ST. PAUL — Minnesota is expected to maintain the only split Legislature in the country after early returns for all 201 state legislative races projected that Republicans would hold a slim lead in the Senate and Democrats would hold the House of Representatives.
The divide could determine how much gets accomplished at the Capitol and could force bipartisan compromises as the state navigates the coronavirus pandemic, a looming $4.7 billion budget shortfall, redistricting and other key issues facing the state.
Gov. Tim Walz was not on the ballot Tuesday, Nov. 3, as he was elected for a four-year term in 2018, but his decisions in managing the pandemic and civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd were among top points Republicans used in their effort to pick up more seats in Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities suburbs.
Democrats, meanwhile, put before voters a slate of priorities including assisting Walz in approving COVID-19 response measures and keeping in place the state's peacetime emergency, addressing climate change and beefing up restrictions on gun purchases and transfers. They also aimed to tie state Republicans to President Donald Trump and his administration's lacking federal response to the pandemic.
National groups spent millions of dollars on high-profile races in which either party aimed to unseat members they believed to be vulnerable. And on Wednesday, Nov. 4, it wasn't clear that those significant spends had a profound impact in flipping seats in either chamber.
Republicans appeared to pick up Senate seats in Lakeville and Austin while Democrats took seats in Plymouth and Burnsville. In the House, Republicans made gains in Bemidji, St. Peter and Austin but weren't able to win a majority in that chamber. The secretary of state's office on Wednesday said automatic taxpayer-funded recounts were triggered in House districts 6A, 19A and 38B.
“Based on current results, I am confident that we have retained the DFL House Majority. Minnesotans have clearly rejected the divisiveness of Donald Trump in favor of Vice President Biden and the House DFL vision of a Minnesota that works better for everyone," House Majority Leader Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, said in a news release.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, on Wednesday said Republicans were tracking close races in the House as well as recounts but expected to narrow Democrats' lead in that chamber.
"Today House Republicans are well on our way to picking up 5 or 6 seats, including a pickup in the suburbs and major upsets against longtime Democrat incumbents," he said in a news release. "Every one of our suburban candidates outperformed the top of the ticket — some by 8 percent or more."
Having held onto Republicans' slim majority in the state Senate, Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, tweeted Wednesday afternoon that he will "do (his) part to make (a divided Legislature) work."
"We have a tough budget deficit as a result of the Covid lockdowns, but I’m optimistic we can balance the budget without raising additional taxes on anyone," he concluded."
The Republican State Leadership Committee on Wednesday was quick to congratulate the Senate GOP on its win.
“Democrats for months have been crowing about the odds of flipping the Minnesota Senate — turns out their strategy failed just as miserably there as it did everywhere else this year,” Austin Chambers, RSLC President, said in a news release. “Nobody wants their state to be more like Washington. That’s why Minnesotans yesterday rejected the radical policies of socialism that shutter economies and destroy communities, and chose instead to put the best interests of their state first."
Secretary of State Steve Simon on Wednesday said local election officials continued to count and report absentee ballot results and suggested that those returns could affect some of the races.