The three leading DFL candidates for governor are fanning out across the state Monday in the final campaign push before tomorrow's primary election.
On Sunday night, Mark Dayton, Matt Entenza and Margaret Anderson Kelliher faced off in their last pre-primary debate. But with time running out, no candidate took any decisive shots at the other two.
The three played it safe, with few fireworks during the hour-long MPR debate, in front of more than 500 people at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.
While they covered similar territory as in previous debates, they all tried to distinguish themselves from their opponents.
Dayton, a former U.S. senator, reminded voters that he's the only one of the three to win a statewide election.
Kelliher, the state House speaker, touted her ability to execute the only veto override of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's tenure.
Entenza, a former House minority leader, described his role in reviving a party that suffered crushing losses in 2002.
The most pointed remarks were aimed at Dayton, and his proposal to increase income taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans. Entenza said Dayton's plan goes too far, and the state can't try to tax its way to greatness.
"I wish it were that easy, but we can't have the highest tax rate in the country, maybe times a factor of two or three. We can't go there. We need a balanced approach," Entenza said.
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher also took aim at Dayton, saying Dayton's plan would target average working families in Minnesota.
"The difference is the definition of who is wealthy. You're not wealthy if you are a police officer married to a nurse in the state of Minnesota, in my book you are middle class," Kelliher said.
But Dayton responded aggressively, using Kelliher's own example to defend his plan. Using the average salaries of a police officer at $51,000 a year, and the average nurse at about $73,000, Dayton said their combined income would be lower than his threshold.
"Combined income there is $124,000. I'm proposing to not raise taxes on [taxable] income, except above $150,000. That's a total income of $173,000. So, $124,000 isn't even close to where I'm proposing to raise taxes," Dayton said.
Another point of disagreement came on health care. Kelliher is pushing for universal health care coverage in Minnesota within the next four years. Dayton supports a similar move. But Entenza said it's too expensive.
"I understand the value that people want, but I don't believe when you have a $6 billion deficit that you can also say the state is going to take over the health care system, with the billions and billions of cost," said Entenza.
As in earlier debates, the DFL candidates saved most of their sharpest barbs for Tom Emmer, the Republican candidate they each hope to face in the November general election.
Kelliher took her shot at Emmer while answering a question posed by Dayton, about why Emmer voted against some popular measures in the state House. But Kelliher also turned it back at Dayton with a veiled reference to his single term in the Senate.
"Sometimes it's been, Sen. Dayton, that he just opposes it. He stands up and he talks about things that are out of touch and out of step with Minnesotans. Other times he just misses votes, and I don't think that is the role of representative democracy," said Kelliher. "If you're going take on a job, you don't quit, you don't stop. You've got stay there and be there and do the job."
She also reminded the audience that she's the candidate who won DFL Party backing.
"When thousands of Minnesotans endorsed me to be their DFL-endorsed candidate, they know that I will beat Tom Emmer in November," said Kelliher. "I will never stop fighting, I will never give up. Minnesota is worth fighting for."
There was also some criticism aimed at Tom Horner, the former public relations executive and Independence Party candidate who's expected to be on the ballot in November. Dayton pointed out Horner's Republican roots, and questioned his business dealings with special interests.
"We have, with all due respect to Mr. Horner, someone who's been endorsed now by former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, certainly a Republican, who's very Republican in his views," said Dayton of Horner. "Once we learn his client list ... we'll find, I think, he's been involved with a number of special interests with very significant agendas before the Minnesota Legislature."
All three DFL candidates will spend their last full day of campaigning traveling throughout the state.
Dayton will head to Hibbing, Duluth and St. Paul. Kelliher has stops in Grand Rapids, Eveleth, Duluth, Moorhead, Mankato, Rochester and Minneapolis. Entenza has four Twin Cities appearances in the morning before heading to Rochester, Duluth, Moorhead and Bemidji in the afternoon.
Emmer faces token opposition in the Republican Party's primary. On the Independence Party ballot, Tom Horner and Rob Hahn are the leading candidates.
Most observers are predicting an especially low turnout Tuesday for Minnesota's first-ever August primary. State lawmakers had to move the date up a month earlier than normal this year to comply with a new federal law.
(MPR's Tom Scheck and the Associated Press contributed to this report)