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Funding for government lapses as short-term spending bill stalls in the Senate

High voter turnout expected despite lack of top-of-ballot action

ST. PAUL -- Presidential candidates have all but ignored Minnesota.

The U.S. Senate race has been a snoozer, as have some U.S. House races.

But get down the ballot a ways and two proposed constitutional amendments have generated plenty of sparks. And perhaps the most important decision to be made by Minnesota voters Tuesday is what party controls the state Legislature.

In many ways, Tuesday's election will be topsy-turvy with votes lower on the ballot trumping those that normally get the most attention.

Nothing shows that better than the proposed amendment to define marriage as only between one man and one woman. The two sides have raised a combined total of more than $16 million, by far the priciest constitutional amendment campaign in state history and the most expensive Minnesota campaign this year.

At the other extreme, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kurt Bills had $68,000 in the bank when the final pre-election finance report came out, a pittance compared to Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar's $4.8 million. The Senate race normally is high profile, but there has been little public activity this year.

Regardless of the attention and money, or lack thereof, at the top of the ballot, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie predicts the state again will have voter turnout of about 78 percent, retaining its status as the country's best-voting state.

In some rural precincts, 90 percent of eligible voters show up on Election Day.

"Minnesotans vote," he said. "They are proud of it."

Those Minnesotans will face a long ballot Tuesday because every one of 201 state Legislature seats is on the ballot, something that occurs just once every 10 years after district lines are redrawn to accommodate new census figures.

All eight Minnesota U.S. House seats are up for election every two years. And there are plenty of decisions to be made about local races.

The major offices not on the ballot include governor, secretary of state, attorney general and state auditor. Also, U.S. Sen. Al Franken is not up for re-election until 2014.

"A huge percentage of Minnesota elective officials are on the ballot," Ritchie said, which when added to national presidential race publicity should make for a busy Tuesday at the state's 4,102 polling places.

Every ballot in every precinct will include state House and Senate races.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and a Republican-controlled Legislature have battled, and often stalled, the past two years. Democrats say that putting them in control would make for a smoother government, but Republicans say a liberal governor needs to be checked.

Dayton said the choice before voters comes down to "gridlock versus progress."

"Over the last two years, a Republican-controlled Legislature has made it clear they are not interested in compromising and they are promising the same approach if they remain in charge," Dayton said.

But as he knocks on doors around the state with Republican candidates, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said that he is hearing more and more support for his party's jobs and economy message.

"We have a positive message," Zellers said, adding that Democrats show a negative side.

Who controls the Legislature is important because the majority party can dictate what issues are debated and usually can pass whatever bills it wants.

A close division between the parties is predicted in both the House and Senate, with about 20 races being watched closely.

Republicans hold 72 seats in the 134-member House. The GOP gained control of the Senate two years ago, for the first time in 38 years, with 37 of the chamber's 67 members.

Newly drawn legislative district lines left a quarter of the districts without incumbents, threw some lawmakers together and convinced others it was time to leave. No matter what happens, a large percentage of state legislators will be new next year.

The 2013 Legislature is to convene Jan. 8.

Unlike four years ago, major presidential campaigns early on decided that President Barack Obama likely would win Minnesota and largely avoided the state in 2012. That began to change in the campaign's closing days, with a few big-name visits.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.