Mark Dayton rode a dominating performance in greater Minnesota to a narrow victory in Tuesday’s DFL gubernatorial primary, edging party endorsee Margaret Anderson Kelliher by just over 6,500 votes out of over 440,000 cast. One-time House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, who spent over $5 million on his primary campaign, garnered just over 80,000 votes.
The total ballots cast in the DFL governor’s race exceeded nearly all predictions going in, most of which had fallen in the 250,000 to 375,000 range. Dayton’s margin of victory was sufficient to ensure there would be no automatically triggered recount of ballots cast.
Kelliher declined to acknowledge defeat when she spoke in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. But around 11 a.m. she canceled a scheduled 3 p.m. press conference and conceded that she had lost. As this issue of Capitol Report went to press, a DFL unity presser originally slated for Wednesday morning had been rescheduled for 3 p.m.
Despite persistent rumors of Republican crossover voting against endorsee Tom Horner in the Independence Party primary, Horner prevailed easily, winning 64 percent of the 17,000 votes cast in the party’s gubernatorial race. His principal competitor, Rob Hahn, took 15 percent of the vote.
A total of four other constitutional office primaries yielded no surprises. Tom Emmer won his no-contest primary for the GOP gubernatorial endorsement overwhelmingly. DFL Attorney General Lori Swanson handily defeated her little-known opponent, Leo Meyer.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie collected 82 percent of the vote in his race against perennial DFL candidate Dick Franson. And Republican Attorney General endorsee Chris Barden won a 10,000-vote victory over GOP perennial Sharon Anderson, 54-46 percent.
Kelliher led with great metro showing
Polls had indicated Dayton held a solid lead going into the primary, but Kelliher performed very well in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties, which dominated the evening’s early returns and helped her build a lead of 18,000 votes or more in the early counting. All told, Kelliher beat Dayton in those two counties by a combined total of nearly 22,000 votes.
But Dayton ran nearly even in metro suburban areas like Dakota, Carver, and Washington Counties, and won Anoka and Wright Counties by comfortable margins. The key to his surge as the evening wore on was the influx of votes from greater Minnesota.
Most of the state’s non-metro counties went for Dayton over Kelliher, including Stearns County and the St. Cloud area (42-34) and the heart of the Iron Range, Saint Louis County (56-29).
Olmsted County, which includes the city of Rochester, went narrowly for Kelliher.
The dramatic arc of the evening was defined entirely by the gradual erosion of the formidable and surprising lead that Kelliher amassed in early reporting from Hennepin and Ramsey counties.
Supporters of the DFL-endorsed candidate, gathered at Jax Café in Minneapolis on election night, were initially giddy at her strong showing. But U.S. Sen. Al Franken (who has some experience with close elections) preached caution to the party faithful. “It’s not a good idea to claim victory early,” he warned the crowd. “So we have to wait.”
That advice proved prescient. Kelliher couldn’t quite pull off the electoral upset. Dayton’s name recognition, accrued through four prior statewide campaigns, and his personal fortune ultimately proved too much. Kelliher’s defeat ends a chapter in a political career that began just over a decade ago when she won an open House seat representing Minneapolis. Kelliher rose to the speaker’s chair four years ago and garnered strong loyalty from the House DFL caucus. She rode that support, in part, to the endorsement at the party’s statewide convention in April, defeating Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and a slew of other challengers after six rounds of balloting.
The biggest loser, in more ways more than one, was Entenza, who spent over $5 million on a race in which he received only 80,000 votes – a staggering $60-plus per vote. In addition, the narrow loss by endorsee Kelliher is sure to be blamed on Entenza in many a campaign post-mortem, which further complicates any further ambitions he may harbor for future Democratic races.
Dayton now faces the prospect of attempting to break a DFL gubernatorial losing streak that dates back two decades. Awaiting in the general election are Republican nominee Tom Emmer and Independence Party standard bearer Tom Horner.
But both opponents are somewhat bloodied by a pre-primary season that didn’t quite go as planned. Emmer squandered a virtually uncontested march to the GOP nomination, failing to accumulate a significant campaign war chest and repeatedly stumbling into controversies. Last week he announced a major shakeup of his campaign team in an attempt to right the electoral ship.
Horner finished the primary season with anemic fundraising numbers, reporting just $28,000 in cash on hand as of the July 19 campaign finance filing deadline. The former Republican also struggled to put away IP challenger Rob Hahn, despite having the party’s endorsement.
Two Minnesota Senate incumbents lost at the polls on Tuesday. Scandal-plagued DFL Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, lost in a landslide to the former state representative who usurped his endorsement, Barb Goodwin. Goodwin tallied 70 percent of the roughly 7,500 votes cast in the SD 50 primary.
And Paul Koering, the openly gay two-term GOP senator from Fort Ripley who has been at odds with his party for some time – this year he elected to bypass the GOP endorsement altogether and move straight to the primary – lost by a 57-43 margin to Republican endorsee Paul Gazelka of Baxter, who served a single term in the state House in 2005-06. The race had been rocked by breaking stories twice this summer: when Koering made the news by going on a dinner date with a gay porn actor, and later when the Brainerd Dispatch reported that the Republican Party of Minnesota was fishing for any past police encounters with Koering.
Despite loads of hype about Tea Party insurgencies, the two legislative candidates perhaps most associated with Tea Party rhetoric, 21-year-old activist Rudy Takala (House 8B) and 33-year-old nurse practitioner and mom of five Kerry Stoick (House 29A), both lost. Takala fell to Roger Crawford, whose lengthy political resume includes stints as mayor of Mora and a seat on the Kanabec County Board of Commissioners. And GOP endorsee Duane Quam, a longtime party activist and official, defeated Stoick by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.
Despite the widespread perception that this year’s political climate is ripe for outsider candidates, only three challengers (two Democrats and one Republican) who failed to garner their party’s endorsement survived the primary. In House District 65A, Rena Moran built a formidable ground operation and parlayed it into a victory over DFL-endorsed Jeremiah Ellis. The St. Paul district leans heavily Democratic, meaning Moran will almost certainly become the first African American to represent St. Paul in the Legislature.
Although Moran lacked party backing, she had support from TakeAction Minnesota and the St. Paul Federation of Teachers. “This is a woman who just attracted so many good people to her campaign team,” said Dan McGrath, TakeAction’s executive director. “It was special.”
The other DFL legislative contest to tilt against an endorsed candidate was House District 15B, where Carol Lewis, a former member of the St. Cloud school board, triumphed by a 10-point margin over the local DFL party’s preferred candidate, Zachary Dorholt. Lewis will now face off against GOP nominee King Banaian, a professor at St. Cloud State University, in the general election.
In Senate District 1, Republican endorsee Roger Schmitz lost to Russell Walker. Walker now goes on to face long odds in his general election bid versus DFL Sen. and Senate Education Committee chair Leroy Stumpf.