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Carlson, Beltrami County Republicans optimistic of wins

Jane Grasdalen leaves the voting booths at Bemidji Township Tuesday morning. She was one of more than 500 voters who had already cast their ballot by noon. Bemidji Township has about 1820 registered voters. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Beltrami County Republicans entered the long night's watch optimistic, according to early returns.

Beltrami County GOP Chairman Ken Cobb had a large-screen television set up to display numbers as they appeared from the Secretary of State's Office.

They were turning up Republican about 10 p.m., causing Cobb to smile broadly.

"It's early to tell, but we're feeling optimistic," said John Carlson, the Bemidji insurance agency owner set to unseat Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji. ""The first districts that are in have absolutely flipped themselves over back to the 2002 vote to the 2006 vote. That obviously bodes well."

Republican Carrie Ruud of Breezy Point took the 2002 race, but Olson defeated her in 2006. This year's winner will serve only two years due to redistricting.

"We'll just keep our chin up," said Carlson, who ran for House 4A in 2008 but was defeated by DFLer John Persell.

"In comparison to last time, there's a heavy Republican turnout," said Olson. "Just looking at the numbers, we're seeing similar numbers from the Democrat numbers from four years ago but heavier additional votes from the Republican side."

Carlson won the contest over Olson. With 137 of 140 precincts reporting, Carlson had 18,906 votes, or 54.55 percent, while Olson had 15,696 votes, or 45.29 percent.

The Republicans were of an upbeat mood at the old Burger King building, with more than 100 enjoying TV updates and snacks. The DFLers held two rooms at the Hampton, one for counting and one for food and snacks.

"The Americans want to take their country back," said Associate Republican Vice Chairwoman Kath Molitor, "that they don't want Obamacare, they want to be in charge."

She said it was a "very exciting night because people are here tonight with chances to win and chances to take back."

Carlson said if he won, he'd wake up tomorrow and open up his insurance agency and service his clients.

"I've got some statistics that show it is going in our direction," he said, indicating he might stay up later than last time, when trends showed a Persell win.

"There will be lots to do -- caucuses to attend and training to attend," he said of a Carlson win. "And start working on the budget."

He wants an outcomes-based approach to state budgeting. "I really like what (County Administrator) Tony Murphy is doing wioth Beltrami County," Carlson said.

"We need to take some of that logic and apply it to the state level."

And Olson had statistics showing her race going in the opposite direction.

Regardless of who wins, Olson said she's most looking forward to a night's sleep, indicating how hectic the last few days have been.

"I feel that we tried to talk about the issues and focused on what we thought were important," the Bemidji Democrat, an attorney, said. "We didn't use any third parties or anyone to go around to do anything negative. I think we tried to present a real positive note."

She only recently saw a video of Carlson speaking last year to a local Tea Party rally, and said she and he were philosophically polar.

Some of his comments "were in a very different place than I would think most people in this district are, because I think most people here tend to be more moderate and independent."

There's a lot of energy with the Tea Party, however, she said. "I hope whichever way it goes, for good things for this area."