Governor race close, DFL leads elsewhere

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota governor's race was as close as predicted Tuesday, with Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Attorney General Mike Hatch practically deadlocked just before midnight.

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota governor's race was as close as predicted Tuesday, with Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Attorney General Mike Hatch practically deadlocked just before midnight.

Republican Pawlenty edged ahead of Democratic Attorney General Hatch 703,503 to 693,350 (46.38 to 45.71 percent) with 65 percent of the precincts reporting. It was the first time Pawlenty had led in the returns; he also trailed in all pre-election polls. However, many of the areas where votes had not been counted were in Republican territory.

Hatch talked to Democrats gathered in a St. Paul hotel early in the evening, expressing confidence he would win.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party candidates were leading in several key races -- winning the attorney general's office -- and House Speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon said his Republicans would lose control of the state House.

Democrats will hold onto the attorney general's office with Solicitor General Lori Swanson, beating Republican Jeff Johnson. With 65 percent of the precincts counted, she led 780,200 to 592,859 (53 to 41 percent.)


Swanson entered the race on the final filing day after state Rep. Matt Entenza withdrew his attorney general candidacy amid multiple controversies. Both Swanson and Johnson struggled to increase their name recognition across Minnesota, neither having campaigned for statewide office before. Swanson has vowed to continue Hatch's aggressive oversight of the state's health care industry.

The attorney general's salary is $114,288.

Johnson, a state representative from Plymouth and Detroit Lakes native, followed in the footsteps of previous GOP attorney general candidates by making public safety his top issue if elected.

In other Minnesota contests:

n Republican State Auditor Pat Anderson trailed her DFL opponent, Rebecca Otto, 758,964 to 588,318 (52 to 41 percent). Independence Party candidate brought in 68,226 votes for 5 percent with 65 percent of precincts counted.

Otto said her lead reflected her efforts to remind voters, particularly in greater Minnesota, about partisanship and accounting problems that occurred during Anderson's tenure.

Anderson, who hasn't ruled out running for a higher office, campaigned for re-election as an impartial watchdog over taxpayer money. Otto, a former state representative who faulted Anderson for accounting errors, claimed she can work better with local officials. The auditor, who is paid $102,258 per year, oversees the finances of cities, townships and other government entities.

n Two-term Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer was another Republican behind her DFL challenger. First-time DFL candidate Mark Ritchie led 730,476 to 640,419 (50 to 44 percent) with 33 percent of precincts counted.


Kiffmeyer has taken partial credit for Minnesota's nation-leading voter turnout rate and touted her expansion of election resources on the office Web site. Ritchie, who in 2004 led a nationwide voter registration drive, said during his campaign that Kiffmeyer runs the office in a partisan way and opposed efforts to make it easier for some groups of voters, such as American Indians, to vote. The secretary's salary is $90,227 annually.

n Incumbent Appeals Court Judge Christopher Dietzen led challenger Dan Griffith 356,604 to 274,350 (57 to 43 percent) with 30 percent of precincts in.

n A proposed constitutional amendment to dedicate motor vehicle sales tax funds led 581,205 to 403,065 (59 to 41 percent) with nearly half of the precincts counted. If approved, all of the sales tax would be directed to transportation uses, with transit projects receiving at least 40 percent of the total. Constitutional amendments are approved only if backed by a majority of all voters; a blank ballot question is considered a no vote. Counting the returns was expected to slow as election officials tallied votes for and against the amendment, as well as the ballots on which voters left the question blank.

n While DFL'ers were hoping to knock Republicans from control of the governor's office and the state House, they seemed assured to retain their majority in the Senate. The DFL caucus entered the Tuesday's election holding a 38-29 majority, and even leading Republicans acknowledged the Senate was unlikely to switch to GOP control. Legislators earn $31,140 a year.

Many incumbent senators appeared headed for relatively smooth re-election bids and most of the open seats were in either Republican or Democratic strongholds. The DFL Party has controlled the 67-member Senate since 1973.

DFL Party leaders also were hoping Tuesday's vote would put them in control of the Minnesota House of Representatives, after having been in the minority since 1999.

Sviggum entered the election holding a slim House majority margin of 67-66 with one open seat. While Sviggum looked to retain power for another two years, Democrats were trying to build on their 2004 election success, when they picked up 13 seats.

Control of the House seemed to rest in the outcome of races in suburban districts and areas outside the Twin Cities, including northern and west-central Minnesota and Rochester.

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