Dayton to present vision for Minnesota, jumpstart campaign

Gov. Mark Dayton on crutches
Gov. Mark Dayton on crutches in March.
Tom Scheck / MPR News

When Gov. Mark Dayton delivers his annual State of the State address Wednesday at 7 p.m., he will use the opportunity to present his vision for Minnesota.

The annual address typically comes at the beginning, not the end of the legislative session, but Dayton's health problems led him to delay it.

As a result, the speech comes as the governor prepares to jumpstart his re-election campaign. Dayton has not stepped onto the campaign trail since he had hip surgery in early February. He returned to the Capitol last month to work on legislative issues, but said it's unlikely he'll do any active campaigning until after the legislative session ends.

Even though Dayton hasn't been campaigning, he has been sharpening his talking points in what many believe will be a feisty election contest in November. Take, for example, his public signing of a bill that raises the state's minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2016.

"We're doing what Democrats do best," he said. "We're reaching out to people who work hard, who need the help, who shouldn't have to have a minimum wage in order to get paid a decent wage, in order to get paid a living wage."

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"People who work as hard as people do, to get paid enough money to be able to achieve the American dream and that's what we say we want people to do. We say we want people to work for a living."

The governor and the DFL-controlled Legislature have worked hard over the past two years to pass legislation that resonates with Democratic voters.

The minimum wage increase, legalizing same-sex marriage and raising income taxes on the top 2 percent of filers are just a few examples.

They also passed measures popular with independent voters. After raising $2.1 billion in taxes last year, Dayton is now touting $443 million in tax cuts passed this year. Funding for all-day kindergarten and increasing school spending are also major talking points.

Dayton is also working to reassure some voters who may not be pleased with his first term. At a recent Earth Day rally, the governor reminded a group of environmentalists of the appointments he's made during his tenure.

"If you think governor of the state doesn't matter, I've made three appointments to the Public Utilities Commission now, and that's made a big difference -- a big difference," Dayton said. "So even when you're showing all sorts of reasons to not be able to tolerate me just keep in mind there are a whole lot of other people that I get a chance to get involved in government that are working together with us. It's a lot better over the last year and half working together then it was the first two years exercising vetoes."

Even though Dayton hasn't been actively campaigning, someone else has.

Dayton's running mate, Tina Smith, has been showing up across Minnesota. Smith, who was Dayton's chief of staff before he picked her as his running mate in February, has spoken in coffee houses, student centers and at DFL events like a recent one in St. Paul.

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"The Republicans said when we had the governor's office, the House and the Senate, the Republicans said, 'this is going to be terrible. It's going to drive our economy into the ground,'" Smith said. "Look at what's going to happen. We have more jobs in our state than we have ever had before."

Dayton won by fewer than 10,000 votes in 2010 and DFL Party Chair Ken Martin said he expects another close contest. Martin said he's worried fewer DFL voters will turn out in this non-presidential year.

"Midterm elections are always difficult for Democrats," Martin said. "Huge portions of our base, young people, folks from immigrant communities and communities of color, tend to stay home in larger numbers, tend to stay home in midterms than they do in presidential elections. That's a substantial part of our base."

Martin said the party is trying to counter that trend by hiring community organizers to help turn out the vote.

For their part, Republicans are working to motivate their voters by highlighting Dayton's record on taxes and spending.

They're also working to link him to the unpopular Affordable Care Act and a $90 million Senate Office Building. But they are unlikely to settle on a candidate to oppose Dayton until the Aug. 12 primary election.