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Democratic candidates and the days before the primary

ALSO: Emmer shakes up his campaign; Pawlenty weighs in on mosque at Ground Zero; Minnesota poets win big.

It was debate weekend for the Democratic candidates for governor — one last push for them to distinguish themselves from each other before primaries. This is not an easy task, because their platforms are awfully close to each others, and, to their credit, the candidates didn’t go especially negative against each other — mostly, as Rachel E. Stassen-Berger of the Star Tribune points out, they tried to dig into Mark Dayton, who is leading in the polls. What would they do differently from Dayton? Well, they would also raise taxes on the richest Minnesotans, but not by so very much as Dayton. So it’s not like the Pharisees were distinguishing themselves from the Sadducees. It’s more like the People Front of Judea was distinguishing itself from the Judean People’s Front.

Kelliher did make occasional use of the phrase “I don’t quit” — a subtle jab at Dayton, who only served one term in the U.S. Senate, and also a subtle jab at Matt Entenza, who, as Stassen-Berger says, “left the Minnesota House to run for attorney general, then quit that race in a controversy over opposition research he authorized.” We can guarantee that should Dayton or Entenza win the nomination, those subtle jabs will become ferocious body blows from their Republican rival. At the moment, the polls have Entenza trailing but, as Maya Nishikawa of WCCO reports, there has been an absolute flurry of campaigning from each of the candidates, including television appearances, union picnics and art fair appearances in a last-ditch attempt to jostle the polls.

In the meanwhile, at the bottom of the polls, just below Matt Entenza, is Tom Emmer, the GOP’s candidate for governor, who did some jostling himself this weekend. As per a press release republished on Minnesota Public Radio’s Polinaut blog, he has a new campaign manager, Cullen Sheehan. Who? Tom Scheck explains elsewhere on MPR’s site: “Sheehan currently serves as Chief of Staff for the Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus. He also managed Norm Coleman’s 2008 Senate campaign.” Of course, Al Franken actually wound up winning that election, but just by the hairs on his chinny, chin, chin. Also added to Emmer’s campaign, according to the Associated Press: Chris Georgacas as the chair of a new team of strategy advisers. Georgacas was campaign chair for Tim Pawlenty when he ran for governor in 2002. Pawlenty won that one, in case you’re wondering.

Speaking of campaigning, blogger Mitch Berg, republished here on MinnPost, discusses Joel Demos’ recent ad in which the candidate, who is running for Rep. Keith Ellison’s seat, is shown dragging a monster truck toward a finish line. “[I]f great ads won elections, Demos could start measuring the drapes in Ellison’s office,” Berg says. There’s not much to the ad beyond it’s central image — some generalized messages about Demos being alarmed about the liberal agenda (never stated) and being worried about taxes being too high (never mind that they’ve gone down), and there are some accusations that Ellison’s funding comes from out of state (never demonstrated, but verifiable). But, man, that guy is dragging a truck.

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Tim Pawlenty has weighed in on the controversy surrounding the building of a mosque on Ground Zero, which, for the sake of accuracy, we will instead call the building of a Muslim community center that includes a prayer room a few blocks from Ground Zero (it won’t even be visible from Ground Zero). And, just so that we have properly set up this story, there is already a mosque about a block from the site of the proposed community center, the people who actually live in the neighborhood support the building of the center by a clear majority, and not only are the people who are proposing the center in no way connected to the 911 attackers, the point of the center is about, in their words, “promoting integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture.”

Now, with all that as prelude, what was Palenty’s view on the subject? “I think it’s inappropriate,” as Hart Van Denburg of City Pages reports. But why? “… [F]rom a patriotic standpoint, it’s hallowed ground, it’s sacred ground, and we should respect that. We shouldn’t have images or activities that degrade or disrespect that in any way.” He also mentions that 3,000 Americans died in the attack, although he neglects to mention that some of them were Muslims. Keith Ellison issued a response, published by Jeremy Herb in the Star Tribune’s Hot Dish Politics blog: “I know he wants to be president really bad, and I know he’s trying to appeal to the most extreme elements of his party to do that, but I hope he doesn’t want to be president so bad that he’s willing to dishonor the First Amendment and our heritage of religious tolerance.”

In the arts: Rupa Shenoy of Minnesota Public Radio reports that a local team won the National Poetry Slam Championship, held in St. Paul over the weekend. Needless to say, the team celebrated by breaking out a very old bottle of Alexandrine with some especially fine hemistiches of six syllables each, which is the sort of meter that anybody can get drunk off of.

In sports: Joe Kimball of MinnPost reports that Pawlenty also has an opinion about whether Brett Favre will rrturn to the Vikings: “He’s coming back. Everybody kind of knows he’s coming back.” According to the New York Times, at least one person doesn’t know if he’s coming back: Favre, who had an ankle surgically repaired, and won’t play unless he knows his ankle can handle it.