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Nolan, Quist triumphant in Minn. races for Congress

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Two Minnesota congressional candidates who last served in public office decades ago won their primary races Tuesday night, pushing them on to November matchups against incumbents that could prove more difficult.

Rick Nolan beat two fellow Democrats in northeastern Minnesota's 8th District and will take on first-term GOP Rep. Chip Cravaack. Allen Quist will be the Republican candidate against Democratic Rep. Tim Walz in southern Minnesota's 1st District.

Nolan, who served in Congress from 1975 to 1981, captured 40 percent of the vote to 32 percent for Tarryl Clark and 29 percent for Jeff Anderson. Quist, a former state representative and longtime conservative activist, won 54 percent of the vote to 46 percent for state Sen. Mike Parry, after a raucous primary contest that saw the two Republicans tearing into each other after trading over-the-top comments.

The 1st District, with many rural areas but also cities including Rochester, Mankato and Winona, has long been a political swing area. But Democrat Walz, first elected in 2006, has built a formidable base of support.

Asked if he was the underdog, Quist said: "It'll be billed that way. But we don't see it that way." He pointed out that Walz got 49 percent of the vote in a three-way race in 2010, and that this year's contest would be a two-way matchup.

Quist said balancing the federal budget would be his campaign's chief message.

Quist served in the state House in the 1980s, and lost the 1994 Republican primary for governor to incumbent Arne Carlson despite winning the party endorsement that year. The Parry campaign trotted out some of his past controversial statements, including a 1994 interview where he said men had a "genetic predisposition" to lead households.

But Parry's run was rocky, too. The week before the election, he was sharply criticized after accusing Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, of popping pills in a meeting.

Walz's campaign released a statement congratulating Quist and saying Walz has "stood up for middle class families, veterans, students and seniors."

In the 8th District, Democrats saw a chance to win back a seat they didn't think they would lose two years ago, when Cravaack upset longtime Rep. Jim Oberstar in what the party sees as its turf. Democrats have criticized Cravaack after his family relocated to New Hampshire.

Nolan, who had the Democratic endorsement in the race and support from Gov. Mark Dayton and other party luminaries, nevertheless had to battle perceptions that he was too similar to Oberstar. The two were both first elected in 1974, leading state GOP Chairman Pat Shortridge to ridicule the two as "Watergate babies."

Clark, who moved to the region not long after she lost to U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in a different congressional district, enjoyed a large fundraising advantage over Nolan. She ran a TV ad last week that accused him of "blatant misuse of taxpayer dollars" as head of the Minnesota World Trade Center more than two decades ago. He struck back by accusing her of "gutter politics."

In other primary action, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Kurt Bills breezed to easy primary victories in the U.S. Senate race, setting up a general election contest between the Democratic incumbent and a Republican challenger new to statewide politics.

Klobuchar had only token opposition. Bills, a first-term state representative and high school teacher who carried the GOP's endorsement, rolled past two rivals.

It appeared Stephen Williams would be the Independence Party's Senate candidate. He held a comfortable lead over Glen Menze with most returns tallied.

In other House races, Reps. Bachmann, Erik Paulsen, John Kline, Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum easily staved off primary challengers. In McCollum's St. Paul-area district, businessman Tony Hernandez won the GOP primary to take her on.

The House and Senate races weren't alone on the ballot. Forty-four legislative primary races were under way, including three western suburban Twin Cities districts where Republican incumbents faced conservative challengers. One of those, state Rep. Steve Smith, was a casualty, falling to tea party challenger Cindy Pugh.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie predicted turnout of less than 15 percent of eligible voters, and without the crowds of November, the voting process itself unfolded smoothly statewide.

It's only the second time Minnesota has held its primary election in August since moving it up from September to give military and overseas voters more time to vote in the general election. But it's the first since the state redrew its congressional and legislative district boundaries to reflect population shifts.

Also up were two Minnesota Supreme Court races, where the top two vote-getters will advance to the November election. Two incumbents, Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea and Justice David Stras, both advanced in their races.