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1st-termers seek to keep 3 constitutional offices

MINNEAPOLIS - Secretary of State Mark Ritchie faced a re-election challenge on Tuesday less than two years after steering Minnesota through its most contentious recount ever.

Two other first-term Democrats, Attorney General Lori Swanson and Auditor Rebecca Otto, sought to keep the party's hold on all three statewide seats below the governorship.

Ritchie oversaw the biggest election recount in Minnesota history in the protracted 2008 U.S. Senate race, when Democrat Al Franken eventually edged Republican incumbent Norm Coleman by 312 votes out of nearly 2.9 million cast. Ritchie, who was generally praised for nonpartisanship during the recount, also had a hand in refining the state's absentee ballot laws afterward.

Republican Dan Severson raised questions about Ritchie's handling of some elements of the recount, but his major issue was making photo ID mandatory for voters. Severson, a four-term state representative from Sauk Radids, argued that it was necessary to prevent fraud.

The auditor's race was a rematch of the race four years ago in which Otto knocked Republican Pat Anderson out of office. The auditor oversees more than $20 billion spent annually by local governments ranging from counties and cities down to port authorities and soil and water conservation districts.

After Otto beat Anderson, a former Eagan mayor and city council member, Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed her commissioner of employee relations, tasked with eliminating her agency and folding it into the finance department. She was briefly a candidate for governor before switching to the auditor's race in January.

Anderson and Otto, a former state representative and former Forest Lake school board member, clashed over who would be the most vigilant financial watchdog. While Otto preferred to work mostly behind the scenes as auditor, Anderson vowed to be a high-profile bulldog.

Swanson's opponent, Republican Chris Barden, was trying to break a 40-year Democratic hold on the attorney general's office.

Like her predecessors, Swanson focused on consumer protection issues. Her term got off to a rough start four years ago. She took criticism for giving her predecessor and mentor, Mike Hatch, a spot on her staff after he lost his race for governor, and she was accused of ethical lapses as she tried to block a unionization drive among her staff.

Barden, an Edina attorney and psychologist, pledged to join a court challenge to the Obama administration's federal health care plan. He had hoped to become the state's first Republican attorney general since Douglas Head's single term ended in 1971.