It was a tough game for The Minnesota Vikings in Charlotte Sunday night, but the team's owners are hoping to turn their otherwise successful season on the football field into success at the State Capitol.
They're hoping to convince Gov. Tim Pawlenty and lawmakers to help pay for a new stadium, a stadium that could cost around a billion dollars. Pawlenty has been downplaying the prospects for a stadium bill next year, meaning it will be front and center for his successor.
Almost all the candidates running for governor say they don't think a new Vikings stadium should be a priority in light of tough budget times and a struggling economy. But nearly all add that they don't want the Vikings to leave Minnesota.
All seven of the Republican candidates for governor say they don't support taxpayer money for a new stadium. Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano, summed up the feelings of every Republican candidate.
"I support a solution for a Vikings stadium, but I don't think you give $700 million in taxpayer money and hand it over to a private business," Emmer said.
But the solution may be difficult to come by. Emmer suggested that the voters could approve a new private casino and dedicate the revenue to a stadium. He also suggested community ownership as another option. Both of those proposals have gone nowhere in earlier stadium debates.
Rep. Marty Seifert, R- Marshall, said Vikings owner Zygi Wilf should rely on the private marketplace to pay for the new stadium.
"Other states have done this so it's not like it's a pie-in-the-sky idea," Seifert said. "And keep in mind that with the Vikings' successful season they are filling up the dome, so when people say we can't be competitive in this stadium, really? The team is winning now, so what's the issue?"
The issue is that the Vikings lease in the Metrodome runs out at the end of the 2011 season. After that, Vikings ownership could pull up stakes and move the team. No one with the Vikings has made that threat, but Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said they don't have to. He said every candidate for governor will face questions on the stadium, especially as Election Day 2010 draws closer.
"By the time people hit the trail, there will be less than 20 football games left in Minnesota," Bakk said. "That clock will be ticking, and it will spill in the middle of a football season. It will be hard for candidates to avoid that question - what is going to happen with the Vikings?"
Bakk said he doesn't support using general fund money to pay for the stadium. But he said he's open to user fees like a new ticket tax, a Vikings memorabilia tax or an income tax surcharge on player salaries. The others who say they're open to some sort of public financing for a new stadium include Democrats Paul Thissen and Tom Rukavina.
Democrats R.T. Rybak, Mark Dayton and Matt Entenza didn't offer specifics on whether they would support public money for a stadium. Entenza said he doesn't see the stadium as a top priority but said he's waiting to see what Wilf and the Vikings propose.
"We're dealing with a very sophisticated property developer, and right now he's trying to convince us to do it," Entenza said. "Whenever you deal with a property developer, you never take the first deal."
Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who is also the Speaker of the Minnesota House, said she doesn't support public funding to build a new stadium. But she said she's willing to spend public money to build roads and other infrastructure to support one.
Republican Leslie Davis said he isn't willing to propose a new road. Instead, he not so seriously suggests changing the speed limit so the two Vikings who were ticketed for driving over 100 mph are taken care of.
"Maybe what I'd do for the Vikings is change the speed limit on Hwy 62 and 394 to 110 mph, so their gazillionaire ballplayers can have free run of the town," Davis said.
Being run out of town is what many of the candidates for governor may be afraid of. Whoever is governor will be faced with a tough decision if the Vikings don't get a new stadium and threaten to leave Minnesota.
Those candidates who say they don't support public money will be forced to weigh whether saying good-bye to the Vikings -- arguably Minnesota's most popular sports team - is worth the risk politically.