MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Former U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan upset freshman GOP Rep. Chip Cravaack to win back a U.S. House seat long held by Democrats in northeastern Minnesota. Two divisive constitutional amendments — to ban gay marriage and require voters to show identification in Minnesota — both went down to defeat.
President Barack Obama and Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar cruised to early victories Tuesday in Minnesota while, in a stunning sweep, Democrats recaptured control of the Minnesota Legislature.
Republicans conceded control of the state 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.
Nolan, who served in the U.S. House from 1975 to 1981, beat Cravaack in an expensive race that gained national attention. Cravaack, who had beaten longtime Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar in 2010, conceded defeat early Wednesday.
Minnesota's remaining U.S. House race remained too close to call. Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, a prodigious fundraiser who raised her national profile with a brief run for president, narrowly led Democratic businessman Jim Graves in her bid for a fourth term.
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 last four years have been crap," said Marvin Grover Cleveland, 73, of Roseville, who voted for Romney. "It's the economy. It went downhill. The debt has gone up so far. ... Let's try something else."
Rene Maas, an over-50-year-old business analyst from Plymouth, voted for Obama, saying he needs more time.
"I think he's made great strides and he's really trying to get us moving in the right direction. It's not going to be an instant change," she said. "You can't recover an economy fast. It's going to take a while. It took a while to get into the mess."
While interest in the race between Obama and Romney was high, it was outstripped in intensity by the campaigns for and against the amendments.
Opponents of the marriage amendment outraised supporters by about two-to-one. But backers had history on their side: No gay marriage ban had ever been defeated at the hands of any state's voters.
Photo ID requirements for voters are spreading through the country, but only Mississippi had one enacted through a constitutional amendment process.
Dale Charboneau, 66, a self-employed designer and artist in Roseville who said he was an independent, voted for Obama and against the gay marriage ban. But Charboneau supported photo ID, recalling the state's close 2010 governor's race and allegations of fraud.
"It's a small percentage, but in an election like this, it could be enough to change it," Charboneau said.
Terri Montbriand, 53, a medical secretary in Bloomington, followed the same path: for Obama, against the gay marriage ban, and for photo ID.
"I guess I didn't think it was difficult to have to show an ID," Montbriand said.
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 and Doug Glass contributed.