Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton is spending a lot of time these days trying to appeal to voters in the Twin Cities metropolitan area who largely ignored him in last month's primary election.
Voters on Minnesota's Iron Range went big for Dayton on Aug. 10. But Dayton's primary election support in Minneapolis and St. Paul was surprisingly thin.
Margaret Anderson Kelliher beat Dayton by 15 percentage points in Hennepin County and by 9 percent in Ramsey County.
If he hopes to win in November, Dayton needs support from the Twin Cities, where Kelliher and other Democrats are working to broaden his support. Todd Rapp, a DFL political analyst, said Dayton has some work to do in the core cities.
"Because the field for governor was so deep this year, Mark is actually the third or fourth or maybe even fifth pick of a lot of very senior Democrats and influential Democrats," Rapp said. "You know, they had a lot of candidates they were backing before they got to Mark now after the primary. And it's not surprising he has to take some time to rebuild those relationships and reinforce their support."
Dayton was busy trying to build party unity last week during a fundraiser in Minneapolis hosted by most of the city's prominent DFLers.
Dayton said the event was an important opportunity for him to talk directly with some of the urban voters who supported Kelliher. He said he hopes they now line up behind his campaign, but knows that support won't be automatic.
"I've always believed I need to convince every voter to support me," Dayton said. "I've never taken any voter for granted any time in my career. That's a big responsibility that I have is to persuade voters."
At one point, the DFL gubernatorial field totaled 11, and Dayton was one of four Minneapolis candidates.
Political strategist Tina Smith, who worked on Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak's campaign for governor and is now advising Dayton, said she thinks Dayton has done a good job reaching out to those former rivals.
"It's been tough in Minneapolis because a lot of our friends have been seeking this office," Smith said. "They've all been really strong candidates. It's been tough. I think actually most people are really relieved that we have a candidate that we're all behind now."
The list of hosts for the Minneapolis fundraiser included Kelliher, but she wasn't able to attend.
Still, Kelliher insists she'll have a visible role in the coming weeks working on behalf of Dayton's campaign. She said that includes convincing her former supporters to line up behind the DFL nominee.
"Well, I have some experience with this, coming through an experience running for the endorsement where there were a number of candidates," Kelliher said. "It always takes a little bit of time and some work to make sure that everybody is on board. But I am certain that we are united."
A recent MPR News/Humphrey Institute poll showed only two-thirds of DFL voters were currently supporting Dayton.
Rapp said there are lingering questions among some DFL voters about Dayton's "tax the rich" message and his one-and-done term in the U.S. Senate.
"I think Mark needs to answer those questions," Rapp said. "I think for a lot of Democrats he's answered them and answered them well. But it shouldn't surprise anybody if there's still a portion of the Democratic voters who look at those two issues and they say I've got to wait to hear what Sen. Dayton says about those before I'm on board yet."
Rapp said Dayton also needs to fire up DFL voters to close an enthusiasm gap that polls nationwide have shown to be favoring Republicans.
In the end, Rapp said he expects Minneapolis and St. Paul to continue to be DFL strongholds. But he said Republican nominee Tom Emmer and the Independence Party's Tom Horner could score relative victories in the core cities if they manage to keep Dayton's support near 50 percent.