Negative. Sewer. Ugly. Hypocrisy. Smear. Distortion. Those old familiar words were being tossed around this morning at dueling news conferences. Clearly, the real campaign for governor has begun.
First up was Mark Dayton, the DFL’s nominee for governor. In the wake of the Republican Party releasing what he called a distorted, personal attack television ad, he called on the candidates, the political parties and other organizations to declare “a cease-fire” on such advertising.
He did say, however, that the Republican Party’s ad, which says, in the darkest of tones, that Dayton’s Senate record makes him unfit to be governor, should be allowed to “run its course” to settle the score with an ad run by an organization called Alliance for a Better Minnesota (ABM), which attacked Republican candidate Tom Emmer’s DWI past, linking that to a recent legislative vote that many believe would weaken DWI law in the state.
“The votes he took were on the public record,” Dayton said of the anti-Emmer ad, which has received huge play in part because of ABM funding by several Dayton family members. “But personal issues [the old DWIs] were beyond the line.
Michael Brodkorb, deputy chairman of the state’s Republican Party, sat at the back of the room where Dayton was holding his news conference. He was not impressed by the offer, telling reporters afterward that it was “the height of hypocrisy.”
“Here’s the deal: He or his family [should] give us a check for $851,000 and then we’ll talk about cease-fire,” Brodkorb said.
That is the amount, he said, that Dayton’s “son, cousin, aunt and ex-wife” have given to Alliance for Minnesota. At any time in the last two months, Brodkorb said, Dayton could have called those family members and asked them to stop funding Alliance for a Better Minnesota.
What are the chances of this governor’s race being positive?
“None,” said Brodkorb.
Independence Party candidate Tom Horner used the Republican ad to gain a little equal access into the negative ad dispute, which has become a rite of American politics.
Horner ripped the Republicans.
“Before the paint had even dried on the Democratic primary results,” Horner said in a statement, “the first message we see from the Republicans is negative. They used their platform not to share a positive vision for the future of Minnesota, but instead to launch a negative personal attack.”
Not surprisingly, Brodkorb defended both the message and the tone of his party’s ad, frequently noting that it received an A-minus for accuracy by KSTP-TV.
Though there’s nothing new — in terms of information — in the ad, it did put Dayton again in a position of explaining why he closed his Senate office during a congressional recess in 2004. He said he had made the decision to close the office based on top secret but “very compelling information” that led him to believe that the U.S. Capitol was a terrorist target.
Dayton said he has tried to get that document declassified, without success.
But he was pressed on the subject. A reporter asked if there were documents showing Dayton had sought to declassify the information.
“You just have to believe me,” Dayton said. “If you don’t want to believe me, don’t.”
Dayton admitted there was nothing in the Republican ad that surprised him. In the process of deciding whether to enter the race, he knew old stories would become fodder used against him. Even primary opponent Margaret Anderson Kelliher hinted at Dayton’s Senate record, though in far different tones than the Republican ad.
One part of his record that he’s become adept at handling is the “F” grade he once gave himself as a senator.
“I gave myself an ‘A’ for effort,” Dayton said. “I worked constantly. But I won’t change what I said — I believe the whole Senate failed. The difference between myself and Gov. Pawlenty is when things go badly, he gives himself an ‘A’ and everyone else an ‘F.’ I hold myself accountable.”
Dayton had other campaign news. He said he has invited President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to come to Minnesota to campaign on his behalf. If they do come, their appearances would have to include a fundraiser, Dayton said, “because we’d have to pay for Air Force One.”
Dayton made it clear that he will not self-finance in the way he did when he won his Senate race.
In that regard, he said, he won’t start running a new round of TV ads “until I can raise the money,” a task he always has hated.
But mostly the subject was the tone of advertising.
“The whole attack approach where you destroy someone personally to destroy them politically didn’t exist when I started out [in the early 1980s],” he said. “The antidote is for voters to say, ‘No.’ Even then you’re not going to stop some people from operating out of the sewer.”
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.