Schoen headed to Minnesota House after beating Lehrke in 54A race
Democrats easily reclaimed a south Washington County legislative seat they lost in a squeaker of an election two years ago.
Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party candidate Dan Schoen handily won the Minnesota House District 54A race, beating his chief opponent, Republican Derrick Lehrke, by a 54-37 percent margin.
"It's quite a night," Schoen said as he left a DFL Party gathering in St. Paul at 2 a.m. Wednesday, hours after he celebrated election returns with local Democrats at River Oaks Golf Course in Cottage Grove.
Schoen rolled to his first election win with 11,069 votes to Lehrke's 7,664. Independence Party candidate Ron Lischeid captured 1,428 votes, or 7 percent.
Schoen is a St. Paul Park resident and Cottage Grove police officer. Lehrke is a Cottage Grove City Council member. Both were making their first run for the Legislature in a seat left open after the retirement of first-term GOP Rep. John Kriesel of Cottage Grove, who narrowly took the traditionally Democratic seat in 2010.
Kriesel was the first Republican in many years to represent south Washington County. He opted against running for a second two-year term and endorsed Lehrke.
Schoen acknowledged that the seat favors Democrats, but said he campaigned like he was trailing.
"We were organized and we worked hard," he said. "That was what we did."
Lehrke tracked election returns at Park Place bar in St. Paul Park. He said he thought he would do better in precincts in his hometown of Cottage Grove. Losing in other precincts meant he would have to far better than Schoen in Cottage Grove.
Unlike two years ago when Kriesel earned enough DFL votes to win, Lehrke said voters cast their ballots along the party lines.
"I was out there working hard, knocking on doors, doing what I can as a candidate," Lehrke said.
Lehrke said his candidacy was a greater challenge because Schoen had the campaign support of Cottage Grove City Council members Justin Olsen and Jen Peterson, with whom Lehrke has differed over city issues.
Schoen said his wide victory margin had more to do with voters' frustration over gridlock in St. Paul.
"I think it has to do with style," he said. "The style is, are you going to cooperate and work with people, and the last two years Minnesotans have (not) seen that out of the majority."
House District 54A includes part of Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park, Newport, Grey Cloud Island Township and part of South St. Paul.