Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton has apparently won the DFL nomination for governor over the party's endorsed candidate, Margaret Anderson Kelliher -- but Dayton hasn't yet declared victory and Kelliher hasn't yet conceded defeat.
Unofficial results show Dayton beat Kelliher by just over 5,000 votes in a low turnout, first-ever August primary. Matt Entenza finished a distant third in the DFL contest. Still, the candidates and their supporters went home this morning not entirely sure who won.
The early returns on primary night showed Kelliher well ahead of Dayton, but the gap gradually narrowed throughout the night. Dayton jumped ahead of Kelliher just before midnight, and for a brief time, it looked like the razor thin margin would trigger an automatic recount.
Kelliher didn't show up to her campaign celebration in Northeast Minneapolis until after the Associated Press had called the race for Dayton. But in a brief speech to supporters, Kelliher did not concede.
"You know it's been a long night, and it's going to be a little longer night," Kelliher said. "So, we're not making any decisions. We have some numbers to come in yet, and we're optimistic about that."
Kelliher spoke less than two minutes and quickly exited the restaurant without offering further comment. Her campaign spokesman Matt Swenson didn't have much to say either, but hinted at a possible recount.
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"We're going to go out and make sure that every vote is counted in the state of Minnesota, and that's what we're going to do," Swenson said.
When asked why Kelliher didn't concede, Swenson said "because the race isn't over yet."
Kelliher's decision not to concede left some scratching their heads, but it wasn't a problem for her DFL rival Mark Dayton.
"Well, I totally respect how close this is that she wants to wait until every vote is counted," Dayton said.
Dayton watched the primary votes come in at his campaign headquarters in St. Paul, where he held a low-key gathering of supporters. Despite the long night, he appeared comfortable with waiting a bit longer to declare victory.
Dayton entered the race for governor as the best known candidate, but he did not seek the DFL endorsement. It was a matchup pitting the party machinery behind Kelliher against Dayton's personal resources.
Dayton spent $3.3 million of his own money on the campaign. Still, Dayton was talking about the DFL party now uniting behind his campaign heading toward the general election.
"We will have a unity event whenever it's appropriate to do so," Dayton said. "All of those of us who've been involved in this have promised one another and promised the people of Minnesota that we will be at that event ... and we'll be united and we'll move ahead and we'll work together to win in November."
It was an early night for Matt Entenza, who came in a distant third after spending $5 million of his own money on the campaign. In a brief concession speech before a few dozen campaign staffers and volunteers, Entenza pledged to support the eventual party nominee. Entenza thanked his running mate, former TV news anchor Robyne Robinson, whom he credited for getting other African Americans involved in the campaign.
"This campaign, in ways that no campaign has ever done, reached out to our communities of color," Entenza said. "We have awakened them in a way that's profound and in which we need to make sure that the DFL continues to do. I'm committed, as I know Robyne is committed, to making sure that the voice of those communities which strongly supported us, and we saw that today, is a voice that will continue to be heard."
DFL party officials had scheduled a unity rally with the three DFL candidates on the steps of the State Capitol beginning at 11:00 a.m. It's unclear if that rally will proceed as planned and DFL officials also made a hasty exit from the primary night event without answering questions.
But earlier in the evening, before the vote margins tightened up, state DFL chairman Brian Melendez sounded committed to the event.
"It will be important. I have no doubt that the party is going to unify behind whoever wins the primary tonight," Melendez said.
Meanwhile, Republican Tom Emmer and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner are also waiting for official word on their DFL opponent after winning decisive primary wins.