Primary voters on Tuesday winnowed the field of candidates heading into November's general election. Most of the major parties' endorsed candidates easily held off primary challenges, but in the Green Party Senate race, Ray Tricomo defeated endorsee Ed McGaa. And DFL State Treasurer Carol Johnson outpolled Democratic endorsee Gregory Gray for the state auditor nomination.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Norm Coleman and DFL incumbent Paul Wellstone easily held back their primary challenges, each capturing more than 90 percent of the vote in their contests.
Independence Party candidate Jim Moore also advanced, roughly 50 percent against his two challengers. But Green endorsee Ed McGaa faltered, allowing Ray Tricomo to take the nomination handily.
"Obviously the rank and file of the people of Minnesota, I think they're ready for the message," Tricomo said. "And I think that we're going to have to have an honest but respectful debate with Sen. Wellstone and Mayor Coleman and Jim Moore. And I think, hopefully, they're looking forward to the debates as much as I am."
McGaa says he's relieved the contest is finally over. He blames his loss on negative attention following a report that he helped transport solid waste ash to South Dakota in the 1980s. He says now he'll sit out the rest of the campaign and that he has no interest in assisting Tricomo in the general election.
"I gave it my shot. And I think I would have been one hell of a candidate had I... gotten past the primary. But it didn't happen. So it's not the end of the world," McGaa said.
State Green Party Chair Cam Gordon says he, too, is pleased to have the primary contest resolved. But he acknowledges there is still some unease among party members about fielding any candidate for Senate. Some observers expect a Green nominee could compete with Wellstone for votes and tip the race to Coleman. Gordon says it's not clear how Greens will vote.
"There is a Greens for Wellstone group. I think there will be people who will be conflicted about what to do in this race, and they will be voting strategically. I think some people will be looking at lesser of two evils. Which is unfortunate," according to Gordon.
Greens, however, were solidly behind their endorsed gubernatorial candidate, Ken Pentel. Pentel won his primary contest with 85 percent of the vote.
DFLer Roger Moe, Republican Tim Pawlenty, and Independence Party candidate Tim Penny also advanced into the gubernatorial general election. Each defeated primary opponents by overwhelming margins.
The night's other closely watched race ended with the defeat of another major party endorsee. In the DFL primary for state auditor, challenger Carol Johnson surged past Gregory Gray. Johnson won the contest with 53 percent of the vote. Gray took 34 percent and Gregg Iverson finished third with 13 percent.
Johnson, who is finishing a term as state treasurer, says she's certain the party will now unite around her despite its previous support for Gray.
"I have very strong faith in the people in the Democratic Party. I believe we will come together and I believe that what I bring to the table will be of a benefit to all the members that will be on - or all of the candidates - on the ticket. And I believe that all of us will go on to victory in November," she said.
Republican Pat Awada took her party's nomination for state auditor. Dave Berger of the Greens faced no opposition in his race for that office. But the Independence Party race remained uncertain with endorsee Dave Hutcheson and challenger Todd Paulson separated by roughly one percent of the vote in unofficial tallies.
In legislative races, DFL assistant Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger of St. Peter defeated a primary challenger; DFL state Sen. Satveer Chaudhary of Fridley held off a challenge from former senator Steve Novak, who was attempting to reclaim the seat he resigned two years ago; and GOP Rep. Dennis Ozment of Rosemount advanced over opponent Judy Lindsay. District Republicans declined to endorse either one this year.
Ozment's primary win, part of a 9-0 showing by challenged incumbents Tuesday, qualifies him for a November showdown with DFLer Rosie Isaacson for the Rosemount-area seat. But he's looking on the bright side: "I won't be fighting my own people."
Political family feuds forced 42 statehouse primaries. Ozment was pushed to a primary against school board member Judy Lindsay after local GOP activists deadlocked at their endorsing convention, with some questioning whether the incumbent was too moderate.
Much more rides on the Nov. 5 vote, when the outcome of 201 legislative races will determine party control of the House and Senate. This is the first election since Minnesota's political map was redrawn to account for population shifts, an exercise that created several open seats and contributed to many retirements.
The 2002 session closed with DFLers holding a dozen-vote edge in the 67-member Senate. The House was in Republican control, by a 71-63 margin.
There were 20 DFL primaries. Republicans were matched up in 15. The IP had six contested races and the Green Party had one.
Sen. Sheila Kiscaden of Rochester, a Republican in her first three terms, won a primary under the Independence Party banner. She'll become the party's first elected legislator if she wins a three-way race involving Republican Lynn Zaffke and DFLer Rich Wright.
While Kiscaden is one of the IP's 43 legislative candidates, she may be the best positioned because she is an incumbent and is from a region where IP gubernatorial candidate Tim Penny is expected to run strong.
First, she'll have to regroup after a draining primary against another ex-Republican, Howard Ives. "I've had to spend a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of campaign money on my primary," Kiscaden said.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)More from MPR