Third party candidates in the Gopher State made a slight comeback in 2008, and had some impact on Minnesota legislative races on Tuesday.

Two races were decidedly impacted by third party candidacies. In the open DFL House District 51A, Republican Tim Sanders defeated DFL candidate Shawn Hamilton by a 47.8 to 43.2 percent margin. Independence Party candidate Daniel William Sanders won 8.7 percent – nearly twice as much as the winning victory margin of 4.6 points. Barack Obama carried the battleground district by 1.5 points in the presidential contest, as did El Tinklenberg by 8.1 points in the 6th CD race. Norm Coleman, however, won the district by 7.2 points in the US Senate race.

In the special election to fill Republican Senator Betsy Wergin’s seat (who was appointed to the Public Utilities Commission) in Senate District 16, write-in votes for exiled Republican Mark Olson netted 1,462 votes, or 3.2 percent. As a result, the district flipped as DFLer Lisa Fobbe defeated Republican primary winner Alison Krueger by just 85 votes. Smart Politics contemplated a DFL pickup in SD 16 back in mid-August prior to the Republican primary.

Incumbent, “Override 6” alumni, and former Republican Ron Erhardt, who ran on the Moderate Independent Party ticket this year to challenge Republican nominee Keith Downey and DFLer Kevin Staunton, also may have helped the GOP carry his 41A House District. Downey defeated Erhardt by 4.8 points and Staunton by 5.3 points in a district Barack Obama won by 12.6 points. It is unclear if Staunton would have prevailed had Erhardt stepped down after failing to win the GOP nomination, however, as Norm Coleman won the district by 8.6 points and Erik Paulsen won the 3rd CD race in 41A by 6.7 points.

Overall, there were 14 candidates on the ballot in Minnesota House races – up from 11 in 2006. The number of third party state House candidacies is down from its 1996-2004 heyday, in which an average of 29 candidates appeared on the ballot.