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Koenen defeats Gimse in Senate District 17 race

WILLMAR -- Sen. Lyle Koenen won a closely watched race Tuesday night in District 17, where he and Sen. Joe Gimse had challenged each other to represent the district in the Minnesota Senate.

With all of the unofficial returns in by 12:30 a.m., Koenen, a DFLer and 10-year legislative veteran, captured 56 percent of the total with 21,451 votes. Gimse, a Republican who served for six years in the Minnesota Senate, had 17,127 votes.

"I couldn't be happier," Koenen said early this morning, shortly after the unofficial final count was reported.

Campaign messages that emphasized "good common-sense budgeting and treating everyone fairly" seemed to have resonated with the voters, he said. "I've been a proponent of investing in the future. That's education and infrastructure, and also innovation and research."

Koenen, 56, spent a low-key day Tuesday visiting with supporters. After a night of watching election returns, he planned to be up early Wednesday and back at work as a school bus driver. On Thursday he joins the Senate DFL caucus for a meeting in St. Paul.

This will be his first full term in the Senate. He served in the Minnesota House from 2002 until this spring, when he won a special election to the state Senate to fill the remaining term of the late Sen. Gary Kubly.

"I've been in campaign mode since March, so I'm glad today is here," Koenen said.

The District 17 Senate contest was one of several in Minnesota where redistricting put two incumbent state legislators into the same district, virtually guaranteeing that one of them will not return to the state Capitol for another term.

Observers were watching the district especially closely, since the outcome helps tilt the political balance in the Minnesota Senate toward the DFL. In the weeks before the election, both parties blitzed the district with campaign messages focusing on each of the candidates' records on jobs, taxes, education, public safety and more.

Gimse, 55, brought experience as a two-term state senator and chairman of the powerful Senate Transportation Committee, but in the end it was his opponent who received the nod from voters.

"It wasn't close. Lyle won it," Gimse said Tuesday night.

He said he has "no regrets."

"I absolutely enjoyed working as a state senator and working for the people," he said. "I look forward to a new chapter in my life."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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