On primary eve, Margaret Anderson Kelliher revs up election buzz before, during and after final debate

Enthusiastic supporters greeted DFL-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Margaret Anderson Kelliher before and after Sunday night's debate.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Enthusiastic supporters greeted DFL-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Margaret Anderson Kelliher before and after Sunday night’s debate.

What a unique moment it was in this campaign that started so long ago. Margaret Anderson Kelliher was coming out of the Fitzgerald Theater in downtown St. Paul after Sunday’s final DFL gubernatorial primary debate to find 50 of her supporters still there, wearing sweaty red T-shirts.

“Margaret! Margaret! Margaret!” they screamed.

Old, young, men, women.

“MAK, all the way! MAK, all the way!”

Kelliher broke into a smile and hugged people and shook hands.

For months, this has seemed a “buzzless” campaign for all of the candidates. Not Sunday night, though. That was a genuine buzz before, during and especially after the debate.

So noticeable was the passion for Kelliher outside — and inside the Fitzgerald — that Matt Entenza felt obliged to make note of it.

His campaign, he said during the debate, had specifically asked supporters NOT to come to the Fitzgerald, but rather work the phone lines. A Kelliher campaign worker noted the Entenza comment and laughed. “We still had 350 people working the phones [during the debate],” he said.

All three candidates sharp in final debate
On a night when all three of the candidates were at their best, this was Kelliher’s night. This, her supporters said, was evidence of the “ground game” she has been talking about while Entenza and Mark Dayton have been spending millions on television ads.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, long ago a DFL gubernatorial candidate himself, was among those standing in a crowd of several hundred people outside the theatre before the debate began. He is a Kelliher supporter, but he’s also a political pro. He seemed genuinely impressed by the large turnout of Kelliher supporters.

“When you get a large group of people to come out on a hot, steamy night like this, that’s impressive,” Coleman said.

Another former DFL candidate, Steve Kelly, who also is a Kelliher supporter, said the crowd of people in those red Kelliher T-shirts was proof to him that the Kelliher campaign has done what it needed to do.

“They’ve established a plan based on the resources they’ve had,” he said, motioning to the crowd. “All along they’ve said they needed to build a network.”

Neither Entenza nor Dayton had any show of organized support before, during or after the debate.

But, of course, for weeks the polls have said this race belongs to Dayton, by convincing numbers.

Was this sense of electricity just some sort of election-eve mirage?

Both the Kelliher and Entenza campaigns insist that it’s the polls that are the mirage. Everything comes down to which candidate get his or her voters out. Polling and primaries don’t mix, they said.

Kelliher supporters were filled with optimism. Or grasping at every available straw.

Only the Kelliher campaign worked at getting the support of absentee voters, said Rep. Karla Bigham, a Cottage Grove DFLer who is not seeking re-election. Bigham noted that the Secretary of State’s Office last week reported a larger absentee response — about 25,000 ballots — than in previous governor’s races.

“That’s got to be a good sign for Margaret,” Bigham said.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, wearing her red T-shirt, said that her door-knocking experience has shown that undecided voters are turning in high numbers to Kelliher.

There remains a substantial number of undecideds out there.

A key question: Who can win?
During the Minnesota Public Radio debate, one man in the audience raised the question that still is most near and dear to the hearts of most DFLers. The man noted that it’s been more than two decades since the DFL has elected governor and asked: Why is that? Who can win this time?

Each of the three candidates answered well.

Said Dayton: “I’ve won running as a Democrat. Unabashed. Those principles are winning principles.” A fair, progressive, tax system is fundamental to Democratic principles, he said.

Kelliher said she’s in the best position to govern. She talked about her ability to bring people of different political points of view together. She talked about her “statewide grassroots campaign,” which will be necessary in November. And then she evoked the Wellstone legacy: “I’m proud to have David Wellstone [the late senator’s son] with our campaign.”

Entenza said the DFL problem in the last two decades has been its inability to focus its message. “We can’t be for 50 things,” he said. “We have to be focused.”

Kelliher, as she had at the KSTP-TV debate a few days ago, poked at Dayton and especially at his proposal to raise taxes on couples earning a taxable income of more than $150,000.

She noted, as she did before, that such a dollar amount could include a cop married to a nurse.

Dayton brushed it off.

“That’s simply not true, Margaret,” Dayton said. He cited stats that show that the average cop in Minnesota is paid $51,000 and the average nurse is paid $73,000, a combined income far below the $150,000 mark.

And he again pounded on the theme that a progressive tax system — only a memory in Minnesota — is a fundamental DFL principle.

If there had been an applause meter at the Fitzgerald, Dayton would have finished second to Kelliher on moving the needle.

