Sunday debate positions Kelliher to be most aggressive in DFL primary election’s closing days

The three DFL gubernatorial candidates -- from left, Matt Entenza, Mark Dayton and Margaret Anderson Kelliher -- all took positive tones in Sunday's debate.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
The three DFL gubernatorial candidates — from left, Matt Entenza, Mark Dayton and Margaret Anderson Kelliher — all took positive tones in Sunday’s debate.

Let’s say you were one of those Minnesotans who tuned in Sunday evening for “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” only to find out that the program had been pre-empted by a debate among the three DFL gubernatorial candidates. Let’s say you actually didn’t click the remote to another channel.

What would you have learned about Mark Dayton, Matt Entenza and Margaret Anderson Kelliher in the hour-long debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters and KSTP-TV?

1. Dayton wants to tax the rich and was a U.S. Senate colleague of the late Paul Wellstone. He made frequent references to both of those facts, as well as the fact that he’s received the endorsement of the Mesabi Daily News.

2. Entenza grew up poor in Worthington and knows that Minnesotans are tired of bickering politicians. Those were his oft-repeated refrains.

3. Kelliher is a mother, grew up on a farm and has been endorsed by the Star Tribune. She made frequent references to each of those facts.

Clearly, all three candidates believe that most Minnesotans haven’t been paying much attention to this primary scuffle as it heads into the final days. They were trying to introduce themselves to anyone who might have been watching.

The final days
Little things stood out about how the final days of this long, expensive campaign will unfold before the Aug. 10 primary election.

Kelliher will be the most aggressive. In Sunday evening’s debate — which also was telecast live on KSTP’s sister stations in Duluth, Rochester and Alexandria — she dished out the harshest criticisms, though it should be noted that she spoke without harshness or anger.

She hit Dayton in his most vulnerable spot, his decision to drop out after one term as a U.S. senator, noting that he had given himself an “F” grade for his work in Washington. She noted that earlier in his career, he also had quit after one term as state auditor.

“Where I come from [that would be the farm], you do the work until it’s done.”

Dayton didn’t seem troubled by Kelliher’s punch.

Given the opportunity, he said, “I will serve two terms as governor.” As for that ‘F’ grade, he said that “I’m a hard grader. Unlike Pawlenty, I’ll hold myself to a higher standard.”

Later, when his Senate performance was raised by KSTP’s Tom Hauser, the debate moderator, Dayton noted that the whole Senate deserved an “F.” He also proudly pointed out that he and Wellstone had been among 23 senators opposing the war in Iraq.

“That’s the defining vote of my career,” he said.

Kelliher also took a hard swing at Entenza. She noted that when he was a state rep, he’d supported stricter financial disclosure laws for Minnesota pols. Now, she said, unlike her and Dayton, he won’t disclose his income taxes. What’s up with that?

Entenza responded by noting that as House speaker, Kelliher had not passed a bill that required more complete disclosure. Then, he said he figured Minnesotans are “tired of squabbling and finger-pointing.”

Actually, a ‘quibble,’ not a debate
But that was about as tough as this debate got. In fact, it could have been called a “quibble,” not a debate.

Given a chance, by Hauser, to say something positive and negative about their foes, the candidates seemed to follow the lead of Dayton, who was the first to respond to Hauser’s invitation.

“I have great respect for both of them,” he said. “We all have so many detractors, I’m not going to add to that. DFLers have three great choices and on Aug. 11, we’ll all be friends.”

Hauser sort of shook his head at all the kind talk and muttered something about singing “Kumbaya.”

It is, of course, a problem to have a debate among three candidates who tend to agree on most of the issues.

They all say they’ll be the education governors and the jobs governors. They all say they’ll raise taxes on the wealthiest, though Dayton defines wealthy differently from the other two. Dayton describes “wealthy” as a couple making $150,000, which places them in the top 10 percent of the wage earners in the state. Kelliher, who along with her husband made $144,000 last year, believes that sort of wage is “middle class.”

(One little area of difference: Dayton would be interested in supporting a single state-run casino at either the Mall of America or Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Entenza sharply opposes that, saying that in his days as a prosecuting attorney, he saw too many white-collar crimes created by gambling compulsions. Kelliher was more mildly opposed.)

It also is tough to have an interesting debate among three people who are so humorless and scripted.

