MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota voters reinforced the state's liberal reputation as President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar easily won in the state, former U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan knocked off a freshman Republican, and Democrats seized control of the state Legislature.
Voters also rejected two proposed amendments to Minnesota's Constitution, to ban gay marriage and to require voters to show identification at the polls, that were strongly backed by conservatives. Both amendments had fueled a barrage of TV ads and overshadowed candidates for statewide office.
"This conversation doesn't end tonight. It's only just begun," said Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United for All Families, which opposed the gay marriage ban. "Because we beat this amendment, Minnesota is in a position to ensure that the next generation can participate in the conversation about who can participate in marriage."
Nolan, who served in the U.S. House from 1975 to 1981, upset first-term GOP Rep. Chip Cravaack to win back a House seat long held by Democrats. Cravaack, who had beaten veteran Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar in 2010, conceded defeat early Wednesday.
"I guess Yogi Berra would say it feels like deja vu all over again," Nolan told cheering supporters in Brainerd. His win gave Democrats a 5-3 margin in Minnesota's U.S. House delegation, which had been tied 4-4.
Minnesota's other close U.S. House race was a squeaker for Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, who vastly outspent Democratic businessman Jim Graves and enjoyed a district made more conservative by redistricting. Bachmann, who was facing a single opponent for the first time, wasn't confirmed in her fourth term until shortly before dawn.
Republicans conceded control of the Minnesota House and Senate after holding both chambers at the same time for only two years. That returns control of the full Legislature to Democrats and gives Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton a free hand to push legislation to increase taxes on the wealthy after Republican opposition led to a government shutdown last year.
Obama captured Minnesota's 10 electoral votes on his way to a second term and kept alive the state's long streak of backing Democrats for president. Despite a late poll suggesting the presidential race in Minnesota was tightening, the state's voters chose Obama over GOP challenger Mitt Romney. No Republican has taken Minnesota since Richard Nixon in 1972.
Klobuchar hammered Republican challenger Kurt Bills in a race called soon after the polls closed. Klobuchar had big advantages in name ID and money while Bills, a first-term state legislator, struggled for attention, money and voter support.
Economic worries outpaced health care reform, foreign policy and the federal budget deficit as Minnesota voters' main concern, according to an exit poll conducted for The Associated Press. About six in 10 Minnesota voters said the economy is the most important issue facing the country — three times more than any other issue.
"The economy is important and we are on the right track and I guess I feel that the Democratic Party in general cares more about the common person, or outside-the-box person, and that's important to me," said Becky Sorlien, 52, of Roseville. A Democrat, she voted for Obama Tuesday, just as she did four years ago.
University of Minnesota student Owen Tierney, a biology major from Buffalo, Minn., said he voted for Obama because of his handling of the economy, his popularity around the world and the health care bill.
"I love Obamacare. I love the idea of it. It's been a really big issue for me, because I want to go into a health field. And all professionals that I talk to agree with it," Tierney said.
But Dee Brooks of Wayzata said she voted for Romney because of his business experience.
"He knows how to run a business, and that's what the government is. It's a huge business, and you've got to have somebody who knows something other than just being charming and likeable," Brooks said.
John Lutter, 55, of Roseville, said he voted no on both amendments. He called the gay marriage ban a ploy by Republicans to get more conservatives to the polls.
"All it does is make a bad law impossible to change. It doesn't advance our state at all — all it does is contaminate our Constitution," said Lutter, who works in advertising. He also voted against voter ID, saying there is no problem with voter fraud in Minnesota.
But Richard Barnett, 68, an engineering contractor from Bloomington, said he voted yes on both amendments.
"One man, one woman. Pretty simple," Barnett said of the marriage amendment. As for voter ID, he said, "It seems a modest expectation for one of the most important things you can do, to prove you are legitimate."
Minnesota historically ranks among the nation's leaders in participation, and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie projected 3 million voters — a number that would approach 80 percent of eligible voters.
Associated Press writers Amy Forliti, Steve Karnowski, Patrick Condon, Martiga Lohn, Dave Campbell and Doug Glass contributed.