Nothing like a wide-open race for governor to stimulate the economy - the political economy, that is.
Consultants, TV stations, parade organizers, coffee chains and pizza-fueled campaign staffers are among those reaping a slice of the many millions flowing through Minnesota's costly contest, according to detailed campaign reports released Tuesday.
The five leading campaigns - three Democrats, one Republican and one from the Independence Party - spent a combined $8.8 million from January through mid-July.
The tally tells only part of the story because vanquished candidates and independent groups have plowed millions more toward the race to replace departing Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
It's shaping up as, well, a banner year for political vendors like Tony Doom Supply Co. in Marshall. All three Democratic contenders fed the company business, about $19,000 among them. The business produced red T-shirts for Margaret Anderson Kelliher's campaign, buttons for Mark Dayton and lawn signs and stickers for Matt Entenza.
"Business has been really good. Multiple candidates always helps vendors," said co-owner Donna Swanson. "You name it, we have it as far as campaign supplies."
The finance reports provide a glimpse into campaign strategy, how candidates manage money and seemingly minor expenses that opponents might exploit.
Thanks to their reliance on family wealth, Entenza and Dayton are outpacing the pack in campaign spending.
Entenza, an ex-legislator, has supplied his campaign with $4 million in 2010 alone, spending more than 60 cents of every dollar on broadcast advertising and mailings.
But the St. Paul attorney whose wife was once a health company executive also has used a cadre of paid staffers to make more personal contact with voters. His report lists 73 people as employees at some point during the year, with his payroll creeping up as the Aug. 10 primary approaches.
Dayton's personal investment so far this year is approaching $2.8 million - on top of $570,000 from the department store heir's pocket last year. Almost 70 percent of the former U.S. senator's 2010 spending was on TV ads.
Kelliher, the third Democratic contender, has devoted about 17 percent of her $675,000 in 2010 spending so far to broadcast ads. Kelliher, the Minnesota House speaker, incurred substantial costs prior to April's state party convention, which paid off with the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party's endorsement over a handful of serious challengers. Neither Dayton nor Entenza put much effort into the endorsement process.
Minnesota primary elections typically draw less than a fourth of eligible voters, increasing the importance of pinpoint appeals. Joe Peschek, a Hamline University political science professor, said the Democratic primary will test whether Kelliher's ground game can keep up with the air war of her rivals.
"It's not as visible, not as apparent," Peschek said. "But if it's done well it can pay dividends on Election Day."
Republican Tom Emmer, a state legislator, hasn't aired any TV ads yet. Without a hard-fought primary, his biggest expenses lately have been staff costs and fundraising. In all, he spent about $500,000 so far in 2010.
Emmer faced his GOP toughest test in a spring party endorsing convention that consumed a considerable amount of his money. There was months of hard campaigning before the convention and his costs at the event included $3,000 for a fireworks show as he took the stage, $1,000 for balloons in his hospitality suite and $7,000 for catering.
The toll was evident in early May when he paid an $8 bank fee for not having sufficient funds to cover an expense.
But Emmer isn't the only one to break out expenses that could dog the campaign later.
Some of Kelliher's campaign spending was geared toward her image, including $600 for makeup at the Democratic state convention and $3,000 for professional photography at the convention and parades. Another $100 paid for Kelliher's makeup before an appearance on public television's "Almanac" public affairs program.
In the 2008 presidential race, Democrat John Edwards took heat over a $400 haircut and Republicans were red-faced by $150,000 spent on vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's wardrobe.
Candidates for the Independence Party, a factor in the previous three gubernatorial elections, struggled to compete in the fundraising department. Tom Horner, the party's endorsed candidate, raised about $182,000 and spent all but $27,000.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)