11:15 pm update: Easy Klobuchar win, two House races close

Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar breezed to an easy re-election victory Tuesday and most U.S. House members from Minnesota won.

However, House races with Republican Reps. Chip Cravaack and Michele Bachmann remained close late Tuesday.

Winning U.S. Representatives included Collin Peterson, Tim Walz, John Kline, Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum and Erik Paulsen.

The 8th Congressional District in the northeastern quarter of Minnesota that featured first-term GOP U.S. Cravaack and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan was close, with vote slow at being counted.

Nolan led 52 percent to 48 percent with nearly a third of the vote counted. Bachmann and Democrat Jim Graves were essentially tied with half of the vote counted.

Klobuchar earned Minnesota’s first 2012 election night win when news services declared her a re-election victor moments after the polls closed.

With slightly more than a half of precincts reporting, Klobuchar led Kurt Bills 64 percent to 32 percent.

The triumph over Bills was because “we reached out and found common ground for people in the state,” Klobuchar said.

“I really believe we need more people like that to work for the common ground,” she told Forum Communications minutes after she was declared the winner. “It is not always easy. You can make people mad in your own party from time to time.”

For much of her campaign, Klobuchar hammered home the theme that she is willing to work with Republicans and Democrats.

Her fellow Democratic U.S. senator was happy.

“She has always put the middle class first, has been a relentless fighter for our state, and she has a track record of working across the aisle to get things done,” Al Franken said.

Bills told Republicans that he always knew it would be a tough race.

“We took it to her with the resources we had…” Bills said. “And we never gave up.”

In her speech to a packed St. Paul ballroom, Klobuchar agreed that Bills “campaigned hard to the end.”

“We won this election the right way,” she said, with her husband and daughter by her side. “We worked hard. We were positive and optimistic about the future of Minnesota. We won because we were forward looking.”

Soon after news organizations declared Klobuchar the winner, Republicans gathered in Bloomington had something to cheer when they heard projections that the U.S. House would remain under GOP control.

The Klobuchar-Bills race never appeared close.

Bills, 42, often blamed Klobuchar, 52, for lack of budget progress in Washington and said she has not been a leader. Klobuchar, however, said she was one of the senators led on a law that is a framework for a balanced budget.

The first term senator often is mentioned as a potential presidential candidate.

Senators and representatives make $174,000 a year. Senators serve six years, House members two years.

Here is a look at U.S. House races across Minnesota:

– In the 1st Congressional District, which spans southern Minnesota, Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz won, with 57 percent support as three-fourth of precincts reporting, over longtime Republican activist Allen Quist. Walz, a teacher and coach, has served in the House since 2007.

– Republican John Kline, the highest-ranking Minnesota congressman as chairman of the House education and labor committee, feat Democrat Mike Obermueller in the 2nd Congressional District, just south of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Kline had 54 percent with half of the votes counted.

– Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, a former state House majority leader before heading to Congress in 2009, beat Democrat Brian Barnes in the western Twin Cities’ 3rd Congressional District. Paulsen had 61 percent with more than half of precincts counted.

– Democratic U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum easily beat Republican Tony Hernandez in the eastern Twin Cities’ 4th Congressional District. McCollum, who had nearly 63 percent of the vote in unofficial early returns, served in the state House before being elected to Congress in 2000.

– Congress’ first Muslim, Democrat Keith Ellison, won a sometimes-heated battle with Republican Chris Fields. Ellison has been congressman since 2007, following service in the state House. Ellison led with 65 percent of the vote with nearly half counted.

– U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann returned to Minnesota after failing in the Republican presidential race and late Tuesday was in a close contest with Democrat Jim Graves, who earned his fortune in the hotel business. Bachmann was a state senator before going to the U.S. House in 2007.

– U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee and in Congress since 1991, handily beat Republican Lee Byberg for the second election in a row. Byberg is a Willmar businessman. Peterson had 59 percent with half of the vote in. The Independence Party’s Adam Steele of Bemidji also was in the race.

– The most heated U.S. House race pitted first-term Rep. Chip Cravaack, a Republican, and former  Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan in the 8th Congressional District. Cravaack surprised many in politics two years ago by beating longtime U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar. Nolan served in Congress more than 30 years ago.

Free-lance writers Andrew Tellijohn and Martin Owings contributed to this story.

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