the state, feature 15 incumbents defending their seats and five open seats. They are nearly equally divided in current party control - among the top 20y seats, 11 are currently held by Republicans and 9 by Democrats.

  WHO IS SPENDING?

The money is also coming from concentrated sources.

The single biggest source of campaign ad spending, by far, has been the Democratic-supporting Alliance for a Better Minnesota. The Alliance gathers contributions from wealthy DFL donors, unions and other Democratic interests and pools them to spend on state races. It has spent almost $3.6 million, making it responsible for about a quarter of all the independent and party cash spent in the contests.

Groups that support Republicans are more likely to spend money separately. Although the cash comes from multiple groups, the top Republican interests combined have poured about as much money into House and Senate races as the top Democratic interests.

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  BATTLE FOR THE ‘BURBS

Two years ago when Republicans took over the Minnesota House from Democratic control, they did it largely because rural Minnesota voters opted for the GOP over the DFL in the Legislature. The spending totals made available Tuesday indicates another rush for those outstate votes. Among the most embattled lawmakers are the Republican House Ways and Means chair Jim Knoblach, Republican House Tax chair Greg Davids  and the Democratic Senate Tax chair Rod Skoe. All hail from outside the metro area.

But there’s also a major battle in the suburbs. Although two years ago, DFL House member after House member fell because of outside of the metro area, Democrats kept all but one of their House seats in the suburbs. The spending revealed on Tuesday shows that this year, Democrats are hoping to expand on their success while Republicans are playing defense.

“There’s a lot of action in the suburbs right now,” said Ken Martin, chair of the DFL Party.

Voters feel that in Apple Valley, where outside groups have spent nearly $360,000 in an open House race.

Democratic candidate Erin Maye Quade said she has found voters mostly set aside the nasty mail pieces.

“People see those for being like lazy politics. They don’t want to read about that,” she said, taking a break from another afternoon of door-knocking. “They want to hear: What’s your contribution to the community?”

Her Republican opponent, Ali Jimenez-Hopper, voiced a similar sentiment. The outside spending has been massive, but she says she’s sticking with the positive.

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“I’ve just been focusing my energy on meeting voters face-to-face,” she said.

  Brian Edwards contributed to this report.

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