Mark Dayton has pulled ahead of Margaret Anderson Kelliher in the race for Minnesota's Democratic nomination for governor with most of the vote in.
Dayton, a former U.S. senator, trailed in early returns Tuesday but surged in the Democratic stronghold of northeastern Minnesota. He led Kelliher, the state House speaker, by less than a half-percentage point with about 91 percent of the vote counted.
The third candidate, attorney Matt Entenza, conceded defeat earlier in the evening.
Kelliher had the party's endorsement, but Dayton had the familiar name and more money.
DFL candidate Mark Dayton spoke briefly to reporters at his campaign headquarters this evening, and said the gubernatorial race remains too close to call.
"I think it's going to be close, and I think it'll just be a while," Dayton said. He's been trailing Margaret Anderson Kelliher in the ballot-counting all evening, but the gap between the two of them as been closing and he is now within single digits.
Dayton said he expects to do well in Duluth and throughout the Iron Range, where results usually come in later than the Twin Cities metro area.
Dayton noted that his running mate, Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, is from Duluth, and her presence on his ticket may help him garner more support on the Iron Range.
"I'm prepared to accept whatever verdict the people of Minnesota want to render tonight," he said.
DFL candidate Mark Dayton has arrived at his St. Paul campaign headquarters. Dayton initially declined to speak with reporters, other than to say, "It will be a long night, folks." He then met briefly with supporters and huddled with advisors in a separate room.
Dayton briefly emerged to tell reporters, in part, "We're still confident that we're going to do OK." Dayton has been behind Margaret Anderson Kelliher by about 10-12 percentage points since ballot-counting began at 8 p.m.
Matt Entenza has conceded defeat during a brief speech to supporters at his St. Paul campaign headquarters, after trailing his two opponents the entire evening.
"While it is too early at this point to know how the votes will set out, it is clear that the voters ... have turned to the strength and the experience of the other two candidates," he said.
Margaret Anderson Kelliher has held the lead the entire evening as the votes are being counted, and Mark Dayton is solidly in second place.
Entenza vowed to support the DFL candidate and criticized Republican candidate Tom Emmer.
"Now it's time for us to come together and make sure that the DFL is united tomorrow," he said.
Update: 9:27 p.m.
DFL House Majority Leader Tony Sertich said he's encouraged by early results showing Kelliher in the lead for the DFL candidacy.
"That's very exciting," he said, speaking at Kelliher's campaign headquarters in Minneapolis. "It is early though, but certainly we could feel the momentum and the buzz in the last few weeks."
Sertich said he's hoping Kelliher will emerge with a strong lead in Minneapolis. He acknowledged that Kelliher may face a tough fight in the Iron Range, where results usually come in later than other precincts.
"I think it's going to be pretty neck and neck up there," he said.
Update: 9:01 p.m.
Tom Horner has been declared the winner of the Independence Party primary, beating Rob Hahn and several other candidates.
Horner thanked supporters during a victory speech at his Plymouth headquarters.
"We want to live in a Minnesota that creates opportunities for everybody," he said. "That's the message I'm going to carry around the state."
The Independence Party candidate called for a series of debates between the candidates.
"I hope we have a campaign that is focused on issues and solutions," Horner said.
Tom Emmer, in an interview on Minnesota Public Radio, said he's "very excited" to enter into the general election. But he said it doesn't matter which DFL or Independence Party gubernatorial candidate wins the primary.
"It really doesn't matter," he said. "They all have the same message -- more government intervention and higher taxes."
In a brief victory speech a few minutes later, Emmer revved up his supporters.
"Are you ready to work?" he said, as the crowd cheered. "Are you ready to win? Are you ready to take back your state?"
Emmer said his campaign is "about less government. It's about more opportunity. It's about jobs and the future for our kids."
Update 8:55 p.m.
Brian Melendez, chair of the Minnesota DFL party, is attending the campaign party for the party's endorsed candidate, Margaret Anderson Kelliher. He said he's confident that Kelliher will win tonight's primary.
