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.
â€œWe like to get things done, but not a lot done, apparently,â€ 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 Daytonâ€™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.
The Democrat, and heir to a department store fortune, made increasing education funding a top priority.
Emmer gave no budget details, but delivered the most complete outline, showing what he would spend in each general area. He said the details would have to wait until he and the Legislature could work out a complete budget, saying that he “respects the process.”
One thing Emmer made very clear was that he would not allow state taxes to rise. But he also would need to make deeper program cuts than Dayton or Horner because he would limit spending to what already is expected to be collected in taxes: $33 billion for the two years beginning next July 1. Dayton’s plan likely would cost something closer to $38 billion.
Horner took the politically unpopular step to propose extending the state sales tax to clothes and services, perhaps including haircuts. While he would reduce the overall sales tax rate, taxing clothes never has been popular in Minnesota.
Personalities showed by Dayton and Emmer often were in as stark a contrast as their political philosophies.
Emmer delivers fiery speeches from the gut, often off the top of his head and sometimes not politically correct. Dayton is known as a shy, socially awkward man who only on occasion delivers a passionate speech.
Dayton, father of two grown sons, lives in a Minneapolis apartment with two dogs. He was an all-state hockey goalie and played for Yale University.
Like Dayton, Emmer was a hockey player as a youth, including the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He earned his law degree from the William Mitchell College of Law and ran his own law firm beginning in 1995.
Emmer has seven children. He usually talks about “we” when discussing becoming governor, saying his wife Jacquie would be his partner.
To reach Tuesday’s general election, Dayton skipped the party endorsement process at April’s state Democratic-Farmer Labor Party convention, planning all along to run in the Aug. 10 primary election. In that, he spent mostly his own money to beat House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and former state Rep. Matt Entenza.
Emmer took the party endorsement in April, over Rep. Marty Seifert, and did not face serious competition in the primary, leaving him to campaign for the general election much of the year.
Martin Owings, Andrew Tellijohn and Scott Wente contributed to this story.