He was sharp and focused. When the candidates were asked, by an audience member, how Minnesota can compete in a changing economic world, Kelliher spoke of the job plans she has laid out on her website, and Entenza spoke again on how the state needs to focus on sustainable energy and education.

Dayton’s answer to the question was direct: “Invest in early childhood education, K-12 and higher ed.”

Kelliher also made her appeal to potential voters, saying she would be the party’s strongest candidate in November because only she can appeal to independent voters and even moderate Republicans.

Dayton and Entenza blasted Emmer, but she blasted Emmer with gusto.

After the debate was over, Dayton seemed to disappear, Entenza stayed on the Fitzgerald stage, shaking hands with a few people.

For her part, Kelliher somehow managed to get from the stage to the doors from which people were exiting. She stood at the door, like a preacher at a country church, shaking hands with the people as they left. She was energized, engaged.

And then she stepped outside the theater and into the heat and the buzz.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (26)

  1. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 08/09/2010 - 09:18 am.

    I was almost entirely neutral going into the debate and came out an Entenza supporter. Kelliher came off as vague, strangely anti-tax, and annoyingly seems to take her words from the generic running-for-office playbook in such a way that she seems incredibly disingenuous. Dayton is clearly a really good guy who has his heart in the right place and should be running a charity or something. But it was Entenza’s sincerity and willingness to talk about energy policy that won me over.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/09/2010 - 10:22 am.

    My support for Dayton was even more solidified. Entenza’s opposition to a MN single payer system kills him for me, and Kelliher’s poor math skills or dishonesty regarding taxes on nurses and cops continues to trouble me. She says she agrees the wealthy should pay their fair share, but she doesn’t seem to know who the wealthy are.

  3. Submitted by Lindsey Knowles on 08/09/2010 - 10:44 am.

    I was still undecided, so I attended the debate last night. I liked what I heard inside from Margaret and I LOVED what I saw outside. Those red shirts were everywhere (and I saw effectively nothing from Entenza and literally nothing from Dayton). Winning in November is going to require inspiring legions of volunteers and MAK’s got that in droves.
    She’s got my vote.

  4. Submitted by Kelly O'Brien on 08/09/2010 - 10:45 am.

    I prefer Margaret’s jobs plan. Entenza’s would not help me or many of my friends who have lost their jobs in the past 2 years. Focusing on only one job sector is myopic.

    So what if Margaret’s example about a police officer and a nurse was taken down by Dayton? (And by the way, is anyone else shocked that the average cop salary is only $51,000?) The point is that a couple can be a teacher and a nurse, a fire fighter and graphic designer, a plumber and a public servant, and Mark Dayton will tax you like you are wealthy while you try to live the middle class dream.

  5. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 08/09/2010 - 10:46 am.

    I agree that I like Dayton’s support for single payer in the ideal case, but given that the federal government just passed an honest attempt to improve the health care situation – for all its flaws the biggest change in decades – Entenza’s wait-and-see approach seems reasonable.

  6. Submitted by Gail O'Hare on 08/09/2010 - 11:18 am.

    I hate saying anything negative about a Democrat, but I don’t see substance in either Kelliher or Entenza’s “plans.” Lots of high-sounding rhetoric about growth and investment in business and infrastructure, but nothing resembling a real PLAN. To do that you have to talk dollars – and only Dayton has had the courage to be specific about that. Returning to the tax rates before Ventura and the Republican juggernaut slashed them is the only way we can get back on track.

    Only Dayton is focused where we need to focus.

  7. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 08/09/2010 - 11:21 am.

    “The point is that a couple can be a teacher and a nurse, a fire fighter and graphic designer, a plumber and a public servant, and Mark Dayton will tax you like you are wealthy while you try to live the middle class dream. ”

    The point is that this is true only if you can’t add. Like MAK, apparently.

  8. Submitted by Rebecca Hoover on 08/09/2010 - 11:27 am.

    Oh honestly, I saw the Kelliher exit from the Fitzgerald Theater and it was totally staged and fake. The supporters made some noise and Margaret broke into a smile all right — a totally fake and phony one. I’ve participated in planning these ‘spontaneous’ shows of support for a candidate in other campaigns. These shows are put on for the benefit of TV cameras.

    I was disappointed in Kelliher’s performance at the debate. As usual, unfortunately, she seemed like the typical politician — promising a pie in the sky and delivering no credible details. For example, Keliher said her web site included information on how she would balance the budget but, if you check her website, her information on balancing the budget is nothing but a bunch of wishy washy promises that do not specify how she will balance the budget.

    Kelliher has a real problem with credibility. A lot of folks who watched her dealing with the GAMC issue think she threw needy bets under the bus. She promised and promised and then, behind closed doors, threw the vets under the bus.