He said the party helped run "the best ground operation that Minnesota politics has ever seen."
In the early going, Kelliher was leading Mark Dayton by more than 10 percentage points. Matt Entenza was in third place.
The DFL endorsement usually means a 5 percent to 6 percent boost for the DFL candidate, Melendez said.
Several dozen campaign staffers and volunteers are gathering at Entenza's St. Paul headquarters. The candidate is a couple of blocks away at home with his family, and plans to arrive at the headquarters when the results become clear, campaign officials said.
Update 8:34 p.m.
State Rep. Tom Emmer has coasted to victory in Minnesota's Republican primary for governor.
Emmer's win Tuesday never was in doubt. But polls have shown him trailing any of three Democrats he could face in November as he tries to extend Republicans' eight-year hold on the governor's office.
Annette Meeks, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, said she's looking forward to the general election campaign.
"It's one thing to run against someone with a record, as opposed to a theoretical opponent," Meeks said. "And I think that's going to help us immensely."
Update 8:20 p.m.
"Tonight is about framing up the general election," said Michael Brodkorb, deputy chair of the state's Republican Party. "We're going to talk about finally having a DFL opponent we can focus on ... and to what degree the (Independence Party) will have an influence."
The three DFL gubernatorial candidates are expected to address supporters at campaign headquarters within the hour.
Dayton plans to arrive at headquarters after having dinner tonight with his two sons. He may also stop by Regions Hospital to visit a campaign intern who was injured in a car accident last week.
Dayton's campaign officials said they spent a large part of the last few days focusing on their key voting blocks. Those include senior citizens, voters on the Iron Range and union members from AFSCME Council 5, the Teamsters and the Steelworkers.
At Entenza's headquarters, several dozen campaign staffers gathered to await the results. Staffers said the campaign put out about 150,000 phone calls and knocked on between 500 and 600 doors Tuesday.
Kelliher has not yet arrived at her campaign headquarters, where supporters are anxiously anticipating election results.
At Horner's headquarters in Plymouth, the candidate and about 50 supporters have gathered.
update 8:05 p.m.
Polls have closed in Minnesota's primary election, which includes a tight race for governor on the DFL side.
Supporters of the state's gubernatorial candidates are gathering at various campaign headquarters to await the results.
Voter turnout numbers have not been released, but Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said he expected between 10 and 12 percent of eligible voters to show up at the polls.
Voters at polling places across the Twin Cities said Tuesday they were invigorated by a competitive three-way race for the DFL nomination for governor between Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Matt Entenza and Mark Dayton.
Besides the DFL gubernatorial race, two Independence Party candidates -- Rob Hahn and Tom Horner -- are running for their party's nomination. Republican Tom Emmer has no serious challengers.
Voters in some legislative races also cast primary ballots.
Ritchie, who has a primary challenger on the DFL side, said the governor's race isn't the only one rallying voters to the polls. Ritchie said sheriff's races in Freeborn County and nearby areas in southern Minnesota seem to be drawing in voters.
"Something's going on, and it seems like sheriff's races have picked up a lot of the energy and the juice this year," said Ritchie. "They are very lively local election contests wherever there are those hot races."
The state moved its primary election to August to comply with a federal law intended to give military personnel and Americans living abroad more time to vote by absentee ballot. Minnesotans haven't voted in an August primary since 1938.
Elections officials said the combination of the summer primary date and relatively few close races may result in low turnout at the polls.
Ritchie said no major problems have been reported on Primary Day. And despite the low voter turnout, he said absentee voting is at a 20-year-high, with 30,841 ballots accepted.
A preliminary report shows that 1,080 absentee ballots were rejected, according to statement from Ritchie's office.
Of that total, the rejection rate for absentee ballots from military and overseas voters dropped from 2.02 percent in 2008 to .05 percent, according to the report. The rejection rate for domestic absentee ballots also decreased -- from 3.5 percent in 2008 to 3.38 percent.