As Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the newly endorsed DFL candidate for governor started her first statewide campaign swing Monday, the field of candidates challenging her in the primary election narrowed.
Kelliher hit the campaign trail as Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner dropped out of the primary campaign. But two well-known Democrats are still challenging Kelliher in the August primary.
Kelliher started her campaign with a tour of a Bloomington company that manufactures solar energy panels. The newly endorsed DFL candidate for governor later stopped in Rochester, Mankato and Moorhead.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken and three Democratic members of Congress -- Reps. Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum and Tim Walz -- were on hand to show their support. So were three of the candidates that Kelliher beat out for the DFL endorsement, R.T. Rybak, Paul Thissen and John Marty.
During a brief news conference, Kelliher said those previous rivals will help her in the next phase of the campaign, which she's looking forward to.
"I think it should be a high-minded campaign about the ideals and values of Minnesotans," she said. "I tell my kids every day that that's how they have to live their life. And even when someone is trying to throw a punch at you, you need to be as high minded as possible and live to those high ideals. And I think that's where bringing that skill to the campaign is going to be important."
Even with a primary election ahead on August 10, DFL leaders are stressing party unity in the governor's race. In his weekend concession speech, Mayor Rybak called on former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, former State Rep. Matt Entenza and Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner to end their DFL primary campaigns and back Kelliher.
Two days later, Gaertner held a State Capitol news conference and answered part of Rybak's call.
" will be withdrawing from the governor's race. Seriously, the reason is simple. With the endorsement of Speaker Kelliher by the DFL and the presence of two very well-funded candidates in the race, I did not see a path to victory," said Gaertner.
Gaertner explained that she didn't want to spoil Kelliher's chances of being elected Minnesota's first female governor. But she declined, for now, to offer her personal endorsement of Kelliher.
The remaining DFL candidates are not following Gaertner's lead. Mark Dayton said his focus has always been on the primary, because he wants a broader segment of voters deciding the party nomination. Dayton said he also believes the primary will be constructive.
"I intend to run a positive campaign based on what I propose to do for the betterment of Minnesota, and I think others will do the same. And then, as it should be in a democracy, the people will decide," said Dayton. "I don't know why anybody would be afraid of an election. I mean, my goodness, this is a democracy. And that's where these things should be decided, by the people, by the voters."
Dayton's personal wealth could be a big factor in the primary campaign. The same is true for Matt Entenza, who's already running TV ads this week.
Entenza has been campaigning full time for months. He says his decision to not abide by the DFL endorsement has given him an early advantage over Kelliher.
"For example yesterday, while the candidates who were part of the endorsement process were resting up, I was in five different cities campaigning and getting out my message. Today I'm in five more," said Entenza. "We're going to out-hustle them and we're going to win, because we're going to get our ideas out there and we're going to work harder than anyone else."
Minnesota Republicans are getting set to endorse their candidate for governor. The state GOP convention begins Thursday in Minneapolis, with state Reps. Tom Emmer and Marty Seifert widely viewed as the frontrunners.