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Dayton campaign ramp-up begins with big 'unknowns' — his opponent, the economy, even Vikings' impact

Katharine Tinucci: "We have a great story to tell."
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Campaign Manager Katharine Tinucci: "We have a great story to tell."

A longshot campaign for governor? The idea never seemed to cross the minds of the handful of staff people who were working with candidate Mark Dayton four years ago.

Dayton and a driver would be headed down a Minnesota highway. Dayton would have a state map on his lap, the satellite radio would be tuned to a 1950s or  '60s hits station or Broadway show tunes.

The candidate and the staffer frequently sang along.  The title song from “Hair’’ was a favorite of the candidate.

Ah, if his opponents had only heard Dayton and Katharine Tinucci, in rural Minnesota,  singing at the top of their lungs:

Gimme a head with hair,
long beautiful hair.
Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen ...

Tinucci laughs at the memory. She was a young staffer four years ago. Now she’s the 29-year-old campaign manager for Gov. Dayton’s re-election bid.

Lots of changes

Everything’s changed. Titles. Expectations. Crowds. The DFL, the GOP and the Independence Party.

Dayton certainly doesn’t have to worry about the support of his party. Recall, four years ago, he offended many activists with his decision to bypass the endorsement process and head straight to a primary. Now, he’s consolidated the party tightly around him.

DFL Party Chairman, Ken Martin not only has close ties to the governor but also has long worked with Alida Rockefeller Messinger, the governor’s former wife, who has been a generous contributor to organizations that have “indirectly’’ helped finance the gov’s campaigns.

For the moment, Tinucci’s campaign office is at DFL Party headquarters, although by next summer when the campaign is in full gear, there’ll almost certainly be a separate heaquarters.

Additionally, there are three former campaign managers on the gov’s staff: Tina Smith (R.T. Rybak’s campaign) is chief of staff.  Dana Anderson Bailey, Dayton’s campaign manager four years ago who has been with the governor since he was Sen. Dayton, is assistant chief of staff. Jaime Tincher, who was campaign manager for Margaret Anderson Kelliher, is deputy chief of staff.

Combined with the power of incumbency, all of this means that Dayton will have far more access to a wide swath of funders. (Dayton has made it clear that he does not have the resources to self-fund, as he did in his primary quest four years ago.)

Already, Tinucci has helped set up  “house parties” for the governor’s re-election bid.  A single house-party event, she said, can bring in as much as $20,000.

Statewide organization aims to help House, too

But for the moment, her main task is to set up a statewide organization that not only is working on behalf of the governor but also DFL House members, who are up for re-election next year.

Gov. Mark Dayton
MinnPost photo by James NordGov. Mark Dayton

Young people — and all of those forces that worked to defeat the GOP's proposed constitutional amendments on marriage and voter ID — will have to stay involved for the DFL to avoid a repeat of the 2010 off-year elections. With lower turnouts, that's when the GOP took control of the state House and of the Senate (senators aren't up for election until 2016).

Politics is nothing if not dealing with the unknowns. The big unknown is who Dayton’s opponent will be — and if that opponent will have been driven far to the right in order to win support of the GOP base.

“He won’t have an opponent for 12 months,’’ Tinucci said.

Unlike four years ago, there likely won’t be a serious challege from the Independence Party, either.  Four years ago, even with the major parties offering  extremes (Dayton versus Tom Emmer), in the end Tom Horner managed 12 percent of the vote.

Horner said that his standing in the race dropped sharply in the final days of the campaign as moderates feared they would “waste their vote’’ if they supported the IP candidate. He believes that the GOP ended up as the bigger beneficiary of his late slippage.

This time around, Horner says he believes the IP vote will probably fall to 5 to 7 percent. The GOP could pick up much of the fallen-away 2010 IP vote, he said, if the party’s candidate doesn’t end up pinned down to right-wing social positions.

Who the GOP will end up with at the top of the ticket and whether the IP has anything resembling a meaningful impact are just two of the big questions.

Christian Ponder as campaign issue?

