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Here's why 3 of Minnesota's U.S. House races are so important this election

Democrats and Republicans see these races as important – here's an explanation.
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Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton gets most of the Election Day attention, but the results of U.S. House and Senate races will determine which party – Republicans or Democrats – gets the most say in passing laws.

Minnesota has eight U.S. representatives. All are at the end of their two-year term and on the ballot, so voters across the state will be making their pick Tuesday. (The state's two U.S. senators, who serve six-year terms, aren't up for re-election this year).

Having a majority in the House or Senate means you're more likely to gets bill you like passed – or conversely, more likely to stop bills you don't like.

The House of Representatives is currently in Republican hands – with 247 representatives to the Democrats' 188. Republicans need to avoid losing 30 seats to stay in control (or, Democrats need to hope to win 30 seats to gain control). Naturally, a lot of the focus is on individual races in so-called swing districts, where both parties feel like they have a chance to win.

Here are three of those districts in Minnesota.

District 8

Where it is:CD8 takes up essentially the entire northeast corner of Minnesota – from North Branch, to Duluth and up the North Shore, out west through the Iron Range.

Who is running: Incumbent Democrat Rick Nolan faces yet another challenge from GOP candidate Stewart Mills, of the Mills Fleet Farm family.

Why it's a big race: Nolan beat Mills by a mere 3,732 votes in 2014 – about 1.4 percent of the total vote. And while most polls show the Democrat Clinton leading Trump by several points in Minnesota overall, a recent KSTP poll shows Trump has a 12-point lead over Clinton in the 8th Congressional District specifically.

That's attracted money. And lots of it. As of Thursday, the Center for Responsive Politics said the race has recorded the second highest spending by outside groups in the entire country. A total of $15.6 million has been spent on ads for and against the candidates, putting it second only to Nevada's 3rd district.

You may have seen those negatives ads. Mills gets criticized by Nolan for comments he made backing "free trade," which Nolan claims could impact Iron Range jobs. Nolan meanwhile takes heat for his support of the Affordable Care Act.

Reporting on a debate between the two in September, MPR categorized the clash as a battle for the middle class, as both candidates appeal to workers who have struggled because of the mining downturn and are now "stuck" as they earn too much to qualify for government assistance.

Latest poll:Survey USA (Oct. 16-19) gives Mills a 45 percent to 41 percent advantage over Nolan, but with a 4.1 percent margin of error.

District 2

Where it is: Minnesota's CD2 covers an area just southeast of the Twin Cities, bumping up against the Wisconsin border.

Who is running: Former radio host Jason Lewis, who is the Republican candidate; and former St. Jude Medical executive Angie Craig, with the DFL.

Why it's a big race: Rep. John Kline has held the seat since 2003, keeping it firmly in the hands of Republicans. But he's retiring, which created a vacuum in the district that Democrats see as winnable.

Lewis hosted the conservative talk show The Jason Lewis Show between 2009 and 2014, and his controversial commentary on radio has come under scrutiny since winning the Republican nomination. The Atlantic called him the "mini-Trump" of Minnesota. Craig has no political experience, and MinnPost said Republicans have tried to pin her as too liberal for the district.

The ads run by each candidate have largely centered on the respective candidates' personalities and background, but the Pioneer Press sat down with the pair to discuss their policies in more detail.

Both follow the party lines taken by Clinton (expand it, but reduce the cost) and Trump (repeal it and replace it) when it comes to the Affordable Care Act; and while they agree on reducing regulation for businesses, Lewis is in favor of broad tax cuts, while Craig wants to see the wealthy taxed more and businesses taxed less.

Latest poll:Survey USA (Oct. 17) has Craig up 46 percent to 41 percent over Lewis, with 12 percent undecided. There's a 4.1 percent margin of error.

District 3

Where it is: The western Twin Cities metro area is where CD3 is located, and it sort of Pac-Man's Minneapolis.

Who is running: Current Rep. Erik Paulsen, a Republican, is finishing his fourth term in the seat. He's being challenged by DFL state Sen. Terri Bonoff.

Why it's a big race:MinnPost wrote earlier this year that the district has a streak of political independence that in previous years has led to residents choosing Democratic presidents (Obama in '08 and '12) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar over Republican challengers – but sticking the the Republican Paulsen for the U.S. House.

Bonoff, who has served in the Minnesota Senate since 2005 and whose son is one of President Barack Obama's closest aides, is running on a slogan of "Uniting the Middle," promising to be a "bridge-builder" in Washington by working with representatives across the aisle.

But Paulsen is no stranger to bipartisanship himself, recently pledging to push bipartisan reforms to the healthcare system and promoting business innovation.

Both have engaged in an intense ad war, with Bonoff's criticizing Paulsen for his opposition to gay marriage and abortion rights, while Paulsen ads blame Bonoff for her apparent role in rising health premiums and supporting the gas tax. KARE 11 fact-checks their ads here.

Latest poll:Survey USA (Oct. 10-13) has Paulsen leading by 49 percent to 38 percent over Bonoff, with a 4.2 percent margin of error.

To find news, commentary, and local events leading up to the 2016 election, head to Go Vote MN. Go Vote MN is hosting an Election Eve Party at Mill City Nights on Monday featuring Dilated Peoples and Allan Kingdom.

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