Dayton, Emmer in Governor Race CliffhangerDemocrat Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer ran for more than a year to be Minnesota's governor. On Wednesday, both men were still waiting on a too-close-to-call race that stirred memories of the state's bitterly contested 2008 U.S. Senate election.
By: Associated Press,
Dayton, Emmer in Minn. gov cliffhanger
BRIAN BAKST,Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Democrat Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer ran for more than a year to be Minnesota's governor. On Wednesday, both men were still waiting on a too-close-to-call race that stirred memories of the state's bitterly contested 2008 U.S. Senate election.
Dayton led, but barely. With election returns in early Wednesday from all but 19 precincts statewide, Dayton led by 9,257 votes out of more than 1.8 million cast.
That's a considerably bigger lead than the 475 votes that separated Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken in their Senate race the morning after Election Day 2008, but still within the margin that triggers an automatic recount under state law.
In the Senate race, Coleman and Franken were left waiting more than half a year past election day before the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Franken had won the election. Early Wednesday, state GOP leaders called a news conference for later in the morning with attorney Tony Trimble, a key member of Coleman's 2008 recount legal team.
Dayton held a comfortable lead in early returns, but his lead shrank into the early morning hours. Emmer took the stage at a GOP rally for the first time at 1:30 a.m. to reassure supporters.
"We're not quite done yet here in Minnesota, here in the governor's race," Emmer said. "We're very encouraged. The numbers are moving in the right direction."
Dayton, appearing a few minutes later at a Minneapolis hotel, thanked his supporters for "bucking a national trend."
"I wish things were proceeding faster than they are, but that's the nature of the process," Dayton said. "I thank you for your patience. ... I'll write you all notes if you have to go to work tomorrow morning."
If Dayton prevails, he faces a difficult road ahead, with Republicans capturing majorities in the state House and Senate after a long period of Democratic control. The next governor and Legislature must work together to solve a budget deficit expected to approach $6 billion.
Should the race move to a recount, it's possible GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty — who didn't seek a third term — could wind up serving longer than he planned.
The Minnesota Constitution says a governor's term runs "four years and until a successor is chosen and qualified." Pawlenty, who was gearing up to launch a book tour and potential presidential campaign, might find himself drafted to stay on.
If he resigns, the next in line is the lieutenant governor, currently Republican Carol Molnau. After that, the office falls to the Senate president, which for now is a Democrat but the post will pass to Republican hands in January.
A third-party candidate again played a critical role. The Independence Party's Tom Horner conceded defeat after attracting about 12 percent of the vote.
Barb Beutel, 59, a child care worker from Afton, had a tight race on her mind when she voted for Dayton on Tuesday.
"I would have considered Tom Horner, but eight years ago I did vote for (the Independence Party's) Tim Penny and I got Tim Pawlenty for eight years and I was very unhappy with that."
In Corcoran, construction supervisor Jeff Manick backed Emmer because he said he's worried about jobs.
"I've got people sitting at home that need to get back to work and I feel like Emmer there is going to help us have the best opportunity to get people back to work and get things back on track," said Manick, 51.
No Democrat has won the office since 1986.
Dayton, a former senator, ran on a platform of fixing a $6 billion budget problem by making people with the highest incomes pay more in taxes — a plan he'd likely have to rethink should he ultimately prevail, given the Republican legislative takeover. Emmer, a state legislator, promised to stay the no-new-taxes course Minnesota has held for eight years under Pawlenty.
Dayton, 63, outlasted a crowded Democratic field to make Tuesday's ballot. It was a remarkable turnaround for a man who limped from the Senate a few years earlier after one term even he said was futile. Dayton asked voters to trust that he had better instincts for an executive role.
Emmer, 49, was the legislative bench player who used grit and heart-pumping speeches to win the Republican nomination. Emmer was raw early in his first statewide campaign, most notably when he provoked restaurant workers with comments they took as a threat to their wages. But he steadied in the final months and stuck to a message that government needed to "live within its means."
Horner, 60, hoped his public relations expertise and his message of moderation would connect with voters turned off by the other two. He promoted an expanded sales tax as a partial fix to the deficit. Despite impressive fundraising for a third-party candidate, Horner found himself stuck in the teens in public polls.
Outside groups asserted themselves more than ever. Labor unions and liberal organizations combined to spend at least $5 million to rough up Emmer, including ads highlighting decades-old drunken-driving arrests. Groups on the right, including those financed mostly by corporate donations, aimed at Dayton's decision to close his Senate office amid terrorism concerns and his dour self-appraisal of his single Washington term.