DFL keeps state House seat in south metro special election

Democrat Bianca Virnig will serve the remainder of Ruth Richardson's term in the state House after defeating Republican Cynthia Lonnquist in the 52B special election.

Democrat Bianca Virnig (pictured) will serve the remainder of Ruth Richardson's term in the state House after defeating Republican Cynthia Lonnquist in the 52B special election.

Democrats held onto a state House seat up for grabs in the south metro in a rare December special election on Tuesday, made vacant just 100 days ago with the abrupt resignation of Rep. Ruth Richardson, an executive for the regional chapter of Planned Parenthood.

Democrat Bianca Virnig, a school board member for District #196 in Rosemount-Eagan-Apple Valley, bested perennial Republican candidate Cynthia Lonnquist by about 17 percentage points to win a 12-month term representing District 52B in the House of Representatives.

That win helped the DFL maintain its 70-64 advantage over Republicans in the House heading into the 2024 legislative session.

Virnig will serve out Richardson’s remaining term, and is expected to run for a new term in the fall. She was endorsed by a handful of progressive political organizations and unions, including Planned Parenthood, Moms Demand Action and FairVote Minnesota.

Lonnquist, a business owner, campaigned on working in the legislature to improve public safety resources in schools and providing tax relief to working families. The Republican Party of Minnesota put out several calls to action in recent days to its members to pitch in and help Lonnquist reach voters in the district, which includes most of Eagan and Mendota and Mendota Heights.

While turnout was expected to be low for a December special election, just 22 percent of nearly 30,000 voters in the district cast a vote.

Virnig earned 3,853 votes to Lonnquist’s 2,705 votes. The silver lining for Republicans looking ahead to the 2024 state House elections is that Lonnquist’s nearly 41 percent vote share was an improvement over her 38 percent vote share in the 2022 election. Turnout for Lonnquist on Tuesday also outperformed the vote share of Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen in the district in 2022 by 6.9%, and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2020 by 5.7%.

“The DFL won 52B decisively in 2022 by 23.4%. Cynthia Lonnquist was able to shrink that gap by 6.09% — her result this evening was the best performance by a GOP legislative candidate in this district since 2016, and she outperformed every GOP candidate on the ballot looking back to both 2020 and 2022,” the House Republican Campaign Committee said in a memo Tuesday night.

The two candidates raised a combined total of $35,000 in a race that felt like more of a sprint than a marathon, with just less than 100 days to run a campaign, according to campaign finance reports.

While Lonnquist had the advantage of having campaigned for House twice before, she was able to raise about $20,000 in the special election campaign. Virnig was not a newcomer to campaigning either, as she was elected to a seat on the District #196 school board in November 2021. She raised more than $15,000 while campaigning for the state House seat against Lonnquist, after winning a four-person DFL primary just a month ago.


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.