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Nolan victory margin is paper-thin, yet too big for publicly funded recount

Wednesday morning revealed that although incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan received more votes in 2016 than in his 2014 victory over Republican Stewart Mills III, the victory gap was almost nonexistent.

Republican candidate Stewart Mills III addresses media early Wednesday morning at Gull Dam Brewing in Nisswa. Kelly Humphrey/Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery and Video
Republican candidate Stewart Mills III addresses media early Wednesday morning at Gull Dam Brewing in Nisswa. Kelly Humphrey/Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery and Video

Wednesday morning revealed that although incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan received more votes in 2016 than in his 2014 victory over Republican Stewart Mills III, the victory gap was almost nonexistent.

Nolan's 0.58 percent margin was even smaller than the 1.4 percent margin when Nolan defeated Mills in 2014.

In the weeks before the election, polling in the 8th District showed a large Trump lead over Clinton and results from Tuesday's election proved it. Trump seized the district with 53.76 percent of the vote compared to Clinton's 38.27 percent, a margin of nearly 15.5 percentage points. Nolan said earlier that gaining the support of Trump voters was a goal.

Speaking to reporters after 9 a.m. Wednesday, Nolan expressed gratitude for the efforts of his campaign volunteers.

"We've been outspent in just about every election, but they never outwork us," he said.

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He added that he looked forward to working with president-elect Trump on reforming trade laws, ending "nation-building abroad" and election reform.

However, he vowed to fight Republicans if they attempt to privatize Social Security.

Likelihood of recount unclear

It was murky late Wednesday morning whether Mills would contest the results.

Minnesota state law provides candidates in congressional elections the option of a publicly funded recount if the margin is less than 0.25 percent of all the votes counted for that office.

According to the Minnesota Secretary of State's vote tally as of 8:58 a.m., with all precincts reporting, Nolan had 178,893 votes, Mills had 176,821, and there were 784 write-in votes for a total of 356,498 votes. The margin was 0.58 percent of all votes cast, apparently placing it outside the threshold for a publicly funded recount.

However, the law allows Mills to request a discretionary recount funded at his own expense. If he were to challenge the results via a discretionary recount, Mills must submit his request within the seven days following the state's Canvassing Board meeting Nov. 29.

Speaking to media and supporters at 3 a.m. Wednesday, Mills said he apparently had lost, but appeared to leave open the possibility of a recount. He described the race as having come down to within a hair's breadth. He said he would review the results later Wednesday morning, but he would more than likely concede to Nolan.

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"We will wait to see what the morning brings," he said. "We will wait to see what the various counties are able to certify, and what the secretary of state is able to certify."

Mills said his team would be analyzing the vote tallies to determine what went wrong for the Republican challenger.

"We're going to be slicing and dicing this and trying to figure out what county did what, what precinct did what, where we thought we were going to do better," Mills said. "I can't tell you other than Congressman Nolan is a very, very skilled politician, and he has held office since before I was born. He knows what he is doing. He is one tough customer. So no, I have a lot of respect for him as a politician, but on the policy side I disagree with him completely."

The fact that the race was so close was evidence of a demographic shift in the 8th toward Republicans, in light of the district having previously gone for Democrats over the past 60 years with the exception of Chip Cravaack in 2010, Mills said. The area was "on the march" toward being Republican territory, he added.

Mills also expressed happiness over Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton. He said the election put "America and Americans first."

"I'm very happy that Hillary Clinton is not going to be our next president," he said.

Mills thanked his supporters and campaign team and said the result in the race did not change the shift toward Republican values in the district.

"It was a movement of our values, our priorities, our ideals, and I think the fact that it was this close, shows exactly what's happening in this district," Mills said. "What we stand for isn't ever going to go away."

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Mills also gave strong praise to his campaign workers.

"I couldn't hope for, wish for, pray for, a greater group of people to stand alongside of me," he said.

Contacted after 9 a.m., Troy Young of the Mills campaign said that Mills wouldn't likely have further media contact Wednesday. Young declined to comment on whether Mills would request a recount.

When asked for comment, the state GOP directed back to the Mills campaign.

As of the Oct. 19 "Pre-General" election campaign finance report, Mills had already invested nearly $2 million from his own pocket into his 2016 campaign via loans, finance reports for the Federal Election Commission showed. And $189,097 of that money had been repaid. He had also outright donated $47,257 of his own money to the campaign, as of Oct. 19. As of the same date, Nolan had not personally loaned his principal campaign committee money or donated money directly to the committee during the 2016 cycle.

On Oct. 24, Mills put an additional $110,000 of his own money toward his campaign Oct. 24 and another $200,000 on Oct. 31, but because the transactions happened within the 20 days before the election, it was unclear whether they were loans or direct contributions. It is not required for campaigns to specify whether transactions that fall within the 20-day window are loans or contributions until the "Post-General" report, which is due Dec. 8.

Staff writer Chelsey Perkins contributed to this story. Video of Mills' and Nolan's addressing the results on Election Day and into the following morning are available online. Go to www.brainerddispatch.com to see additional photos and video.

8th District Congressman Rick Nolan and his wife Mary watch returns at a room in the Arrowwood Hotel in Baxter Tuesday night. Nolan is in a tight battle with Stewart Mills III. Steve Kohls/ Brainerd Dispatch
8th District Congressman Rick Nolan and his wife Mary watch returns at a room in the Arrowwood Hotel in Baxter Tuesday night. Nolan is in a tight battle with Stewart Mills III. Steve Kohls/ Brainerd Dispatch

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