DFL gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton stood side by side with a host of party leaders Wednesday afternoon in a show of unity leading into the Nov. 2 general election, a few hours after Margaret Anderson Kelliher conceded the race.
"Today we stand united behind Mark Dayton," Kelliher said. "And we stand united to beat Tom Emmer in November, everyone. Today we come together as Democrats and Minnesotans and united as one party."
Kelliher, the former House Speaker, led in the vote counting early Tuesday evening, but as the tallies came in from outside the Twin Cities metro area, Dayton overtook Kelliher and ended up winning by about 6,000 votes. The third candidate, Matt Entenza, came in a distant third.
Dayton thanked his DFL opponents, and said the party will stand together in the general election.
"What binds us together is our principles, and our principles as Democrats are far more significant than ... our minor differences in policies," he said.
Dayton congratulated Entenza and Kelliher for running what he characterized as "positive and respectful and honest" campaigns.
Speaking to Kelliher, Dayton said, "I know it takes extraordinary courage and extraordinary class as a person to stand here today," he said. "I've been there."
Dayton also addressed staffers and volunteers who campaigned for his DFL opponents.
"I know it's a hard night, and it's a hard day," he said. "And again, I know it. I've been there, I've walked there, and you carry on."
Dayton, 63, lost a race for Senate in 1982 and a Democratic primary for governor in 1998. But he won elections as state auditor in 1990 and for the U.S. Senate seat in 2000. He declined to seek a second Senate term.
The DFLer said he wants to pass along advice he received several years ago from the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. Dayton said the Democratic senator told him, "Perseverance, perseverance. It's not a guarantee for success in politics, but it's a prerequisite."
Dayton faces Republican Tom Emmer and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner in the Nov. 2 general election.
The DFL nominee has promised a new top tax bracket to help deal with a project $6 billion state budget deficit. Emmer has said he'd balance the budget through spending cuts alone.
"My two opponents in the general election ... are decent men," Dayton said. "However, they simply do not understand the state as we do."
Dayton criticized Emmer for not providing more information about how he would address the state's budget crisis, and briefly criticized his Independence Party opponent.
He said Democrats know it's not possible to cut $6 billion from the state budget without costing jobs, hurting schools and raising property taxes.
"Perhaps Representative Emmer actually agrees with us, because he hasn't seemed to have been able to produce a plan that does so either," Dayton said. "Or else it's a secret plan, one that he hopes he can hide from all of us until after the election. So come on Rep. Emmer, show us your plan. Show us the money. And Mr. Horner, show us your special interest clients."
The DFLer said he received phone calls Wednesday from President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
"I said to both of them, 'Wouldn't it be different to have a governor in Minnesota who actually appreciated what you're doing for our state?'" Dayton said.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Dayton's lengthy political career and his family's prominence in Minnesota will help him defeat his lesser-known opponents.
The Dayton name is widely known in Minnesota, where the former senator's great-grandfather opened a dry goods store that ultimately grew into Target Corp.
"I think we all know Mark Dayton," Klobuchar said at Wednesday's gathering. "Like many of us, he got a little frustrated with the ways of Washington, and that's because Mark Dayton is someone who wants to get stuff done."
Dayton spent $12 million of his own money toward his Senate victory a decade ago, and already has supplied his campaign with $3.3 million this time around.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)