Race for governor roars down to wire
The final hours of the race for governor are coming down to a handshake-to-handshake affair, with Saturday stops at private homes, rousing rallies and appearances by a Hollywood celebrity and national political figures, all to close the deal with Minnesota voters.
DFLer mark Dayton, Republican Tom Emmer and the Independence Party's Tom Horner logged 16-hour days, fighting for a tarnished prize — to lead a state facing steep deficits, voters rubbed raw by years of partisan battles and restless legislative leaders looking to flex their muscles against the first new administration in years. While the candidates rallied the faithful and pushed for last-minute conversions, ground troops cranked up their campaign machinery. Union workers and party staffers blitzed neighborhoods across the state to knock on doors, as workers hunkered down in makeshift call centers to reach out to would-be voters.
Fueled by cold food, homemade brownies and warm pop, legions of bleary-eyed campaign volunteers stuck labels on fliers, passed out literature and holed up in a small warehouse office stamping out campaign buttons.
"this is my job," said Dick Ottman, a retired public employee who has been volunteering five days a week for Dayton. "if my guy doesn't win, I'd be very disappointed if I didn't help."
With voters energized not just by the race for governor but also by a number of close congressional contests, campaign staffs are racing to see who will win the turnout battle. for example, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar has had to reignite his long-dormant campaign engine in northeastern Minnesota for the first time in decades to try to beat back surging Republican challenger Chip Cravaack. While DFL gubernatorial activists are hoping Oberstar's new vigor will energize Democratic voters in the area and help Dayton's cause, Republicans are banking on support for Cravaack to help Emmer in a part of the state where the GOP has traditionally fared poorly.
Emmer 'can see the end'
Emmer, a state House representative and trial lawyer from Delano, has scraped his way past several campaign setbacks, including blistering attacks over his two decades-old drunken driving charges and a momentum-killing summer dust-up over tip credits for restaurant workers.
Yet there he stood at 6:30 a.m. at his Minnetonka campaign headquarters, confidently aiming to win it all. Holding a cup of coffee, Emmer was relaxed and loose.
"There's extra motivation in the last three to four days," he said. "you can see the end."
"we need you, Tom," said state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont. "if we do not [win], we'll have Mike Hatch in the governor's office," she said, referring to speculation that the former DFL state attorney general would join Dayton's administration.
Rosen confided in Emmer after her speech: "I hope my Mike Hatch comment didn't get you in trouble." Don't worry, said Emmer, smiling.
That afternoon, Emmer was the featured attraction at a rally in Blaine that included actor Jon Voight, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.
If Dayton is elected, "all of our progress will be taken away, it will be washed away in six months," Pawlenty told the crowd estimated at 2,000 to 3,000.
Skeptics come home
Dayton, a department store heir and former U.S. senator who has been the target of accusations that his one term in Washington was without accomplishments, has spent months winning over DFLers who supported others early on. By Saturday, there appeared to be only enthusiasts in his audience.
"I'm a true believer in mark Dayton as our governor," state Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said to group a volunteers in her living room. "I didn't know mark Dayton very well until the day after the primary," she said. But at a DFL post-primary rally, "on that very first day I was devoted to this campaign because I heard him respect other people, his former opponents."
Union member Frank Loeffler planned to spend some of his weekend working the phones in the search for votes.
"Boots on the ground. That's what it takes," Loeffler said.
Dayton told the faithful they had the power to sway the election.
"you are the ambassadors for all of us," he told union folks heading out for a day of door-knocking. having run three previous statewide campaigns, Dayton says he knows these last efforts are key.
But Dayton's Saturday also included a break to attend the bar mitzvah of a friend's son. "there are people who have lives outside Election Day," Dayton said.
Man in the middle
Horner, a former Republican whose support has fallen in recent polls, has begun talking with more urgency about what might be a key obstacle — that people may feel picking him is a wasted vote.
"we need to vote for candidates," Horner said to about 50 supporters at a Bloomington home. "We've got to stop voting against people, voting for the lesser of two evils," he said as classical music played from nearby speakers. "this ought to be a positive vote about Minnesota's future."
As a third-party candidate, Horner has sometimes attended rallies in which he is not the featured attraction.
Around lunchtime Saturday, more than 100 people gathered in the Capitol Rotunda to watch a broadcast of the Washington "Rally to Restore Sanity" on a small projection screen.
The volume was muted — to the dismay of some spectators — to make way for Horner. one of the organizers, clad in an oil-soaked pelican costume, rose to a podium for a less-than-rousing kickoff: "we do not necessarily support what he has to say, but we do support his voice."
Following the speech, Horner acknowledged he has "a road yet to travel" in the polls.
"for either Emmer to win or Horner to win, one of us needs to take some of mark Dayton's votes," Horner said. "I can't imagine Tom Emmer being able to get any of mark Dayton's votes. I think there are a lot of Dayton voters who believe I would be the better governor."
The candidates will continue their march toward Election Day. Emmer plans to hit 19 cities in 25 hours on Monday and Tuesday, ending in Delano. Horner will bus across the state and finish with an evening rally at St. Paul's Midway Stadium. Dayton, meanwhile, will fly around the state, stopping for two rallies with Oberstar.
Staff writers Eric Roper and Bob von Sternberg contributed to this report. Baird Helgeson • 651-222-1288