For Minnesota Democrats, primary is secondary in bid to break long losing streak for governorBy Brian Bakst, AP
Friday, August 6, 2010
Minn. Democrats seek gov candidate to break streak
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Shut out of the governor’s mansion for two decades, Minnesota Democrats hope to choose a streak-stopper Tuesday in a primary election defined by tremendous expense, promises of tax hikes and uncertainty over turnout.
Two candidates are looking for a rebirth of their political careers and a third is seeking to be the state’s first female governor. A new law moved the traditional mid-September primary to the dead of summer, and turnout was expected to be around 10 percent — below most past midterm elections
Minnesota’s race appears to offer Democrats a good chance to pick up a governorship in what is widely seen as a Republican year. Nationally, Democrats hold a 26-24 edge in governorships, with 37 races to be decided. The winner of Tuesday’s vote will face Republican Tom Emmer, a legislator whose conservative voting record puts him to the right of departing GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Emmer has a few challengers, too, but he was the heavy Republican favorite.
Within the state, the governor’s race is a potential watershed moment. Emmer has promised to block tax increases, as Pawlenty did in his eight years in office, while all three Democrats would push taxes up to solve a state budget problem in the billions. Few states will offer voters a more starkly different choice on election day in November.
The action in the primary is mostly on the Democratic side, with former Sen. Mark Dayton, former state House Minority Leader Matt Entenza and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher vying for the party’s November ballot line.
Dayton and Entenza ran their campaigns on personal wealth. Dayton, whose family money came from the department store chain that ultimately morphed into Target Corp., went so far as to sell precious art from his mother’s estate — Renoir, Toulouse-Latrec and Biederman — to pay campaign expenses. Entenza, the top spender, drew on money his wife earned as a business executive.
Kelliher tried to turn her cash disadvantage to her favor, playing up her modest roots on a western Minnesota farm and selling herself as a middle-class mom. Meanwhile, Dayton touted his 30-plus years of public service, while Entenza played up his “small-town values.”
All three have vulnerabilities.
Dayton left Washington in 2006, portrayed as an ineffective one-termer with an admitted personal distaste for the job. Entenza’s rising career ran aground four years ago when he gave up on a bid for state attorney general after struggling to explain an arrangement for secret research on a party rival.
And Kelliher, the party’s endorsed candidate, has been criticized by some in her own party as giving in too easily in standoffs with Pawlenty over the budget.
The three sound alike on key issues for Democratic voters: They all support same-sex marriage, tout clean-energy plans and say they’ll raise taxes on top incomes as part of a budget fix. They differ in degree.
On taxes, Dayton is adamant that people in million-dollar homes and those making more than $130,000 pay more. That’s a threshold that makes his party rivals flinch.
“We can’t go from being the no-new-taxes state to the all-new-taxes state,” Kelliher jabbed at Dayton. New income taxes proposed by Kelliher and Entenza wouldn’t kick in until earnings reach $250,000.
Dayton argues his party shouldn’t cower on taxes. After eight years of Pawlenty — who hewed to a no-new-taxes pledge — chronic budget deficits have led to school cutbacks and a reliance on higher property taxes to offset local aid cuts, he said.
Entenza and Kelliher have sparred over education, with Entenza vowing to pull Minnesota out of the federal No Child Left Behind law, a program unpopular with teachers for tying sanctions to rigorous testing requirements. Kelliher has criticized the idea, saying she doubts Minnesota could opt out without forfeiting hundreds of millions of federal dollars.
Kelliher proposes capping property taxes at inflation for homeowners over 65. Dayton pledges he’ll set up a special senior help line in his office as part of a five-point initiative. Entenza stresses his role in passing telemarketing regulations designed to keep seniors from becoming fraud victims.
The targeted appeals to specific groups of voters are even more important in a year of depressed turnout. Minnesota moved its primary into August to comply with a federal law requiring states to give military and overseas voters extra time to get ballots back for the general election.
The Democrats’ gubernatorial nominee hasn’t won in November since Rudy Perpich did in 1986.
With almost $10 million sunk into the effort among the three contenders since 2009, they have already surpassed the total candidate spending in the 2006 governor’s race.
Entenza accounts for half of the expense. The St. Paul attorney is drawing on a fortune his wife amassed as a former UnitedHealth Group executive. He waves off suggestions he’s trying to buy his way to the top.
“You have a bad economy and so it’s very difficult to raise money from individuals other than special interests,” Entenza said. “And relying on special interest money — lobbyists, PACs, thinks like that — is a place I would prefer not to go.”
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