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Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton managed to draw a large crowd to a restaurant in downtown Minneapolis just ahead of the annual Twin Cities Pride Festival. The purpose was to raise money for Minnesotans United for All Families, the main campaign in opposition to a proposed ballot initiative.

Dayton: Campaigner in chief

Gov. Mark Dayton has about 20 fundraising events marked on his calendar, and that number is likely to grow closer to 40 by the time campaign season is over, said Julie Hottinger, Dayton’s campaign political director. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Governor steps up his role in stumping for DFL candidates, causes

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton managed to draw a large crowd — around 500 attendees in all — to a restaurant in downtown Minneapolis in June just ahead of the annual Twin Cities Pride Festival. The event was billed as the “first-ever Governor’s Pride Reception,” and the purpose was to raise money for Minnesotans United for All Families, the main campaign in opposition to a proposed ballot initiative to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

The event was only one of several fundraisers the governor has done on behalf of the group, but it was by far the most successful to date. The governor’s sons, Eric and Andrew, got involved too, promising $200,000 to the anti-amendment campaign and encouraging individual donors to match their contribution.

“Every time [Dayton] headlines a fundraiser for us, it raises well over $20,000 or $30,000. People like to hear the governor speak out on this important issue,” said Richard Carlbom, spokesman for Minnesotans United for all Families. “He really fires up the crowd and he really makes sure the crowd knows where he stands on an issue.”

This fall Dayton heads into his first campaign cycle as the state’s top elected official, but he won’t be on the ballot himself. Instead he’s spending the campaign season balancing the demands of office with a high volume of requests from campaign officials and candidates who want him to appear at their fundraisers.

A full calendar

The governor has about 20 fundraising events marked on his calendar, and that number is likely to grow closer to 40 by the time campaign season is over, said Julie Hottinger, Dayton’s campaign political director. Dayton has spent a striking amount of time attending individual DFL legislators’ fundraisers across the state as he aims for a DFL-controlled Legislature in 2013. And as the campaign season heads into the final weeks, Dayton will switch gears and take a more public role in advocating for legislative Democrats and against two proposed constitutional amendments.
“He is the best spokesperson, best fundraiser and could be the most popular political figure in the state right now. He is in demand and he is working,” said Tom Borman, Dayton’s campaign finance chairman. said. But because the governor plans to run for reelection in 2014, Capitol watchers say, Dayton must balance his desire for a DFL Legislature with his own campaign needs. “He’s been doing fundraising for his own campaign,” Borman said, “which he can do in off years, but he has been doing way more for legislative races and the Senate and House caucuses and for the amendments.”

Dayton’s calendar to date has included fundraising events across the state, from a joint event for northern Minnesota legislative candidates Kent Eken and Brita Sailer to an Edina event for candidate Melisa Franzen, who is hoping to defeat GOP Rep. Keith Downey this fall. Dayton has also done congressional fundraising events, raising dollars for District 5 Democrats as well as DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

By Senate DFL Minority Leader Tom Bakk’s account, Dayton’s efforts are “pretty similar to what Pawlenty did in his eight years as governor. I don’t believe he’s given any money to the caucuses, but I haven’t asked him to give any.”

Ted Grindal, a longtime DFL lobbyist, says the governor makes a good headliner at these events. “He’s getting a very good reception,” Grindal said. “Mark has a great sense of humor, but it’s very dry and self-deprecating. He makes fun of himself a lot. It goes over well in these small settings. People like to hear their politicians not so full of ego.”

From fundraising to rallying

Dayton reiterated to a crowd gathered at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs on Wednesday that he has every intention of running for reelection in two years. That means he cannot ignore his own campaign needs, politics watchers say, despite the volume of requests he gets from candidates and other campaigns.

Dayton voluntarily released his campaign finance reports ahead of the primary election this year, which showed he had raised about $101,500 this year and spent almost as much on campaign activity. As of July, Dayton had about $46,000 on hand.

In the view of Tom Hanson, a lobbyist who served as a lead GOP operative in the House during Pawlenty’s administration and eventually as Pawlenty’s Management and Budget commissioner, Dayton needs to show he’s thinking about his own campaign and raising dollars to scare off any potential DFL rivals and GOP challengers.

“Part of his work now is trying to build the party by going to events, which means getting your own DFL Legislature, but at the same time he’s done fundraisers for himself,” Hanson said. “You want to build up a lot of money so you can scare off any potential challengers. The idea is to convince your opponents and Republicans that you are a serious candidate.”

The demands on Dayton’s time are only going to intensify as Election Day nears. Carlbom says Minnesotans United for All Families has been respectful of the governor’s busy schedule up to this point, but plans to employ the governor’s help more “strategically” in the coming weeks. That could mean anything from public rallies to TV spots.

Hottinger says they are already starting to switch gears to do more speaking and rally events. On Saturday, the governor will appear at a campaign event organized DFL Rep. Jim Davnie, who hosts an annual “Campaign-a-palooza” door-knocking and rally event.

“We wish he would spend more time on his own campaign, but I know he feels very committed to trying to secure a DFL Legislature because it will make it much easier to advance his agenda,” Borman said. “Truly, he thinks less about himself than these other people, and they are calling on him and saying, ‘you need to be at fundraiser x, y, and z,’ and he’s there.

“And increasingly, as these amendments and the fight for control of the Legislature becomes more a part of the public consciousness, he will become more of the principal spokesman.”


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