Minnesota Democrats were desperate to win back majority control of the state Senate this year. They came close, winning 3 Republican-held seats and losing 2 of their own, which gave the GOP a one vote majority-- 34-33, even though more people voted for Democratic Senate candidates than for Republicans-- 1,577,523 (49.82%) to 1,532,446 (48.39%)... the wonders of gerrymandered districts! (After winning seats as Democrats, very senior conservative assholes Thomas Bakk, a former Majority Leader and gubernatorial candidate, and David Tomassoni, current Senate president, quit the DFL to form an independent caucus.)
One of the seats targeted and won by the Dems was SD-14 in St. Cloud, the county seat of Stearns County. In 2016, Trump won the county 60.3% to 32.4%. In 2018, results were mixed in the county. Amy Klobuchat won 48.4% to 48.1% but Tina Smith (Senate special election) and Tim Walz (governor) both lost badly-- 54.9% to 40.4% in the Senate race and 55.9 to 40.5% in the gubernatorial race. This cycle, the county was Trump-country again-- 60.2% to 37.7% for Biden.
Luckily for Democrat Aric Putnam, the most Republican parts of the county do not dominate the 14th Senate District. It was close, but he beat far right incumbent Jerry Relph 18,318 (46.39%) to 18,002 (45.59). Relph demanded a recount, which he had to pay for, and the recount gave Putnam 2 more votes and Relph 3 more, so a net of 1 vote. He followed Trump and refused to concede. Instead he went to a Republican victory party, where several Republican legislators were infected with the coronavirus, including Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka.
Age 76, Relph was hospitalized in the emergency room twice and died Friday, remembered for his opposition to paid family sick leave, calling it a "statewide social security system" and his opposition to universal pre-school which he called "a step to creating cradle to grave control by the government."
Many of the Republicans in the legislature are infected with COVID by Relph is the first to die. He was a fanatical opponent of pandemic restrictions. Last week-- still infected and knowingly spreading the disease to others, he held a Capitol press conference with bar and restaurant owners working to get publicity as an opponent of the governor's extension of a ban on in-person dining until Jan 11.
The first time Relph ran for office was in 2016 when he beat Democrat Dan Wolgamott by 141 votes for the open state Senate seat. This was his first reelection attempt and most voters had had enough of his Trumpist bullshit.