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Minnesota lawmakers survive challenges from political firebrands in Tuesday's primaries

Several incumbent state legislators, particularly in the Senate, edged out competitors with more extreme views on COVID-19, election security and more.

Election judge hands a ballot to a voter.
Election official David Hagemann hands a ballot to voter Brittany Bowen at Duluth's Holy Cross Lutheran Church on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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ST. PAUL — Several Minnesota state lawmakers vying for reelection on Tuesday, Aug. 9, bucked challenges from more extreme members of their political parties to advance to the general election.

A pair of Republican senators hoping to return to the Legislature came out ahead in Tuesday's primary elections after they lost local endorsing contests to anti-establishment candidates backed by Action 4 Liberty.

The group and candidates it supports advocate against many state COVID-19 mitigation measures and is in support of false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

  • In Senate District 5, state Sen. Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids, overcame a challenge from GOP-endorsed and Action 4 Liberty supported Bret Bussman, who ran as a "Christian Constitutional Conservative," and Dale A.P. Anderson. Utke advances to face Democrat A. John Peters in November.
  • Incumbent Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, edged out Republican-endorsed candidate and nurse Natalie Barnes who campaigned on being "pro-health freedom" in Senate District 54. Pratt is set to face DFL-er Alicia Donahue in the general election.

More traditional conservative groups threw their support behind Utke and Pratt in the contests and ultimately blocked their opponents from moving forward. Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, on Wednesday, Aug. 10, said the contests yielded good results for his party.
“Our incumbents were successful because they worked incredibly hard and we have a great field of newcomers who will be moving on from the primary,” Miller said. “People are struggling with President Biden’s cost of living increases and people are concerned about crime. Republicans are focused on giving money back to the people by eliminating the social security tax and lowering taxes so hardworking Minnesotans have more money in their pockets every single paycheck, week after week, month after month, year after year.”

And a handful of other lawmakers from both parties also managed to fend off opponents on Tuesday.

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  • Incumbent Sen. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville, bested Ashley Burg to move forward to the general election.
  • In Senate District 15, incumbent Gary Dahms trumped challenger Larvita McFarquhar.
  • Sen. Gene Dornink beat out Lisa Hanson, an Albert Lea wine bar owner who was found guilty of defying executive orders requiring restaurants and bars to close for in-person service.
  • Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis, emerged victorious in a contest with Shaun Laden in District 62.
  • In District 65, Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, overcame Sheigh Freeberg and Zuki Ellis to move on to the general election.
  • In the House, incumbent Erik Mortensen, an anti-establishment lawmaker who was removed from an offshoot GOP caucus, bested former Rep. Bob Loonan. Mortensen had the support of Action 4 Liberty.

With a few exceptions, the prior officeholders emerged victorious and now face less intense races in November. Their wins start to give voters an idea of what the Statehouse could look like in 2023, after all 201 state legislative seats and statewide offices are on the ballot.

But not all incumbents came out ahead in their contests.

State Rep. John Thompson, DFL-St. Paul, lost the Democratic primary (as well as the party's endorsement) to Liz Lee. During his time in office, Thompson has been ensnared in scandals involving driving without a valid Minnesota driver's license and protesting outside the home of the former Minneapolis Police Union Federation president.

Other hopefuls have the chance to make history at the Capitol. House candidate Leigh Finke, a Democrat, could become the first openly transgender lawmaker to serve in Minnesota after winning her DFL primary. And former Rep. Erin Maye Quade could become the first Black woman to serve in the state Senate after her victory Tuesday.

Maye Quade went into labor during a DFL endorsing convention earlier this year and lost after leaving for the hospital. She'll move on to the general election in November.

MORE FROM DANA FERGUSON:
The DFL- and GOP-endorsed candidates for governor easily won their respective primary contests on Tuesday night.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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