As political candidates spent much of Monday traveling the state to urge supporters to get out to vote, an ad from the state Republican Party that used the Ebola crisis to attack Gov. Mark Dayton touched a nerve.
The ad, which started running today on several radio stations across the state, contends Dayton isn't doing enough to prepare for an Ebola outbreak. It also faults the governor for not supporting a travel ban from West African countries that have seen Ebola outbreaks.
"Our airport is a huge international hub and there's no travel ban, which is the first thing they should have done," the female narrator of the ad says. "People can just come and go from the infected areas. Frankly, I don't think Governor Dayton is capable of handling Ebola."
Democrats wasted no time in denouncing the ad, which they said amounts to fear mongering.
"They've gone from the garbage can into the sewer," said Dayton, who took issue with the ad and his opponents' tactics. "It's so untrue."
The furor over the ad came during a day in which candidates for governor, the U.S. Senate, Congress and the state House traveled the state, urging their supporters to get out to vote. But it was clearly a sign that both parties are doing as much as possible in the hours before Election Day.
At a rally in north Minneapolis, the governor said contrary to what the ad charges, his administration has been planning for weeks for a possible Ebola outbreak with hospital officials, doctors and other experts. The state also recently instituted a policy that requires 21 days isolation for health care workers who return to Minnesota after being exposed to Ebola.
Dayton said the call for a travel ban is unwise.
"They want to ban everyone who has been to West Africa that is coming back to the country? That includes any doctor or nurse or national guardsman who goes over and does any service to the country," he said. "It's so outrageous and so ineffective."
Dayton also grew more aggressive in his critique of his Republican challenger, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson. During his speech at the rally, the governor urged voters not to believe what he called Johnson's "death bed conversion" to supporting more money for schools and health care.
Republican Party Chair Keith Downey in a statement stood by the Ebola ad. Johnson also defended it.
"I think it's fair to raise a question across the board," Johnson said. "I've been talking about competence and I've been talking about an engaged governor who is able to make things work. I think it's fair to question that."
Johnson, who greeted the lunchtime crowd in downtown Minneapolis, has not previously criticized Dayton over how he's handled Ebola. In fact, when asked about it during a debate on Friday night, he said Dayton's handling of it has been "adequate."
The last-minute ad by Republicans may be the latest sign Johnson needs to take make up considerable ground to win on Tuesday. Dayton has led in every statewide public opinion poll but polls also show the race has tightened in the past several weeks.
The third major party candidate in the race, Hannah Nicollet of the Independence Party, said she expects Dayton to win, and said her goal is to win 5 percent of the statewide vote to ensure the IP remains a major party.
"If people are either not concerned about his re-election and want to legalize marijuana in Minnesota, they might support me," Nicollet said. "Or if they're seeing Jeff Johnson doesn't have a shot and might like some of the things that I have said better, then they might lean towards me. My goal is to build the Independence Party."
Dayton was scheduled to attend several last minute get out the vote rallies late Monday. Johnson planned to visit Republican offices.
In north Minneapolis, U.S. Sen. Al Franken joined other Democrats for a get out the vote bus tour stop at the Minneapolis Urban League. He asked people there to knock on doors to convince their neighbors to vote.
"Get on the doors, don't stop," Franken said. "Do it through tomorrow evening and then we all rest and get back to work. Thank you."
Franken also reminded his audience that in midterm elections like Tuesday's, Minnesota Democrats tend to vote in significantly smaller numbers than they do in presidential election years.
According to the latest poll released Sunday night by KSTP and Survey USA, Franken has an 11 point lead over his Republican challenger Mike McFadden. In 2008, Franken won by just 312 votes after a recount. Franken's talking a lot about that narrow victory as he appeals for support this year.
"When you win by 312 you never forget that, and you don't take any votes for granted," Franken said. "I ask everybody to vote for me. I'd like your listeners right now to remember to go out there and vote and vote for me."
As Franken made stops in the Twin Cites metro area, McFadden flew to more than a half dozen Minnesota cities. In Moorhead, a couple of dozen people greeted him at the Fryn' Pan Restaurant.
"It's great to be here," McFadden said. "I'm running for the U.S. Senate. I just want everyone to know in this room that I'm going to win."
Former state representative and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer spent the day campaigning with McFadden.
Emmer is considered a favorite to win the seat 6th District seat U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann is leaving at the end of the year.
In Moorhead they were joined by Republican state Sen. Torrey Westrom, who is running for Congress in the 7th District against Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson. McFadden focused on the pocketbook.
"You know we've had an absolutely stagnant economy for six years under President Obama and Senator Al Franken," McFadden said. "Wages have not increased while every expense has gone up — whether it be food, gasoline, energy and now health care. We have less money in our pocket. But it doesn't need to be that way. This is the greatest country in the world. This is America!"
McFadden's fly-around was due to wrap up with a rally in Bloomington late Monday.
In another Twin Cities suburb, the focus Monday was on control of the Minnesota House.
Republican volunteers gathered at a park in Shoreview before heading out to knock on doors and hand out literature on behalf of GOP House candidates Randy Jessup in District 42A and Heidi Gunderson in 42B. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt offered a pep talk to the group.
"This is ground zero for the battle for control of the House," said Daudt, R-Crown. "We just want to make sure that today what we're doing is talking to folks and making sure they know how important this is that they get out and vote and support these two wonderful candidates."
Republicans need to pick up seven seats to wrestle majority control away from Democrats. Much of their focus has been on the rural and suburban districts that they lost to the DFL two years ago. Daudt said Republicans are heavily targeting the two Shoreview seats held by DFL Reps. Barb Yarusso and Jason Isaacson.
"I don't know that we necessarily need to win these two to be in the majority. But I think these are good bellwethers," Daudt said. "If these two fall, and we know early that these two districts have gone our direction, then we know that it's going to be a good night and we know that Republicans will be in the majority."
Daudt and Republicans have been trying to convince voters that DFL control of the House, Senate and governor's office the past two years was bad for the state, and that more balance is needed.
Of the 134 House seats on the ballot, only about 20 are considered competitive enough to potentially flip from DFL to GOP.
Democrats contend that the state is doing much better, and that their agenda will keep up the momentum. At a DFL get-out-the-vote rally outside a labor union office in Little Canada, House Speaker Paul Thissen made a strong pitch for the two incumbent Democrats.
"This is about the future, and our candidates are talking about the future," said Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. "Barb Yarusso is talking about the future, Jason Isaacson is talking about the future. That's what this election ought to be about."
Thissen also blasted the negative ads from political groups that are not part of the campaigns that have been flooding the districts.
"This is terrible, and it's not the kind of politics we need in Minnesota," he said. "How do we send a message back? We win tomorrow."