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U.S. House incumbents do well

ST. PAUL - Incumbent Minnesota U.S. representatives notched wins Tuesday.

Congressmen declared winners included:

-- Democrat Collin Peterson of western Minnesota jumped to a large lead over second-time challenger Glen Menze. Peterson led 172,057 (72 percent) to 66,608 (28 percent) with 87 percent of precincts reporting, according to unofficial returns from the Secretary of State's office.

-- The dean of Minnesota's congressional delegation, Democrat Jim Oberstar, in the northeast and east-central area, easily out-distanced political unknown Michael Cummins. With 58 percent of precincts reporting, Oberstar had 126,448 votes (66 percent), compared to 65,279 for Cummins (34 percent).

-- First-term Democratic Rep. Tim Walz, representing the southern counties, beat conservative Republican Brian Davis. With 93 percent of the vote counted, Walz led 189,977 (63 percent) to 99,585 (33 percent).

-- Republican Rep. John Kline, from the southern Twin Cities suburbs and counties to the south, turned back Steve Sarvi. With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Kline had 207,922 votes (57 percent) to Sarvi's 155,008 (43 percent).

A race that gained national attention was closer than most. Republican Michele Bachmann appeared to be in good shape to keep her House seat. She held a lead with a 77 percent of the precincts reporting - 146,406 (47 percent) to El Tinklenberg's 134,282 (43 percent).

The race gained national notice when Bachmann questioned whether Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama might have anti-American views and said the media should investigate every member of Congress to determine who was anti-American.

Bachmann and Tinklenberg, whose race was quiet until Bachmann's recent nationally televised comments, ran in a district stretching along the northern Twin Cities to St. Cloud.

The other tight House race -- in the western Twin Cities' suburbs -- state Rep. Erik Paulson, a Republican, led Democrat Ashwin Madia with 41 percent of precincts reporting, 47 percent to 41 percent.

Two Twin Cities Democratic representatives, Betty McCollum of St. Paul and Keith Ellison of Minneapolis, were declared easy winners early in the night.

Oberstar said he had no doubt he would win: "It is just a matter of how large a margin."

The key to serving so long is not in the campaign, he said. "It is your work as an incumbent that one does year in and year out, responding to the needs of the citizens."

Even when he cannot succeed, he said, "people will say, 'You tried.' My driving purpose is serving the people."

As Transportation Committee chairman, Oberstar said, he looks forward to working with a Democratic president and a Senate with more Democrats.

"For me, the exciting thing is with those concerns in mind, we will have a president who will sign these bills and will have a senate who will not be locked down in filibusters," Oberstar said about his transportation bills. "I think we have about 18 months before the next election cycle sets in."

After he was declared a winner, Kline remained optimistic Tuesday night in the face of a Democratic presidential victory and many Democrats winning congressional races.

"I'm looking for more victories," the Republican said.

The 2nd District Republican said he was rewarded for a strong campaign and hard work in Congress.

"I've got a lot of work to do," Kline said. "I have to learn how to work with a Democrat in the White House, and I'm sure I'll do that."

Peterson said that despite being a Democrat he will not have an easy time with a Democratic president and the possibility of more Democrats in the House.

"We are going to be in a heck of spot," the conservative said. "We are going to have to keep everybody centered."

So-called Blue Dog Democrats, a group of conservatives, probably will grow from 49 to 61 members, he said, with a larger job. "It is going to be our job to keep this thing in the middle of the road."

Barack Obama, now the president-elect, told the Blue Dogs two months ago that he would work with them. Peterson said he does not expect Obama to be "going to be off on some left-wing agenda."

Blue Dogs could wield power, Peterson said, by being the force to bring the two extremes together.

Kline said he has to work with his party as well as House Democrats. But he also said part of his role will be to "make sure there's not just a runaway train on the Democrats' agenda."

The 2nd District Republican said he was rewarded for a strong campaign and hard work in Congress.

"I've got a lot of work to do," Kline said. "I have to learn how to work with a Democrat in the White House, and I'm sure I'll do that."

Kline said he has to work with his party as well as House Democrats. But he also said part of his role will be to "make sure there's not just a runaway train on the Democrats' agenda."

Kline said he will continue trying to fix what is broken in Washington.

Walz said he thinks one reason he won was because "I did not get involved in partisan politics."

But, there was another reason he won so big: "There was a pretty good wind at Democrats' backs overall."

Democrats gained nearly 20 seats in the House, which Walz said should help Barack Obama to "have a vision."

As midnight neared, Walz said that it is time to change gears from the campaign.

"Tomorrow we put the politics away," he said. "We start working to find solutions."