    Finally, there is the issue of Kelliher’s character. Just as her budget choices (lavish funding for the arts and meager funding for medical care for most needy vets) are self-indulgent, Kelliher is self-indulgent. She would make a perfect TV depiction of the type of politician that is such a poor role model — self-indulgent, wishy-washy, phony as a wooden nickel.

    Of the three candidates, Dayton continued to offer specifics while the other candidates offered the typical pie in the sky pipe dreams. Of the three candidates Dayton is the only one even close to being cut in the model of FDR or Truman.

  9. Submitted by Leslie Davis on 08/09/2010 - 11:40 am.

    How come Emmer got a free ride from MinnPost?
    Leslie Davis

  10. Submitted by keith hawkinson on 08/09/2010 - 12:13 pm.

    I was dissapointed MNPOST headlined with
    a campaign poster for Rep Kelliher. If Mark
    Dayton seemed to have “dissapeared” I would
    wager it was to make a trip to Regions Hospital
    where he has spent many hours this weekend
    with the family of one of his interns who was
    badly injured in an automobile accident.

  11. Submitted by B Maginnis on 08/09/2010 - 12:25 pm.

    The wind of November
    Will cry Emmer

  12. Submitted by Stephen Dent on 08/09/2010 - 01:03 pm.

    Margaret is the best candidate for many reasons. She understands Minnesotans’ needs and concerns. She is an experienced legislator that is able to bridge and work with both sides of the aisle. She is committed to increase the number of jobs in Minnesota, improve the infrastructure, support education, provide care and support to the elderly and most vulnerable in our state. But most importantly, she loves our state and wants to repair the damage that occurred over the past eight years under the Pawlenty administration. This is why I support Margaret Anderson-Kelliher and I hope you will too. Margaret is the best candidate for Minnesota.

  13. Submitted by James Hamilton on 08/09/2010 - 01:17 pm.

    I’m voting for MAK tomorrow, so those who care to can disregard my comments if they wish.

    It seems MAK said:

    “The point is that a couple can be a teacher and a nurse, a fire fighter and graphic designer, a plumber and a public servant, and Mark Dayton will tax you like you are wealthy while you try to live the middle class dream. ”

    Average salaries (e.g., cop – $51k, nurse, $73k – don’t tell the whole story. A St. Paul Public Schools teacher with 15 years and a B.A. makes $56,500; with a Ph.D, $83,700.

    See, Salary Schedule at:


    A staff nurse in Minneapolis paid at the 75th percentile earns $77,200.


    A St. Paul firefighter, 5 years out of the academy, earns $61,800.


    A Minneapolis firefighter at Step 4 earns a base salary of $2170 for a 40 hour week, or more than $100,000 per year.


    Do the math. It certainly looks to me like MAK was right when she said they could see their taxes increased under Dayton.

    Personally, I don’t have a problem with that. I’d increase taxes at even lower levels, because I think we all need to participate.

  14. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/09/2010 - 01:27 pm.

    If the toughtful reader is confused with Entenza’s obsession with something called a “green economy”, you should know that he and his wife recently started Tysvar, LLC.


    “We are a strategic advisor and incubator of ideas, organizations and people working to facilitate and build the NGE to scale, which means our goal is contributing to a viable, profitable and socially responsible industry of sustainability, clean technology, and renewable energy sources.”

    Synopsis: Tysvar is a tool to position Entenza & Quam to do for the “green economy” what they did for health care:

    Cash in on it.

  15. Submitted by chuck holtman on 08/09/2010 - 01:36 pm.

    To all the folks commenting on their preferred DFL candidate above: Not to be disrepectful, but isn’t all that you’ve said irrelevant? Would you prefer Mr Emmer over any of the three candidates? If not, then isn’t the question entirely that of who can win in November? Unfortunately, the candidates’ policies, etc, have very little to do with that. So, who will best withstand the Republican attacks and get out the vote?

  16. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 08/09/2010 - 02:43 pm.

    “Do the math. It certainly looks to me like MAK was right when she said they could see their taxes increased under Dayton.”

    Sure, if you take the statistically richest of each one you might find a few examples. But it’s a fair assumption when she made the comment that she meant average. I don’t buy this defense.

    “Not to be disrepectful, but isn’t all that you’ve said irrelevant? Would you prefer Mr Emmer over any of the three candidates? If not, then isn’t the question entirely that of who can win in November?”

    No. Emmer’s a sitting duck, so my chance to be influential with my vote is now.

  17. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/09/2010 - 02:53 pm.

    //Do the math. It certainly looks to me like MAK was right when she said they could see their taxes increased under Dayton.

