Democrats spar during TV debate

Published 9:16 am Monday, August 2, 2010

ST. PAUL (AP) — Three Democrats running for Minnesota governor mixed it up in their final televised debate on Sunday, sparring over everything from taxes to their personal finances.

The hour-long debate between former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, former state legislator Matt Entenza and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher was broadcast statewide in one of their last chances at reaching such an audience before the Aug. 10 primary. The winner will go on to face Republican Tom Emmer and an Independence Party candidate, either public relations executive Tom Horner or publisher Rob Hahn.

In the debate sponsored by KSTP-TV and the League of Women Voters, the three hopefuls covered subjects ranging from schools and health care to mining and immigration in a fast-paced format. They also questioned each other directly.

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Kelliher was the most aggressive, criticizing Dayton’s tax plans and asking about his commitment to being governor. She also accused Entenza of running an “Astroturf” campaign with family resources. Kelliher is backed by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, while both Dayton and Entenza have put millions of their own money into their campaigns.

“How are Minnesotans going to know that you’re going to stay and fight and be able to complete the job?” she asked Dayton, who served one term in the U.S. Senate and one term as state auditor.

Dayton responded with a promise to serve two terms as governor if elected.

Meanwhile, he passed up several chances to go on the offensive, at one point commending Entenza for his focus on renewable energy and later declining to name anything he disliked about either of his rivals.

“We all have so many detractors out there that I don’t think I’m going to join any of them,” Dayton said.

On the issues, the Democrats are closely matched in most areas. The differences mainly come down to subtle policy details and matters of style. All three support universal health care and higher taxes for the wealthy, yet Dayton’s tax proposal would kick in for couples with taxable income of $150,000 and up, while Kelliher and Entenza would set the level at $250,000.

Dayton is the only one of the three to support a state-sponsored casino.

Entenza didn’t directly answer Kelliher’s appeal for him to release personal financial information as she and Dayton have. Entenza’s wife is a former UnitedHealth Group Inc. executive, while Dayton is heir to a department store fortune.

“People want to know our ideas that are positive, rather than seeing us poke fingers at each other,” Entenza said.

The Democrats meet again Wednesday in a debate with Emmer, Horner and Hahn at Farmfest, an agricultural fair in central Minnesota.

Dayton, Entenza and Kelliher will face each other a final time next Sunday on Minnesota Public Radio.