ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota voters were choosing successors Monday for two legislators who resigned amid sexual harassment allegations, as Democrats sought to remain in striking distance of taking back the state Senate and add a solidly Republican state House seat to their list of upsets leading up to the midterms.

The rare Monday special elections were triggered by the resignations of GOP Rep. Tony Cornish and Democratic Sen. Dan Schoen late last year after they were accused by several women of sexual harassment. It follows surprise victories in legislative and congressional seats that President Donald Trump soundly won, including recent Democratic victories for Missouri and Wisconsin legislative seats.

Democratic odds were long in the rural southwestern Minnesota House seat, where Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by more than 35 percentage points. Cornish regularly cruised to re-election by even larger margins before resigning halfway through his eighth term. Local GOP chairman Jeremy Munson faces Democratic social worker Melissa Wagner.

Even a shocking upset won’t affect control of the House, where Republicans currently hold a 76-57 majority.

But the stakes on the state level were higher in the race to fill a Senate seat that includes Cottage Grove and other suburbs of St. Paul. A win for Republicans would give them a two-seat margin in the chamber, squashing Democrats’ hope of retaking control later this year.

A Democratic victory would put extra pressure on the lawsuit against GOP Sen. Michelle Fischbach, who ascended to become Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s lieutenant governor but is trying to remain in her Senate seat. If she’s forced out, another special election could decide the Senate majority.

Schoen’s departure opened up a swing district — Schoen won the seat by more than 6 percentage points in 2016 while Trump narrowly edged Clinton. Two Republicans hold the district’s House seats.

The race features two former legislators, Democrat Karla Bigham and Republican Denny McNamara.

(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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  1. ep. Keith Ellison (D., Minn.), deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee, attended a private event with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in 2013, according to a newly resurfaced report.

    Anti-bigotry organizations have long pegged Farrakhan as both racist and anti-Semitic, citing his praise of Adolf Hitler, his obsession with Jews, and his belief that white people are subhumans created by an ancient African scientist.

    During the late 1980s through the 1990s, Ellison wrote a series of columns defending Farrakhan and embracing extremist black separatist positions. Writing under the name “Keith Hakim,” Ellison proclaimed that Farrakhan was “a role model for black youth” and defended a University of Minnesota campus speaker who claimed that “the Zionists joined with the Nazis in murdering Jews, so they would flee to Palestine.”

    When first running for Congress in 2006, Ellison apologized to Jewish leaders and wrote in a letter that “I have long since distanced myself from and rejected the Nation of Islam.”

    But despite that statement, the Nation of Islam newspaper the Final Call reported that both Ellison and Farrakhan attended a private dinner and “dialogue” hosted by Rouhani when the Iranian president visited the United States in 2013.

    “After the guests were hosted at a dinner, the Iranian president entered and engaged in a warm discussion with guests, including Democratic congressmen Greg Meeks of New York and Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who is a Muslim,” read the report, unveiled by a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week.

    “Abdul Akbar Muhammad, international representative of the Nation of Islam, and Supreme Capt. Mustapha Farrakhan were part of the Nation of Islam delegation,” the Final Call report continued.

    The Final Call included photos of both Ellison and Farrkhan taking part in the panel discussion, along with Meeks and fellow Democratic Rep. Andre Carson (Ind.).

    Farrkhan has long insisted that Ellison’s 2006 denouncement was less than genuine. After Ellison again denounced the Nation of Islam during his 2016 run for the DNC chairmanship, Farrakhan claimed that they had privately met only a year earlier.

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