Dayton defeats Anderson Kelliher

Published 6:53 am Wednesday, August 11, 2010

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Mark Dayton won the Democratic nomination for Minnesota governor Tuesday in a bid to rebuild a political career scarred by a frustrating six years in the U.S. Senate and give his party the state’s top post for the first time in two decades.

Dayton beat the Minnesota House speaker and a former Democratic legislator in a primary race during which he ran hard to the left. He advances to face his polar opposite in Republican Tom Emmer, a conservative legislator who coasted to the GOP nomination.

Minnesota voters will have a sharp contrast when they choose a replacement for Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who didn’t seek a third term. Emmer says he would balance the books through spending cuts alone, while Dayton promises a new top tax bracket to help deal with an anticipated $6 billion deficit awaiting the next governor.

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“I’m offering sound, responsible, honest solutions,” Dayton said early Wednesday. “Certainly Representative Emmer hasn’t even begun to approach that standard.”

Even as Dayton set his sights on Emmer, the Democrat’s top rival, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, refused to concede. “We’re not making any decisions,” she told supporters early Wednesday even as Dayton widened his lead in unofficial returns.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Dayton led Kelliher 41 percent to 40 percent. The gap in raw votes was outside the margin that would trigger an automatic recount.

A potential complication for both sides in November is Tom Horner, a former GOP strategist running on the Independence Party ticket. The third party has influenced — and won — past governor’s races. Its best-known member was Jesse Ventura, elected governor in 1998 when it was known as the Reform Party.

A “tax the rich” theme echoed through the Democratic primary campaign but Dayton took it further than his opponents. His new taxes would come into play on incomes starting at $130,000.

“I respect him because I know he is a wealthy man and he was stressing that somebody needs to try to even it out,” said retired teacher Ruth Mammenga of St. Paul, who voted for Dayton. “He’s speaking for the common man even though he doesn’t have to do that.”

Dayton spent $12 million of his own money toward his Senate victory a decade ago, and already has supplied his campaign with $3.3 million this time around.

The Democratic Party had backed Kelliher, who was trying to become Minnesota’s first female governor. But Dayton relied on personal wealth and high name ID to beat her and the race’s top spender, Matt Entenza, who conceded early in the evening.

Kelliher had led Dayton for most of the night until he finally took the lead near midnight on late returns from northeastern Minnesota’s union-strong Iron Range.

Dayton’s name is widely known in Minnesota, where his great-grandfather opened a dry goods store that ultimately grew into Target Corp.

The 63-year-old also has a lengthy past in Minnesota politics. Dayton won elections as state auditor in 1990 and for the Senate seat in 2000. He lost a race for Senate in 1982 and a Democratic primary for governor in 1998. He served in the cabinet of Minnesota’s last Democratic governor, Rudy Perpich.

At the outset of this campaign, Dayton revealed he had long suffered from, and taken medication for, mild depression. A recovering alcoholic, he also disclosed that he slipped late in his Senate term and sought treatment in 2007. He said he has been sober since and insisted neither issue would hinder his competence to lead the state.

For 61-year-old retiree and voter Kay Nelson, Dayton was a living link to one of Minnesota’s liberal icons. “Paul Wellstone mentored him and Paul Wellstone believed in him,” Nelson said.

Wellstone and Dayton served in the U.S. Senate for not quite two years, until Wellstone was killed in an October 2002 plane crash.

Emmer got a boost from Sarah Palin’s endorsement a day before the state Republican convention. Since then, he’s had a few stumbles, including a furor over his suggestion that tips somehow be used to calculate restaurant server wages. He brought in new top advisers just last week.

An attorney and father of seven, Emmer has played up his past as a college hockey player. On policy, he has been more guarded with details.

Emmer has declined to spell out exactly how he would approach a massive deficit but says he would “redesign government” and wouldn’t allow tax increases.

“We can no longer do what we’ve been doing,” Emmer said Tuesday night. “It’s time to actually reduce the size of government. It’s time to lower taxes.”

Earlier polls showed Emmer trailing all three of his potential Democratic opponents in hypothetical November matchups.

Kelliher, 42, relied on the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party endorsement she won at the April state convention to give her a ground-game edge against her monied opponents, and she promoted a jobs plan tied to additional public borrowing. A primary victory would have made her the first woman to win a major party’s nomination for Minnesota governor.

“I liked what she had to say in the debates and I like that she’s a woman,” said Nicole Lang, a 32-year-old acupuncturist from Minneapolis who voted for Kelliher. “Democrats need a little re-energizing right now and I think that could be the thing to do it.”

Entenza, 48, fueled his run largely with family money from his wife’s career as a business executive.

In other races Tuesday, a state senator whose re-election bid was thrown into doubt when local Democrats revoked their endorsement lost his primary bid. Three-term Democratic Sen. Satveer Chaudhary of Fridley ran into trouble after he was admonished by a Senate committee for attempting to enact a special fishing regulation on a lake where he owns a cabin. He lost to former Rep. Barb Goodwin.

In the Brainerd area, two-term GOP Sen. Paul Koering lost his race after running without official party backing against endorsed Republican Paul Gazelka, a former House member. Koering was knocked for straying from his party on votes in the Legislature. The race received wide exposure this summer when Koering, who is gay, acknowledged dining with a male adult film star.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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