Minnesota Democrats said Wednesday that they are united behind Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton after the former senator won a close primary win over Margaret Anderson Kelliher.
But Democrats won't get much of a chance to rest after the long primary campaign. Based on the day after the primary, the general election contest between Dayton and Republican nominee Tom Emmer is likely to be spirited and maybe even nasty -- with lots of TV ads.
On Wednesday, Dayton entered the State Capitol surrounded by high ranking DFL elected officials, his supporters and those of his two DFL opponents. The race for the DFL nomination ended after Kelliher conceded and threw her support behind Dayton's campaign.
Dayton thanked Kelliher and the dozens of others who now say they will support him.
"So here we are all of us on August 11th as we promised ourselves and promised Democrats across this state that we would be the day after the primary -- all together," Dayton said. "Because what binds us together is our principles."
While Democrats were making Dayton the centerpiece of a nearly hour-long unity rally, Republicans were making him the centerpiece of their latest TV ad campaign. Just hours before the rally started, the Republican Party released an ad focused on Dayton's single term in the U.S. Senate.
"He was absolutely, positively one of the worst Senators in America and Mark Dayton agrees," the ad said. "Dayton gave himself a failing grade."
The ad will run statewide. It comes on the heels of several negative ads paid for by liberal groups that criticized Emmer's record on drunk driving and his support for a measure that would allow restaurants to pay tipped workers less than the minimum wage.
If Wednesday is any indication, the race for governor is going to get ugly -- and it won't just be the outside groups leveling the shots. At the campaign rally, Dayton criticized Emmer on the minimum wage issue and for his opposition to a compensation fund for the victims of the I-35W bridge collapse.
"Unlike Representative Emmer, we DFLers do not believe that the fund to compensate the victims of the terrible I-35W bridge collapse was 'feel good legislation' because we know that nothing could ever make the victims of that terrible tragedy or their families 'feel good' again," Dayton said.
Dayton called the GOP ad targeting him a "smear campaign." He said Emmer should tell voters how he plans to cut $6 billion dollars from the state budget without cutting jobs, hurting schools or raising property taxes. The Democratic nominee also said Independence Party candidate Tom Horner should release his list of former clients from his public relations business -- clients Dayton called special interests.
The state budget deficit is likely to be the central issue in the campaign. Emmer and his GOP colleagues will target Dayton for his plan to raise taxes by $4 billion dollars to erase part of the deficit.
At a recent Farmfest debate, Emmer ripped Dayton for proposing such a large tax increase.
"I'm not talking about raising taxes and my friend, Mr. Dayton, over here, I'm surprised, I think you'd never seen a tax you didn't like," Emmer said. "I'm talking about giving people back their money."
While Emmer and Dayton take dead aim at each other, Independence Party candidate Horner said he's working to convince people who are disgusted with partisan politics to vote for him. He said he sees tremendous opportunity between the extremes he says Dayton and Emmer represent.
"What makes it advantageous for me is that there are clear and distinct choices," Horner said. "We are going to get a vision of Minnesota from one side that says 'If we just cut the status quo, things will be good. If we just have smaller government, things will be good.' And from the other side 'if we just make government larger, if we just tax everybody, we'll have solutions.' "
Horner said he plans to run TV ads, but he hopes to debate his opponents often. Such a "free media" strategy helped Jesse Ventura win in 1998.
The three candidates are scheduled to debate on public television Friday night and in Anoka on Saturday.