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House District 48B: Loon triumphs over Kihne

Legislator wins race that was seen as a referendum on her 2013 gay-marriage vote. 

It was one of the more interesting races. And it was one of the most watched races. But in the end, the Republican primary in Eden Prairie’s House District 48B wasn’t one of the closest races.

After an expensive intra-party battle, incumbent Rep. Jenifer Loon easily defeated challenger Sheila Kihne to win the primary in the Republican-leaning district. The results were decided early, with Loon winning 60.63 percent of the 3,175 votes cast for GOP candidates. She’ll face DFL candidate Joan Howe-Pullis in November.

Loon attributed her victory to her six-year record of working hard for the district as well as the name-recognition that comes from previous campaigns.

“My first race, people were, ‘Who are you and why are you at my door,’” she said Tuesday night. “Now they recognize me and know who I am.”

Loon’s gay-marriage vote

The race drew no small amount of out-of-district attention and money, largely because Kihne’s challenge was at least partly motivated by her unhappiness with Loon’s vote in favor of legalizing gay marriage last year. Loon was one of just four Republicans in the House to vote yes, though her vote wasn’t pivotal in passing the measure.

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Loon said she felt she was voting her district because 60 percent of voters in 48B rejected a 2012 constitutional amendment that would have made gay marriage illegal.

So, was the election about gay marriage? “For some voters I think it was,” Loon said. “I certainly had a number of conversations with folks at their doors.” But she said voters were also concerned about taxes, the size of government and how the district’s children are educated.

Kihne, a former supporter of Loon’s, said during the campaign that the gay-marriage vote left her feeling betrayed. She helped block a party endorsement at the 48B GOP caucus and then filed her challenge.

“It was a huge flip-flop and a big trust was broken,” Kihne told the Associated Press.