Most candidates for governor will abide by party endorsements

Republican candidates
Most of the Republican candidates for governor joined host Gary Eichten, right, in a debate on Minnesota Public Radio News on Monday, Feb. 1, 2010, in St. Paul, Minn.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

It's the day before Minnesota's precinct caucuses, and the candidates for governor are looking for a last-minute boost of support.

Most of the Democrats and Republicans running for the state's top office made their final pitches to voters Monday during separate radio debates on Minnesota Public Radio News.

Tuesday night's precinct caucuses are when the major parties begin the formal process of selecting candidates.

Party endorsements will come during the state conventions in April.

Most of the 11 DFL candidates who participated in the pre-caucus radio debate say they'll abide by that endorsement.

Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton is one exception. He's running in the primary, he said, adding he wants the people to pick the nominee, not convention delegates.

"I'm just amazed that we have a debate in the state of Minnesota, especially among progressive Democrats about the principle that the people, all the people should be the ones to decide in a free and fair election, with more than one candidate to choose from, who they want their leaders to be," Dayton said.

Other DFLers say their party has a better chance of winning in November if it can unite early behind the endorsed candidate and avoid a costly primary fight.

State Sen. Tom Bakk says he will abide by the DFL endorsement. Bakk said he would like to see the endorsed major party candidates, whoever they are, traveling the state together this summer and talking directly to voters.

DFLers debate
DFL candidates for Minnesota governor participate in a debate on Minnesota Public Radio on Feb. 1, 2010, a day before caucuses across the state.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

"Town hall meetings all over this state," he said. "Fill gymnasiums several times a week, and the public could actually get a good look at who the two candidates are, rather than people pouring millions of dollars in buying professional TV ads, and we have to watch these well-scripted TV ads in the fall."

DFL candidates say a win in the governor's race will help end some of the partisan bickering they've experienced at the Capitol.

Former DFL state Rep. Matt Entenza said he could build some quick bipartisan support with one education initiative. Entenza said that as governor, he would cut the state's ties to the federal No Child Left Behind Law.

"There have been a lot of Republicans and a lot of Democrats who've recognized that all this is a way to label our public schools to say that teachers are somehow bad and the public schools are bad," Entenza said. "And what it's doing more than anything else is hurting public education.

Republican candidates also have their eyes on education, as a target for reform as well as savings. The next governor will likely face a multi-billion dollar budget problem, and GOP state Sen. David Hann says he'd look for cuts in education spending.

"We could look at meeting our education objectives at a much lower cost," Hann said. "I think part of the problem is we're spending a lot of money and using the spending of money as the equivalent of doing a good job. And there is no business that does this."

Despite the state's fiscal problems, the six GOP candidates who showed up for the radio debate are nearly unanimous in their opposition to raising taxes. Former state Rep. Bill Haas says he'll hold the line on taxes and overhaul the entire tax code.

"If we can get a hold of our spending, redesign our tax system, we can cut taxes," Haas said. "We don't need more taxes in the state. We've got enough money in the system. We're just not spending it wisely."

Most of the Republican candidates say they'll abide by their party's endorsement, which this year could be influenced by the emerging tea party movement.

That sector of angry conservative voters is pushing hard against big government and high taxes. Republican State Rep. Marty Seifert said he thinks his campaign message is connecting with the tea party, and other conservative voters.

"I would look at myself as being someone who can bring all of those folks together," he said. "Because, frankly, to win this election you not only need the traditional Republicans and the main street folks and the tea party folks, you also need a good chunk of conservative Democrats and independents, and I've done that in my legislative district seven times."

Neither hour of the Midday program included candidates from the Independence Party of Minnesota. Producers said there wasn't a contested race at the time they scheduled the broadcast. There are now five Independence Party candidates.

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