Bulletin: Mark Dayton appears to have edged out Margaret Anderson Kelliher in the DFL primary for governor. Full coverage Wednesday morning.
It was 9:30 at the Mark Dayton headquarters in St. Paul. The air was heavy, the faces grim.
Dayton came into a room where reporters were gathered. They were sweating. He was, too.
“You have a statement?’’ Dayton was asked.
“Just looking for oxygen,’’ Dayton said. “Rent’s due tomorrow. They must have turned off the air conditioning.’’
Early returns, of course, can create false hopes and premature despair. But it was clear that Dayton’s supporters were quite concerned as the first returns started trickling across computer screens.
Margaret Anderson Kelliher was doing better than they thought she would in the metro area and, given the small turnout in most of the state, falling farther behind the expected could spell big trouble.
Certainly, Matt Entenza knew there was trouble. By 9:30, with 30 percent of the results in, and Entenza picking up just 18 percent of the vote, he conceded.
Those same returns showed that Kelliher had an 8-point lead, 45-37, over Dayton, but it was starting to shrink as returns from Greater Minnesota came in. By 10:30, the lead was down to 42 to 40.
Update: At 11:05, Dayton ambled out among his supporters and said, “It’s going to be very late and it’s going to be very close, and it’s very wet outside, so unless you have a canoe, you might as well get comfortable.”
According to DFL Party Chair Brian Melendez, undecided voters were swinging to Kelliher, the endorsed candidate.
Of course, the DFL gubernatorial race was the only show in town.
But there was no drama in the Republican race where Tom Emmer, essentially unopposed, was breezing to victory and Tom Horner posted an easier-than-expected win over Rob Hahn.
In fact, likely the big surprise for Emmer and Horner was those early returns, showing Kelliher in the lead. Republican Party officials were confidently predicting that Emmer would be running against Dayton. Horner always has wanted Dayton on the DFL ticket, believing that a Dayton-Emmer contest would give him a wider avenue down the middle.
But would that wish come true?
Spirits were high at Jax Café, where Kelliher and other DFLers were smiling at the early returns and the lead Kelliher seemed to be building in Hennepin and Ramsey County.
Dayton conceded the lead to Kelliher, but not the race. Sweating heavily, he faced reporters and the bright lights of TV cameras a few minutes before 10.
“I’m prepared to accept whatever the voters decide,” he said.
He seemed resigned, but said the race was far from over. Standing with his running mate, Duluth’s Yvonne Prettner Solon, he noted that results from Duluth and the Iron Range had not started coming in. He said they figured to do well there.
So why the long face?
“No one can breath,’’ said Dayton of the hot, heavy air.
As he was leaving the room, the air conditioner finally came on.
“Let there be air!’’ he said.
There was a crack of thunder.
Dayton, for the first time all evening, smiled.
“The good news is that the air conditioner is on,’’ he said. “The bad news, we may lose the electricity.’’
There was some electricity at Jax — and high hopes that for the first time in history a woman would be running as the DFL candidate for governor.
Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar spoke, though Kelliher stayed behind the scenes, like the Dayton people waiting on those northeastern Minnesota numbers.
Despite the fact nobody was claiming victory, there was laughter.
And Rep. Tony Sertich, the House majority leader who was acting as master of ceremonies, brought down the house when he told the DFLers that he had received a call from Emmer. Emmer, Sertich said, wanted to make sure the DFLers tipped generously.
Eric Black, Joe Kimball and Jay Weiner contributed to this article.