Democrats retain Minnesota Senate seat in swing territory

Both rare Monday special elections were triggered by the resignation late last year of two male lawmakers.

Posted: Feb. 13, 2018 7:15 AM

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Democrats in Minnesota retained a state Senate seat in a special election, preserving their hopes of retaking the chamber later this year.

But there was little evidence of Democratic backlash against President Donald Trump and his party that spurred a series of upset victories in GOP-held districts across the country. Karla Bigham won the suburban St. Paul-area Senate seat by a lower margin than her Democratic predecessor.

And in a separate special election in a southwestern Minnesota House district, the Republican candidate trounced his Democratic opponent by nearly 20 percentage points, though that was a margin 15 percentage points smaller than the GOP's last victory there.

As Democrats nationwide aim to make gains in the coming midterm elections, Bigham said she saw Democrats' energy in the crowds of new supporters who helped her knock on thousands of doors and make phone calls during her abbreviated campaign.

"There's no doubt that people want change," she said. "This is something that will hopefully transcend into the fall."

Both rare Monday special elections were triggered by the resignation late last year of two male lawmakers — Democratic Sen. Dan Schoen and Republican Rep. Tony Cornish — accused by several women of sexual harassment. They followed shocking Democratic victories recently in Missouri and Wisconsin legislative seats that Trump soundly won in 2016.

The stakes were highest in the Senate election, featuring a swing district that Schoen won by more than 6 percentage points in 2016 while Trump narrowly edged Hillary Clinton. Bigham's victory extends the Democrats' control of a seat the party has held more than a decade.

But her win puts extra pressure on the lawsuit against GOP Sen. Michelle Fischbach, who ascended to become Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's lieutenant governor but is trying to remain in her Senate seat. If she's forced out, another special election could decide the Senate majority.

That legal challenge hit a hurdle earlier Monday as a judge dismissed it, saying it was lodged too early ahead of the Legislature's Feb. 20 session start. The attorney of Fischbach's constituent who sued said they were considering an appeal, or could simply refile the lawsuit.

Bigham defeated GOP candidate Denny McNamara by 4 percentage points in a race that pitted two former lawmakers against each other. Both candidates touted their legislative experience on the abbreviated campaign trail.

Meanwhile, local GOP chairman Jeremy Munson soundly defeated Democratic social worker Melissa Wagner in a rural southwestern Minnesota House seat. Munson's victory keeps Republicans' House majority at 77-57.

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