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Kent, Lillie react to Woodbury Senate election results

Woodbury Democrat Susan Kent speaks with a supporter on election night.1 / 2
Sen. Ted Lillie, R-Woodbury, checked his mobile device during an election night rally Tuesday in Woodbury.2 / 2

Woodbury residents voted in their third senator in six years this week when Democrat Susan Kent defeated incumbent Republican Ted Lillie.

Kent drew 52 percent of the vote to Lillie's 48 percent, making her the second Woodbury Democrat elected to the Senate since Kathy Saltzman won in 2006.

Kent, who will represent Woodbury, Landfall and parts of Maplewood and Oakdale in Senate District 53, said she thought voters responded to her message of bridge-building between parties.

"Voters are just so tired of the partisan gridlock and I have really committed to do my best and bring my skills to work with all sides," she said. "And work on solutions."

Kent's path to victory meant domination in the House District 53A side, which comprises western Woodbury, Landfall and parts of Maplewood and Oakdale. Of those precincts, Lillie won just one, an Oakdale precinct.

Lillie was stronger in the House District 53B portion, where he fended off Kent in six precincts.

Kent won nine of Woodbury's 16 districts. The candidates struck a tie in Precinct 12 - Valley Crossing Elementary - with 1,174 votes.

The race saw Kent, a Woodbury homemaker who worked previously in the marketing field, unseating Lillie, a first-term lawmaker who moved to Woodbury this year from Lake Elmo after redistricting originally pitted him against another incumbent Republican.

In his re-election effort, Lillie had hoped to build on a budding political career at the Capitol that catapulted him into Senate leadership at an unprecedented rate. He was the first freshman ever to be elected majority whip of his caucus and served as assistant majority leader - in addition to being selected for high-level negotiations with Gov. Mark Dayton during the 2011 government shutdown.

"It truly has been a great honor to serve the people of Woodbury in the Legislture," Lillie said, noting that Minnesotans should become more reflective in the wake of the elections and with Thanksgiving ahead. "That's where we should turn. We should put this election behind us. I believe the people of Minnesota will have a bright future."

Lillie blamed the loss on two main factors: negative campaign efforts through independent expenditures and the lasting impact of struggles the state GOP sustained over the past year.

Lillie said money flowing into the Senate District 53 came in "almost at a congressional level."

"It just proves that negative advertising works," he said.

Lillie targeted Afton resident Alida Messinger, Dayton's ex-wife, a DFL supporter and heir to the Rockefeller family fortune.

According to the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, Messinger contributed $982,500 to political action groups in 2012, including $500,000 to the WIN Minnesota Political Action fund and more than $300,000 to the Minnesota DFL State Central Committee.

It was not clear how much, if any, from those funds may have been steered toward the Senate District 53 race.

Independent groups targeted both Kent and Lillie, primarily through direct mail.

Kent said she heard, however, that some Republicans came to her side after seeing negative ads against her.

"To some degree, it must have backfired a little bit," she said.

Lillie blamed the impact of negative ads for the revolving door of Woodbury-area senators in recent years.

"Woodbury has been a bit of a zigzag district," he said.

Kent now turns her attention to a Minnesota Senate that saw a power shift during Tuesday's elections. The Senate and the House flipped to Democratic-Farmer-Labor control after two years under Republican leadership.

Kent said that despite the political advantage Democrats have been handed, the effort will be to stake out common ground.

"From everything I've heard, there's a genuine interest in doing just that," she said.

Fiscal responsibility and economic policies are priorities for DFL leadership, Kent said.

"I'll lend my voice to that," she said, adding that she hopes to be selected for an education-related Senate committee. "I'm just very excited to get to work."

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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