    Man, you Mak people just can’t get the math on this can you. Fine, taking the highest paid examples, the $77,200 RN and the $83,700 teacher, you get a combined income of $160,900. Now, MN taxes federally adjusted income and the standard deduction for these two would $11,400. Soooooooo 160,900 minus 11,400 equals $149,500. The point is since these people make less than $150,000 they would NOT see a tax increase under Dayton’s plan. What planet are you people living on? The median family income in this state is something like $58,000, you can look up the stats on this. No matter how you slice it, a tax on earners making more than $150,000 is not going to even come close to hitting a majority of Minnesotans. I’m sorry but if you can’t figure this out I’m not voting for you. How could I possibly trust you’re economic plan?

  18. Submitted by James Hamilton on 08/09/2010 - 03:45 pm.

    In response to Mr. Klein:

    If you look at the numbers, you’ll see that I did not select the “statistically richest”.

    You can’t reasonably assume that someone meant the average when the person specifically said that “you can be . . . and Mark Dayton will tax you like you are wealthy.” ‘

  19. Submitted by David Greene on 08/09/2010 - 04:18 pm.

    Margaret gets things done. I worked with her and many other people to override Pawlenty’s veto of the transportation bill. I worked with her on that bill for several years before that. She knows how to work across the aisle and though I don’t agree with her on every issue, I do respect her ability to broker a deal and manage things so everyone can claim a win. That’s a skill sorely lacking at the capitol these days.

  20. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 08/09/2010 - 04:20 pm.

    I maintain that’s purposefully disingenuous. I can play this game too. You CAN be a ditch digger and Margaret Andersen Kelliher will cut you from Minnesota Care. The average ditch digger might make $12k a year but clearly I’m talking about the guy in invented his own patented ditch digging equipment and sold the designs to Caterpillar. So I’m being honest, because I used the word ‘CAN’.

  21. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 08/09/2010 - 05:37 pm.

    MAK has an energized base that’s going to be vital to getting through the long slog to election day. She has a demonstrated competence at working with the legislature which is vital to a governor, and she chose a running mate who is one of our foremost experts on public budgeting, which shows a seriousness about governing. She has the least baggage of the three and will be the toughest target for the Republicans. She endorsed the single-payer Minnesota Health Plan and she received the endorsement of its author, Sen. John Marty. She’s been outspent 4-1 by not one but two wealthy opponents, but I’m hoping people power beats money.

  22. Submitted by m. claire on 08/09/2010 - 07:01 pm.

    Really, how hard was it to override Timpaw’s veto of the transportion bill, given the emotions of the time? Could please identify another major example of how this “leader” brought positive change to Minnesota, given a huge Democratic majority in the House? I think you’ll find little. I find it hard to see why people think this ineffective Speaker of the House would somehow, magically, become effective as a Governor.

  23. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/09/2010 - 07:21 pm.

    //If you look at the numbers, you’ll see that I did not select the “statistically richest”.

    Even if you take Mr. Hamilton’s numbers at face value they don’t work. If you take his highest paid nurse and teacher you get a combined income of $160,000 a year, gross income. MN taxes your net income however which would be at least 15% less once you deduct social security payroll etc. No matter how you cut it MAK is promoting an extremely unlikely scenario as legitimate concern for most Minnesotan’s, and I agree with Klein, I think it’s dishonest.

    Beyond the numbers however, I have to ask: What’s the problem with well paid nurses and teachers paying their fair share of taxes anyways? My household income is around $98,000 and I’m willing to pay more in taxes, why should someone making $150,000 (net), regardless of their profession balk at paying a few hundred dollars a year more? Even if some well paid nurses and teachers were to end up paying more taxes, why is that problem?

  24. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 08/09/2010 - 11:53 pm.

    Listening in last night if we’re measuring buzz, it was clear while MAK supporters may have been more boisterous, Dayton got more robust responses from more of the audience. Especially noticed it when MAK tried to repeat her nurse/cop scenario after Dayton had effectively countered it earlier and the second time Dayton just confidently responded with a simple reply that to me generated the largest and most spontaneous audience response of the night.

    Applause-O-Meter analysis aside though I’ll
    be voting for Dayton as he seems the most comfortable of the 3 to lead with assertiveness for his ideals and most likely to govern with practicality. Entenza seems short on ideas and MAK always sounds to me like she’s running for student council president and her closing statement last night was nothing more
    than “I’ll be the bestest governor ever!”

  25. Submitted by David Greene on 08/10/2010 - 11:09 am.

    The transportation veto override was by no means easy. If you think that, you clearly weren’t paying attention. The “emotions of the time” were long gone by that point. Nine months is a very long time in politics.

    What else has Margaret done? She saved GAMC, albeit with a big hit to the program. She passed school funding reform. She saved bus funding on numerous occasions before the veto override. These are just the things I was personally involved in. There are a hundred things going on at the legislature at any one time.

    All this with a stick-in-the-mud governor. The executive has a huge amount of power to block just about everything. Without a supermajority there’s very little the majority can do if the governor opposes everything.

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