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Late trends good for DFL legislative hopes

ST. PAUL -- Signs late Tuesday indicated Democrats could take control of the Minnesota Legislature after giving it up two years ago.

Neither side would declare victory, but they agreed that returns just before midnight favored Democrats.

"The direction certainly is going that way," Senate Republican spokesman Steve Sviggum said.

Both sides were careful because votes were slow to be counted Tuesday night.

"It's too early to tell, but we are encouraged by the high voter turnout and the results in the presidential race and the Senate race in Minnesota," said Zach Rodvold of the DFL House campaign committee. "With so many close races, however, we expect to be in for a long night waiting for returns."

Democratic-Farmer-Laborite candidates were doing well late Tuesday as Minnesotans picked all 201 legislators.

With newly drawn legislative district lines this year, and many seats without an incumbent, more than the usual number of close races developed, further delaying word on who will be in charge of the state House and Senate.

Republicans pulled a surprise two years ago in taking control of the both the House and Senate. It was the first time in 38 years the GOP was in the Senate majority. But 2010 was a "wave election" with Republicans doing well nationwide.

"Taking back the Legislature is our No. 1 priority," DFL Chairman Ken Martin said while awaiting returns. "We were caught by surprise in 2010."

There was broad agreement in both parties that this would not be such a wave vote, so the legislative outcome came down to individual races across Minnesota.

Control of the Legislature is important because the party that runs each chamber can control what bills are debated, and what ones never see the light of day.

The majority party also decides budget priorities, and next year's session is to approve a two-year state budget. The budget dispute last year ended with a state government shutdown.

Gridlock that led to the shutdown has been a key Democratic issue in legislative races. Democrats say the public tells them about being tired of partisanship shown in St. Paul.

However, Republicans report having success talking to voters about jobs and economic issues.

With Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton in office for at least two more years, Republicans were determined to keep control of at least one chamber to block the liberal's wishes to raise taxes on rich Minnesotans and take other actions the GOP opposes.

Democrats, meanwhile, wanted to take over the Legislature to approve Dayton plans that Republicans have blocked the past two years. They also blame property tax increases on Republican legislators.