Happy Days Are Here Again For Minnesota Democrats

Democrats smile (Martin Owings photo)

Forgive Minnesota Democrats if they wear broad smiles today.

Democratic-Farmer-Laborites won all the big prizes in Tuesday’s election. Witness:

— Both houses of the Legislature will be in DFL control for the first time in two-and-a-half decades.

— Democratic President Barack Obama carried Minnesota, like he did the country.

— Two Republican-pushed constitutional amendment proposals lost.

— The Minnesota congressional delegation will be in Democratic control, thanks to Rick Nolan’s return to Congress in northeastern Minnesota.

— U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar won re-election with what could be the largest margin of victory a woman has ever had in a Senate race.

To say Tuesday was a good day for Democrats may be an understatement. Even many of the most partisan members of the party did not predict such an overwhelming showing.

The biggest impact on Minnesotans may be the DFL’s take-over of the state Legislature.

Unofficial returns show Democrats will have at least 73 members in the House, which convenes at noon Jan. 8. Republicans now have 72.

In the Senate, Democrats won 39 of the 67 seats. That compares with the 37 seats Republicans had this year.

Before Tuesday there had been talk about Democrats winning back the Senate, but few thought both chambers would flip.

The 2012 election counters what Minnesota voters did two years ago when they put Republicans in charge. It was the first time in 38 years the GOP ran the Senate.

A pair of Republican-backed amendments may have helped hand the Legislature to Democrats.

“I really do think that the amendments seemed to have turned out the DFL base more and I also think at the end of the day, independent voters seemed to break against the amendments,” House DFL leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said.

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, did not blame Republican fiscal problems for the loss, but added: “It doesn’t help.”

The state GOP has struggled to get out of debt and Democrats far outraised Republican legislative committees.

The new Legislature means Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton will have friendlier faces in control. He wants to raise taxes on the rich to help balance the budget, one of the biggest fights he had with Republicans.

One of the issues already being discussed with a new DFL Legislature is whether it will try to legalize gay marriage, one of Dayton’s wishes.

One of two amendments that voters took down on Tuesday would have enshrined  the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman in the state constitution. With almost all votes counted, it failed 51 percent to 48 percent (1,506,648 to 1,399,406).

However, the definition of marriage remains in state law, which the Legislature and governor could eliminate. Overturning the law is not a sure thing because some moderate suburban and rural Democrats favor the law.

The other proposed amendment on the ballot would have required voters to show photo IDs, a Republican attempt to curb voter fraud. It failed 52 percent to 46 percent (1,534,569 to 1,361,107).

Republicans backing Mitt Romney for president said in the days before the election that the race was close in Minnesota. But like in the country, it was not as close as expected as Obama won the state 53 percent to 45 percent.

Obama will have a  Democratic-controlled Minnesota congressional delegation after two years with it evenly split between parties.

U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack conceded to Rick Nolan early today in the U.S. House district taking in the northeastern quarter of Minnesota.

Nolan, who served in Congress 30 years ago, tallied 192,018 votes (54 percent) to 160,182 (45 percent) for Cravaack.

The last congressional race to be called left Tea Party icon Rep. Michele Bachmann in office. The Republican edged first-time candidate Democrat Jim Graves 180,131 votes (50.45 percent) to 179,924 (49.27 percent).

Other U.S. House incumbents won by decent margins: Democrat Tim Walz in southern Minnesota, Republican John Kline south of the Twin Cities, Republican Erik Paulsen in the western Twin Cities, Democrat Betty McCollum in the eastern Twin Cities, Democrat Keith Ellison in the Minneapolis area and Democrat Collin Peterson in western Minnesota.

Klobuchar had no trouble beating under-funded Republican Kurt Bills, who planned to be back teaching his Rosemount High School economics class this morning. Klobuchar won a second term with 1,851,223 votes (65 percent) to 867,947 votes (31 percent).

Freelance writers Martin Owings and Andrew Tellijohn contributed to this story.

Bills (Andrew Tellijohn photo)