All eyes were on primary returns Tuesday in the first phase of battle for control of the Minnesota House of Representatives, including two hotly contested races in which incumbents hung on despite intense challenges from political newcomers.
Longtime state Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, triumphed over Minneapolis school board member Mohamud Noor, capturing 54.47 percent of the vote compared with 45.53 percent for Noor. She’ll be seeking her 22nd term in November.
Deputy House Minority Leader Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, also won, beating former supporter Sheila Kihne. Loon won more than 60 percent of the vote compared with 39 percent for Kihne.
The heated Kahn-Noor contest continued right up to when the polls closed at 8 p.m., as Noor supporters from the Somali-American community stationed themselves along street corners, waving signs and yelling “We make history tonight!” at passing cars.
The widely watched campaign has been marred by allegations of violence, voter fraud and racism. In a first, the party stationed sergeants-at-arms throughout the district polling places, in an effort to prevent voter intimidation and maintain order.
Kahn will face Abdimalik Askar in the general election.
Loon was challenged after she was one of four Republicans in the Minnesota House to vote in support of same-sex marriage.
“I don’t know any lessons anyone can take away from this off the bat, but one thing I’ve always tried to do is listen carefully to my district and constituents,” she said. “While it was a difficult vote, I made it feeling that was how my district felt and how they wanted me to vote. Perhaps it’s a validation of that or of them thinking I’m a good public servant and they want me to continue.”
Of the 15 legislative primaries, nine featured Republicans challenging their party’s endorsed candidates, while six have DFLers pitted against one another. Republicans, in particular, have paid scant attention to party endorsement this time out, with a number of candidates refusing to drop out just because they failed to get their party’s seal of approval.
A hub of activity
Just before polls closed Tuesday in Minneapolis, Noor supporters were buzzing about the campaign’s makeshift headquarters, a shuttered sports bar in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. Surrounded by bananas, Doritos and cookies in an upstairs room overlooking the Hiawatha light rail line, a team worked the phones in a frantic final attempt to woo voters to the polls.
Noor, meanwhile, spent much of his afternoon with officialbusiness. The Minneapolis school board met on primary day, meaning Noor had to cast several votes before retiring to his apartment to prepare for the night ahead.
Kahn spent Tuesday working the phones in her district, optimistic that she had garnered support from across cultures. She said she was focused only on the immediate future, and hadn’t put thought into what she would do if Noor won.
“I’m not even thinking about cleaning my house until tomorrow; I’m certainly not thinking about my political future,” she said. “My list is to get a haircut, clean my house, do my garden and cook supper for once.”
Kihne takes on Loon
In Eden Prairie, Loon began her day by shaking hands with commuters at the SouthWest Transit station, stopping by a coffee shop before casting her vote at 9:30 a.m.
“I feel pretty good, but who knows?” said Loon, who is seeking a fourth term. “I’m hoping for the best; I feel like we worked really hard and did everything we could.” Like Kahn, Loon said she’d given little thought to what the future would hold if she lost. “I’m just really looking forward to relaxing a little bit and hopefully getting a good night’s sleep,” she said.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said that of the party’s contested primaries for legislative seats, many are in stronghold districts where Tuesday’s winner is likely to be the victor in November.
“Does the majority of the House hang in the balance as a result of the primaries? Absolutely not,” Daudt said. “Most of what we’ll stay focused on is winning the general elections in November.”
In the meantime, voters throughout the state cast their ballots in other legislative races. In Shakopee, both Democratic and Republican voters took to the polls in Republican-leaning House District 55A after longtime Rep. Michael Beard decided not to run for another term. Republicans Bob Loonan and Bruce MacKenthun faced off, as did DFLers Jay C. Whiting and Ronald Ryan Gray.
In Wright County, Republican-endorsed Eric Lucero was running against Republican Kevin Kasel to represent the St. Michael and Dayton area. Lucero was endorsed last spring over Rep. David FitzSimmons, who had voted to legalize same-sex marriage in 2013. Kasel entered the race after FitzSimmons dropped out.
Back at Noor headquarters, campaign manager Wil Bernstrom said turnout historically has been low in the inner-city district — something the campaign hoped to change. Among the campaign’s secret weapons have been volunteers like Nasser Massa, who speaks both Somali and Oromo, the language of an east African ethnic group.
Just before polls closed, Bernstrom yelled down the stairs at campaign workers, “Does anybody speak Oromo?”
But Mussa was already gone.