The Bachmann-Tinklenberg 6th Congressional District race gained national attention when Bachmann, 54, told MSNBC's Chris Matthews that she thought Obama might hold anti-American views. She also said all members of Congress should be investigated for that.

While Bachmann said Matthews trapped her into making the anti-American charges, it helped Tinklenberg, 58. Money began pouring into the Democrat's campaign account, giving him a chance to buy television commercials in a campaign that up to then had been very quiet.

Within days after Bachmann's comments, polls showed the race a toss-up. She had been leading comfortably.

Bachmann, a tax attorney, served in the state Senate before being elected to the U.S. House two years ago. She is known as social and fiscal conservative.

She has gained national attention for things such as kissing President Bush after he finished his 2007 State of the Union address and calling for more off-shore oil drilling. The Matthews "Hardball" interview reaction received even more attention.

Tinklenberg was a Methodist minister in Blaine, Minn., before becoming mayor there. He served Gov. Jesse Ventura as transportation commissioner.

The Democrat, who also received the Independence Party endorsement, mostly has been out of the spotlight since the Ventura administration.

A third candidate, Bob Anderson, 50, of Woodbury, belongs to the Independence Party, but did not gain its endorsement.

In western Minnesota's expansive 7th Congressional District, Peterson of Detroit Lakes normally has no problem winning re-election.

Serving his 9th term, the 64-year-old Peterson is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, a platform that gives him national exposure. Most campaign money he collected was turned over to other candidates' campaign committees since he needed so little to run for re-election.

Peterson served in the Minnesota Legislature before heading to Washington.

Like Peterson, Menze, 49, is an accountant. The Starbuck Republican collected and spent little in his second attempt to unseat Peterson. However, he said if he lost Tuesday's vote, he would be back to run against Peterson in two years.

In the campaign, Menze complained that Peterson allowed too much pork-barrel spending in the farm bill. Peterson was a key figure in writing the bill, which sets federal farm policy for years.

Peterson had been discussed as a federal agriculture secretary if Barack Obama won the presidency, but Peterson repeatedly said he would not accept such a post. He said he had more power as committee chairman.

The 7th takes in a territory ranging from Canada nearly to Iowa, and reaches east close to the Twin Cities.

Oberstar never expected much of a challenge from Cummins.

The longest-serving Minnesota congressman, in office since 1975, Oberstar is chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Oberstar, 74, lives in his hometown of Chisholm. Despite his rural Minnesota background, he has a degree from the College of Europe and taught in Haiti before working in the U.S. House from 1963 to 1974.

He rose to become the top transportation congressman by spending years in the trenches. He is known for his support of bicycling paths and his knowledge about aviation issues.

Cummins, 45, of Brook Park was a late-arriving candidate in an area not known for backing Republicans. He owns a business and during his quiet campaign he played up his interests in hunting, fishing and scuba diving.

The 8th comprises all of northeastern Minnesota, including Duluth, but also reaches into north-central and east-central Minnesota, going to the northern Twin Cities suburbs on the south.

Walz, 44, had a successful first term in the House.

He was elected president of his congressional class when he took office early last year. The teacher and long-time National Guard member has been an outspoken opponent of President Bush's Iraqi policy.

Walz is known as a hard worker in Washington and often was mentioned as a potential Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. However, he early on said he wanted to remain in the House and never wavered.

He is a Nebraska native who lives in Mankato, where he taught before going to Washington.

Walz said he does not like the partisan atmosphere he found in Washington. "Whenever partisanship raises its head, I have to tell you, I become very, very uncomfortable with that."

Davis, 50, is a Mayo Clinic doctor in Rochester. Making his first run for public office, the most-mentioned thing in his campaign is what he sees as a need to increase off-shore oil drilling.

Davis said he liked the conservative representation he saw when he moved to Minnesota 12 years ago. But after Walz defeated long-time congressman Gil Gutknecht two years ago, he saw a need to represent fellow conservatives.

The 1st Congressional District, where Walz and Davis battled, stretches all across southern Minnesota's lower two to three tiers of counties.

It was a military battle of sorts in Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District.

Incumbent Kline of Lakeville is known for being a former Marine who carried the "football," a case containing nuclear missile launch codes the president would need if he wanted to attack.

In public, Kline is a generally quiet person known for his work on defense and veterans' issues. He is a conservative, especially on tax and budget issues.

Kline is finishing his third House term.

Sarvi is in the Army National Guard after serving in the active Army and the Army Reserves. And he is former Watertown mayor.

While he talks about defense, too, Sarvi has emphasized economic issues above all others.

The 2nd covers southern Twin Cities suburbs and rural counties to the south.

State Capitol reporter Scott Wente and free-lance writer Julie Bartkey contributed to this story.