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Eken wins close Senate race

Rep. Kent Eken, center, greets Chuck Chadwick, right, and Ben Lien, DFL House District 4A candidate, left, at the Courtyard Mariott in Moorhead Tuesday night. Lien also won the race in his district, which is essentially the Moorhead area. Photo by - Carrie Snyder/Forum Communications Co.1 / 3
Phil Hansen of Detroit Lakes, left, talks with supporters during an election night gathering at Sellin Brothers, Inc. in Hawley. Photo by - Brian Basham2 / 3
Visitors to the Phil Hansen election night party at Sellin Brothers, Inc. in Hawley watch results come in on several televisions set up in the shop area. Photo by - Brian Basham3 / 3

In a closely contested race for the newly created Minnesota Senate District 4, Democrat Kent Eken of Twin Valley and Republican Phil Hansen of Detroit Lakes saw the lead change several times over the course of Tuesday evening.

By a little after midnight, however, with just over half of all districts in the state reporting, Eken had taken a narrow lead of less than 1 percent.

As night moved into morning, Eken began to widen the gap against Hansen, as unofficial results showed a 52-48 percent margin of victory.

The Minnesota Secretary of State's website showed that 97 of 98 precincts had reported statewide as of press time, with unofficial results showing that Eken had garnered 19,833 votes to Phil Hansen's 18,134.

"I feel good that the election is now over and and we know the results," Eken said early this morning. "We feel like all the hard work paid off in the end -- and it was a lot of hard work, not just for me, but for my family and friends and all those who volunteered to help me in my campaign."

Eken said his Senate campaign was truly a family effort, from his wife Lori, who served as his campaign manager and treasurer, to his four kids, who helped knock on doors and stump for their dad.

"It was a very challenging race, a hard fought race, and Phil Hansen was a very strong candidate to run against," Eken said. "It was a lot of work, but well worth it."

Hansen did carry his home county, Becker, where he earned 4,122 votes (58 percent) to Eken's 2,983 (42 percent).

"I thought all along that this was a 50-50 district," Hansen said, meaning that it was pretty much evenly split in party representation between Republicans and Democrats.

"I thought with all the door-knocking I did that I was going to get more people to vote for me, and that just didn't happen," he added.

"After eight months of campaigning, I was just relieved that it was over -- it's been a long stretch," Hansen said. "I really believe I couldn't have done much more. I knocked on doors in every town in this district, I was in every parade this summer... I'm not disappointed at all with the effort that I made.

"This is just what the people wanted, and they got what they voted for, so that can't be all bad," he added. "It's the democratic process. Although I'm disappointed with the outcome I can't be disappointed with the process -- it was good that the people had a choice. And I'll get over this loss."

Hansen said that he had concentrated so much effort on the campaign this year that he never really thought much about what he would do if he didn't get elected.

"I haven't given that much thought, honestly," he said. "But I do want to thank all the volunteers who helped me and supported me, especially Mark and Karen Hagen. He was my campaign manager, and he's just a workhorse. I was so overwhelmed by all the people who supported me -- I feel more bad for them than I do for myself."

Democrats carried the day in many state races Tuesday -- so many, in fact, that they won back the majority leadership in both houses of the Minnesota Legislature.

"The next thing on the agenda is just organizing things for the new majority," Eken said. "Tomorrow (Thursday) I'll be going down to St. Paul already, to help select the majority leadership positions."

Though the current minority leader, Tom Bakk, will undoubtedly assume the position of majority leader for the Senate, there are also a great many committee chairmanships and memberships that will need to be assigned -- a job that largely falls on members of the majority party, though the minority leadership does have some input.

Overall, Eken said, "I'm going to be voting for new leadership, because the old leadership was not willing to compromise, and that led to the state shutdown. I will be voting for leadership that will work to get the job done on time, and will compromise to accomplish that goal."

Eken, a teacher from Twin Valley, served five terms in the Minnesota House before redistricting placed him in the same district as colleague and friend Paul Marquart, who won his own race for state representative in District 4B on Tuesday.

Hansen, a Detroit Lakes businessman, is perhaps best known publicly for his years as a football player, first at NDSU and then in the NFL, where he served as a defensive end for the Buffalo Bills for 11 seasons, starting in 1991.

District 4 includes the City of Detroit Lakes and the townships of Lakeview, Lake Eunice and Cormorant. It also encompasses Clay and Norman counties, including the City of Moorhead, which is the largest municipality in the district.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

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