Democratic House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher made history on Saturday by becoming the first woman endorsed for governor by a major party in Minnesota.
Going all the way to the governor's office won't be easy.
She will face two wealthy opponents, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton and former state Rep. Matt Entenza, in the Aug. 10 primary. That ballot also is expected to feature another woman, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, dimming the prospect of Kelliher becoming the state's first female governor.
While Kelliher contends with her primary rivals, Republicans are set to unite behind a candidate this week in Minneapolis. It will be either Rep. Tom Emmer or Rep. Marty Seifert; each has promised to bow out and clear the way if the other is chosen.
Then there's the legislative session.
Kelliher plans to stay in her job as the top House Democrat. That means she's partly responsible for handling a nagging budget deficit and lingering problems with a health care plan within three weeks before the Legislature adjourns. She will have to keep dealing directly with Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a crafty negotiator who is positioning himself as a presidential candidate.
In her own chamber, the GOP minority will be revved up with one of its own, Seifert or Emmer, as the Republican gubernatorial candidate. Seifert said in a statement congratulating Kelliher on her endorsement that he anticipated a "bruising primary battle for months" among Democrats.
Kelliher expressed no preference for which Republican she would take on.
While she juggles the legislative session, the primary contest is heating up.
Entenza, who is married to a former UnitedHealth Group executive, kicked off his primary campaign on Sunday in St. Paul. He is visiting cities across the state and sinking more than $140,000 into a television ad that hits the airwaves this week.
"She's going to be very busy with the legislative session," said Entenza, who preceded Kelliher as the leader of House Democrats before they took the majority in 2006.
Dayton, the heir to the Dayton's department store fortune, hasn't revealed his plans for high-dollar TV commercials but is expected to spend handsomely. He put more of his own money into his campaign last year - $570,000 - than any other gubernatorial candidate raised.
Dayton said Friday on the sidelines of the convention in Duluth that Democratic voters who couldn't participate in the party process should have a say in choosing the general election candidate. He said he expects the party to come together after the primary.
For her part, Kelliher promised to outwork her primary opponents. But it's unclear whether sheer effort can overcome their financial advantage.
"We're going to work our tail off," Kelliher told reporters after her party victory. "And that's what I'm going to do. We're going to work every single day. Hard work and the message of jobs and opportunity are going to be the important piece of this."
The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party will help with fundraising and organizing now that she's the endorsed candidate. The party network can turn out volunteers and voters, which could matter in August. The primary was moved up a month to comply with federal law, causing fears that fewer voters than usual will show up. Turnout for September primaries in recent years has been below 20 percent.
Nancy Larson, a party activist who represents Minnesota on the Democratic National Committee, said the party would try to counteract Dayton's and Entenza's money.
Within the party at least, Democrats seemed to fall in with Kelliher despite a daylong fight for the endorsement. Three of her four rivals threw their support to her before the convention ended. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak urged Dayton, Entenza and Gaertner to pull out of the primary.
But some rank-and-file party members aired doubts before Kelliher claimed the DFL's backing.
Andreas Jurewitsch, a writer and teacher from St. Paul, said he worried about attacks based on Kelliher's legislative voting record, which stretches back a dozen years.
"I can already see the ads," he said in the final hours of the endorsement fight. "She's actually the face of the do-nothing Legislature, plus she hasn't said how she's going to pay for what she wants to do."
Minnesota's last Democratic governor was Rudy Perpich, who left office in January 1991.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)