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Democrats strive for gains

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ST. PAUL -- Democrats hoped to build a veto-proof Minnesota House Tuesday, so legislators could go over Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's head.

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But after returns began coming in, Republicans were optimistic they could pick up some seats and stop that DFL supermajority talk.

House Republican leader Marty Seifert of Marshall said in a night when Democrats were doing well across the country, he saw good GOP news with some legislative wins.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said she expected it to be today before Minnesotans knew the breakdown of the House.

"I feel really good about this," she said. "We lost one, but we gained one and with the voter turnout being as high as it is, it is going to be a very long night, but it looks good."

All 134 House seats were up for election.

If a party holds 90 of the seats, in theory it can over-ride a veto. Democrats already have a veto-proof Senate, which was not up for election this year.

Democrats and Republicans gathered at the State Office Building, across the street from the Capitol, to monitor returns.

At Republican headquarters, staffers and volunteers were armed with technology old and new to help them keep track of 134 races. They watched returns flow in via computer and then recorded them by hand on sheets of paper that line nearly every inch of three of a meeting room's walls.

Just before 8:30, the results were starting to come in.

Staffer Cyndee Fields yelled out "I got one!" Her colleagues huddled around her laptop computer, which showed two precincts reporting in one district.

The scene was similar at the DFL House war room, but the staffers were younger and focused on recording returns.

Staffers manned computers on a long conference room table and they yelled results to field director Andy Pomroy. Just after 9 p.m. Pomroy called a win for Democrat Jerry Newton in a northern Twin Cities district. It's one the Democrats wanted to pick up.

Newton ran to succeed retiring Republican Kathy Tingelstad, who was one of six GOP House members who helped overturn a Pawlenty veto of a transportation package earlier this year.

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party gained control of the House in 2006 for the first time since 1998. It held 85 seats in the 2008 session.

The next step DFLers saw was to make it a supermajority that could reject any Pawlenty vetoes.

Leaders of both parties thought 30 to 35 seats could be competitive, but in the campaign's final days, that narrowed to five to 10 seats, House Republican Leader Marty Seifert of Marshall said.

Even Republicans admitted it was unlikely they could win back control. It was a tough year for many Republicans, given the sinking popularity of GOP President Bush.

And when the economy slowed down dramatically, Democrats benefited.

But Republicans believed they would pick off some Democrats who in 2006 were ushered into office thanks to a national Democratic tidal wave.

"We fielded high-quality candidates and we think we're going to take back some first-term DFL seats," state Republican Chairman Ron Carey said as Minnesota polls closed.

Lawmakers said that improving the economy and creating jobs are key issues for voters. Democrats say the public turns to them in difficult economic times and they already have demonstrated an ability to pass legislation that results in job growth.

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