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Democrats in spending fight to retain the Minnesota House

The battle for control of the Minnesota House is attracting millions of dollars, according to fundraising numbers released this week. Republicans need to pick up seven seats to take over the House, and Democrats acknowledge their path to retainin...

The battle for control of the Minnesota House is attracting millions of dollars, according to fundraising numbers released this week.

Republicans need to pick up seven seats to take over the House, and Democrats acknowledge their path to retaining a majority will be struggle in an off-year election that typically favors Republicans.

For the most part, House Democrats have tried to build a firewall around 15 DFL seats that they are in jeopardy of losing in November.

One of those seats is in St. Cloud, where first-term incumbent Zach Dorholt is running for his political life against former state Rep. Jim Knoblach.

The House DFL Caucus wasted no time defending Dorholt, spending at least $40,000 on radio ads.

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"Zach Dorholt delivered $11 million for local schools," an announcer says." On the other hand, Jim Knoblach won't fight for middle class priorities and would bring Minnesota back to gridlock."

Dorholt acknowledges that Knoblach's candidacy has raised the stakes this election year.

"It's become a little more competitive because of who I'm running against," Dorholt said. "That put this seat on the radar."

Another reason Republicans are targeting Dorholt has to do with geography. He's the only DFL legislator serving anywhere in the 6th Congressional District currently represented by U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who is not running for re-election.

Dorholt is using that standing to his advantage, recently telling members of the St. Cloud Rotary Club that he has the entire region at heart.

"In my first two years, I chief authored more than 50 pieces of legislation, not because I was trying to author a bunch of legislation," he said. "I was trying to do things not just for my district but for the St. Cloud area."

Among the legislation Dorhold takes credit for are measures that provided state funding to expand the St. Cloud Civic Center, increased funding for schools and gave more state money to St. Cloud State University.

Knoblach prefers to focus on other DFL initiatives. He said Dorholt played a role in supporting an expensive new Senate Office Building, raising income taxes the botched rollout of the MNsure, the state's online health insurance exchange.

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"If you look at his voting record, Mr. Dorholt is a rubber stamp for what the Democrats want to do," Knoblach said.

In 2006, Knoblach retired from the Legislature after he lost the Republican endorsement for Congress to Bachmann. Before leaving the state Capitol, he chaired the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and the Capital Investment Committee. At the Rotary forum, Knoblach told the audience that his experience matters.

"We have the least senior delegation for an area in the state," he said. "I would bring all of my seniority back if I came back."

The legislative race in St. Cloud is a microcosm of the battle for control of the House. Democrats say their two years in power have served Minnesota well.

House Speaker Paul Thissen said Democrats erased the state's deficit while spending more money on education, job creation and public infrastructure. If Democrats keep control of the House, Thissen said they'll focus on increased spending for early childhood education and transportation.

"To me, what this race is about, is whether Minnesotans think we ought to continue down the path that we started, which I think is really good for Minnesota, or whether we want to go back to kind of the Washington D.C.- style gridlock that weโ€™ve seen previous," said Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.

That's a reference to the state government shutdown in 2011 when Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, was in a fiscal fight with Republicans who then controlled the Legislature. In 2012, Democrats took control of both houses.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said DFL control has not helped the state. He said Democrats spent too much and raised too many taxes.

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"Minnesotans want more balance," said Daudt, R-Crown. "Minnesotans are better served when Republicans and Democrats have to come to the table and work together."

A key factor in the campaign for control of the House may be money spent by special interest groups. The most recent fundraising report shows the House DFL Caucus outraised their Republican counterparts, but several business groups have more than $1 million on hand. Those groups are poised to spend that money on House races where they think they can beat incumbent Democrats.

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