There also are scores of other unknowns — from big things, such as the state of the economy, to absurd things, such as how quarterback Christian Ponder and the Vikings perform.

Tinucci winces when the Vikings are mentioned. If the team succeeds on the field, a lot of passionate football fans will overlook all the problems that have cropped up around the stadium deal, which the governor pushed so hard. The funding mechanism — e-pulltabs — so far have been a bust. The integrity of the team’s ownership is under a huge cloud, and a bad season by the team could be costly to the governor.

But, Tinucci said, no matter what happens on the field this year, the stadium should be deep into construction when the 2014 election comes around. That means a lot of construction workers will be employed on good jobs.

One of the  things about having been in the governor’s office — Tinucci was a lead spokesperson for Dayton until moving into the campaign spot — is dealing daily with the highs and lows of the unexpected.

Tinucci's busy three years

From a personal level, she spoke of how she couldn’t have imagined being in the governor’s office for so many high-profile events — “during the shutdown, the stadium debate, the signing of the marriage bill.’’

All of this for a 29-year-old attorney who took a job with the Dayton campaign, because there were no law jobs available when she graduated from the University of St. Thomas law school in 2009. Tinucci got the Dayton job because she had worked as a volunteer on the campaigns of Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, a family friend who now is the assistant majority leader in the Senate. 

“We have a great story to tell,’’ she said of Dayton's time in the governor's office.

It’s clear that the campaign themes will center on Dayton fulfilling promises he made on the campaign trail in 2010:  The budget has been balanced, without use of gimmicks;  the fourth tier on income taxes makes the system more fair;  funding for education is increasing.

Those stories, she believes, will be appreciated even by business leaders, who in the past have not been Dayton fans.

There should be, she said, support among business people in Rochester, which, with state support, is going to be undergoing a massive rebuilding around the Mayo Clinic project. But she believes there also will be business support in places such as Thief River Falls.

Go back to the campaign of 2010, when the governor and a driver were crossing the state.  One of those stops was Thief River Falls, home to Digi-Key and Arctic Cat. The governor was told that for want of a stoplight at a major intersection, commerce was being slowed.

“Things like a stoplight may seem small to most people,’’ Tinucci said, “but they matter to companies like Digi-Key and Arctic Cat.’’

Months later, there was funding for a stoplight in the governor’s first bonding bill.

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Comments (5)

Tinucci is very impressive

I didn't realize how young she was. I guess the poor climate for law jobs has done some good in propelling her to a very responsible position so early in her career. On the other side people her age are serving as "trackers."

This whole article pretty much indicates the very bad position in which the GOP finds itself. Even the mildest of the GOP candidates for Governor, Jeff Johnson, comes off as doctrinaire and uncompromising. This kind of stuff just doesn't sell statewide. Which is the obvious reason why state-wide offices are almost exclusively DFL.

So the GOP may coagulate into certain sections of the state like CD6, but it will never get back to its former status without some serious changes. Emmer replacing Bachmann is not a serious change.

For all the GOP bluff and bluster the DFL seems to be taking the state in the right direction. Toro and 3M have recently made major investments in the state, proving that good business climate doesn't just mean low taxes.

Good job Governor Dayton. Please run for re-election

IP: Help Wanted

Is there anyone on the horizon that can run as the IP candidate? It seems like they're running out of gas as far as state-wide candidates are concerned. I'd expect they can field a decent enough candidate this time to get 5% of the vote and retain major party status, but that may not last beyond the following election.

Katharine is very talented

Katharine is very talented and always friendly to interact with. I say this despite the constant arse kickings she leveled on me in Words With Friends.

A question for Katharine Tinucci:

How soon will the "Dayton Family Independent Negative Ad Campaign" begin opposition research?

Vikings Stadium

While I agree with many of Gov. Dayton's positions, I will not ever, ever vote for a candidate that played the 'reverse Robin Hood', and took from the poor (state), to give to Ziggy Wolff.

I'm also remembering you, RT Rybak.

Never. Ever. Even if Emmer.