Dayton grabs narrow leadDemocratic candidate has edge on Emmer, but race still wide open
By: Don Davis, Worthington Daily Globe
ST. PAUL — Minnesota voters were pretty evenly divided Tuesday about who best can fix the state’s budget woes: Mark Dayton, a well-known liberal with a long record in office, or Tom Emmer, a conservative new to statewide politics.
Democrat Dayton received 45 and Republican Tom Emmer had 42 percent with half of the state’s precincts reporting early today, according to unofficial secretary of state returns. No one was ready to declare victory.
The race tightened after Hennepin County corrected a reporting error.
Many of the largest precincts not counted by midnight were in DFL-heavy St. Louis County, where Dayton won enough votes to take a primary election victory on Aug. 10.
If Dayton wins, he could face a Republican-controlled Legislature. Legislative vote returns late Tuesday were not conclusive, much like the governor’s race, but the GOP obviously was making gains and there were indications they could take both chambers.
Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty faced at least one DFL-controlled chamber in his two terms, and for the past four years Democrats controlled both houses.
Ted Lillie, a Republican challenging Democratic Sen. Kathy Saltzman of Woodbury, said Minnesotans are looking at having divided government, though this time a Democratic governor and Republican-controlled Legislature.
“We like to get things done, but not a lot done, apparently,” he said.
Dayton and Emmer traveled the state for months as the leading governor candidates, struggling to find supporters beyond their political extremes.
A third option, the Independence Party’s Tom Horner, offered a more moderate solution, but his campaign never seemed to catch on and he conceded the race at 10:35 p.m. after getting about 12 percent of the vote.
Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party followers dressed in everything from suits to nose rings at their Minneapolis after-election gathering hoped that Dayton would become the first from their party in two decades to sit in the governor’s office.
“We have had a generation in Minnesota that has not known a Democratic governor,” Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said. “After a long drought we will wake up in a better state.”
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar told folks at the DFL gathering that Dayton’s laser focus on education has resonated with voters.
The DFL and GOP gatherings were more subdued than in past years.
At the Republican event in Bloomington, supporters were jubilant about national gains, such as the GOP taking control of the U.S. House. However, they were nervous about state races as they did not appear to be following the national Republican wave.
The three main candidates took part in what is a modern-day record 26 debates, mostly in the Twin Cities, as they competed for a four-year, $120,303-a-year job.
The main issue in the race was how to fill what many see as a nearly $6 billion deficit in the state’s next two-year budget.
Dayton, 63, has run for office or served in elective or appointed office for much of the past 30 years. He twice was state economic development commissioner, served a term as state auditor and was U.S. senator six years. Before Tuesday, his record in running for statewide office was 2-2 after losing efforts to be U.S. senator and governor earlier in his career.
Emmer is wrapping up six years as a state legislator from Delano. Earlier, he served on the Independence and Delano city councils. This was Emmer’s first statewide campaign. He has had his own law office since 1995.
Horner, 60, lives in Edina. He was a newspaper reporter and editor, worked for U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger and co-owned a public relations firm for more than two decades.
Four minor-party candidates were on Tuesday’s ballot and three others ran as write-ins, but none waged a visible campaign.
Nearly all attention was on the candidates’ budget plans.
Dayton’s tax-the-rich plan fell $1 billion short of what he expected, and he never said just how he would make up for that. He also did not lay out a detailed plan about state programs he would cut. Dayton said the state needs more money to fund programs for 20,000 more students expected in Minnesota schools in the next two years as well as more than 100,000 more residents.