MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Joe Biden carried Minnesota on Tuesday, dashing President Donald Trump's hopes of becoming the first Republican to carry the state since Richard Nixon in 1972, while Sen. Tina Smith fended off GOP challenger Jason Lewis and GOP challenger Michelle Fischbach upset veteran Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson.
Two other of the state's eight House races were still close early Wednesday. Democrats were hoping to capture full control of state government by taking the Senate.
A record number of Minnesotans voted early to avoid potential long lines on Election Day and the threat of the coronavirus. The state told voters it would count absentee ballots that came in up to one week beyond Election Day if they were postmarked by Tuesday. But a court ruling last week requiring that those ballots be segregated cast doubt on whether late-arriving votes would count. At midday Tuesday, around 283,000 requested absentee ballots had not yet been returned.
A look at races in play in Minnesota:
Biden captured Minnesota despite a strong push from Trump, who nearly took Minnesota four years ago and talked repeatedly about doing it this year. Trump held several rallies in the state, targeting rural and northern Minnesota where his following was strongest. But Biden benefited from a passionate Democratic turnout in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. Two dueling visits by both candidates on the same days in the final weeks highlighted Minnesota’s battleground status.
Smith was in the rare position of having to defend her seat for the second time in two years. She was Gov. Mark Dayton’s lieutenant governor when he appointed her to the seat in 2017 after Sen. Al Franken resigned. Smith then won a special election in 2018 to complete Franken’s term.
“From the beginning, this campaign has been about what we can do to work together, find common ground, and get results for the good of Minnesota and our country," Smith said in a statement.
Lewis, is a one-term former congressman who was well known from his days as a conservative talk radio host, stressed his support for Trump, who rewarded Lewis' loyalty with public praise.
Fischbach upset Peterson, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, who was seeking a 16th term representing the 7th District in heavily agricultural western Minnesota. Fischbach is a former state senator who briefly served as lieutenant governor in 2018 when Smith resigned the seat upon her appointment as a U.S. senator. Fischbach depicted Peterson as too close to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other liberals.
Peterson, a conservative Blue Dog Democrat, had rarely faced serious challengers. But the district has become more Republican over the years, which gave Fischbach an opening.
“The hardworking men and women from western Minnesota made their voices heard and showed that they will no longer accept Collin Peterson as their representative,” Fischbach said in a statement.
There were two close races in southern Minnesota. In the 1st District, freshman GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn was trying to fight off Democratic Iraq war vet Dan Feehan in a bitter rematch of their close 2018 race. The 2nd District race, in the southern suburbs, was scrambled by the death of a third-party candidate. Democratic Rep. Angie Craig went to court to block having the election delayed until February, which might have put her at a turnout disadvantage against Republican and former Marine Tyler Kistner.
Winning comfortable victories among Democratic incumbents were Reps. Ilhan Omar, Dean Phillips and Betty McCollum. Easy GOP incumbent winners included Reps. Tom Emmer and Pete Stauber.
All 201 legislative seats were up for election. The GOP was defending a three-vote majority in the Senate. If Democrats take the Senate and keep their comfortable House majority, they'll control how Minnesota deals with a projected $4.7 billion budget deficit and the redrawing of state and congressional district maps. The redistricting stakes are high. Minnesota is on the bubble for losing a congressional seat after new census figures come out.
Associate Justice Paul Thissen, a former speaker of the Minnesota House who was facing voters for the first time since his appointment in 2018, fended off Michelle MacDonald, a family law attorney who is facing potential disciplinary sanctions.
A few dozen people marched in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood, lighting off fireworks and carrying a banner that said, “America is Over.” Police said the group blocked traffic, spray painted the exterior of a business and threw debris and traffic signs into the road. Police also said it appeared the group set fires. Police said that as officers approached, some group members shot fireworks at officers. Officers arrested 14 people on suspicion of rioting.
Marty Boeckman, 57, a software engineer from the Minneapolis suburb of Blaine who described himself as “very conservative,” said Tuesday that he voted for Biden “based on integrity. Integrity is what’s driving it all.” Trump, Boeckman said, ”is just not what I want from a leader.” He said Biden is better equipped to deal with the pandemic.
“Trump’s in denial. ... There needs to be a middle-ground approach” between doing nothing and complete lockdowns, he said.
At the same Blaine polling place, 45-year-old Greg Janacek said he voted for Trump.
“The biggest issue for me would be law and order,” Janacek said. “And keeping the economy strong.” He also said he thought Trump would be more able to deal with the pandemic going forward.
“I think it’s a good balance of staying open but still protecting our citizens,” he said.