Entenza did try to make a little joke about being the tallest candidate, but it sounded more like a boast than a wisecrack, meaning it fell flat.

With so few days left before the primary, none of these three is going to be unguarded, even for a few moments.

How will it all end?

The Star Tribune’s Sunday poll, which admits to a whopping 7.8 point margin of error, shows that Dayton has a 10-point lead over Kelliher.

Even Dayton dismissed the poll, comparing primary polls to perfume: “Nice to sniff, not good to swallow.”

Entenza, who had just 17 percent in the poll, scoffed at the poll’s projections of a 60 percent turnout. He continues to insist that his well-managed campaign is connecting with people who really will vote.

Meantime, Kelliher said it’s her “ground game” that will make her a winner. To that end, only Kelliher had a large group — maybe 25 or 30 people — outside the KSTP studios waving banners and urging people traveling down University Avenue to honk their support for Kelliher.

But on a Sunday summer afternoon, there wasn’t much traffic, so there wasn’t much honking.

Maybe everyone had rushed home to watch “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

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 (17)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/02/2010 - 09:42 am.

    Nothing new was offered, and I think and Tom Emmer will make short work of any of the three.

    Mr. Dayton did reinforce his appeal as an opponent, however, for the sheer potential of a fun campaign.

  2. Submitted by Joseph Rodrick on 08/02/2010 - 10:10 am.

    Thomas, have you seen any of the polls? Even Rasmussen (Rasmussen!) has Emmer trailing.

  3. Submitted by Eric Glenne on 08/02/2010 - 10:59 am.

    “Now, she said, unlike her and Dayton, he won’t disclose his income taxes. What’s up with that?”

    The word “her” in that sentence should be “herself” since Kelliher is talking about herself.

    Laugh at us Grammar Nazis if you wish, but while Minnesota continues to let education slide, we have to tutor each other.

  4. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 08/02/2010 - 11:20 am.

    Politically and accurately, however, here is a paragraph from another MinnPost article:
    Perhaps this [attack ad on Emmer] has something to with the Minnesota Poll results . . . showed Dayton leading Emmer by 10 points (40-30), Anderson Kelliher leading Emmer by nine, and Entenza leading Emmer by five.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/02/2010 - 12:53 pm.

    I’ve seen the polls, Joseph, and I believe them.

    It only makes sense that if you have three people spending tens of millions of dollars talking smack, while you remain silent, you’ll take some hits.

    Let’s have a look back when Emmer actually starts campaigning, shall we?

  6. Submitted by Joe Forkeybolo on 08/02/2010 - 01:04 pm.

    Margret is in the top 10 percent of earners in this state, and yet thinks she is middle class. Does anyone else think that this lack of understanding of the word “middle” is concerning?

  7. Submitted by Joseph Rodrick on 08/02/2010 - 01:36 pm.

    Joe–I agree. A six figure income like Kelliher’s is hardly “middle class.” Perhaps not filthy rich, but certainly not a working class couple.

    Thomas–Emmer has indeed been campaigning, touring the state and meeting with voters. And he’s been doing it unencumbered by a serious primary challenge. And yet, he’s managed to actually go down in the polls.

  8. Submitted by Lori Tolonen on 08/02/2010 - 02:23 pm.

    Kelliher is the best candidate. Dayton can’t be relied upon and should retire from politics. Entenza’s saw about being raised poor is ridiculous and condescending. Especially when he brings up the raised on the wrong side of the tracks. At best Entenza is a socially awkward playground tough guy who tries to be hip and loved.

    Eric Glenne is correct about the use of the pronoun. It is still the journalists responsiblity to use standard English if they wish for credibility.

    Also to say Kehiller dished out the harshest criticsims without speaking harshly….is illogical and unclear. Tighten up your thoughts before committing them to writing.

  9. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/02/2010 - 02:23 pm.

    Joe, one of the most humerous bits during the debate was Dayton trying to explain how raising taxes on a hypothetical family that included a cop and a teacher (combined yearly income >$150k) constituted targeting “the richest Minnesotan’s”.

    You gotta hand it to him though, he suggested that the cop would be happy to pay more to support law enforcement and the teacher would jump at the chance to increase money for schools while maintaining a straight face.

    It was a moment that did Upjohn proud.

  10. Submitted by Joseph Rodrick on 08/02/2010 - 03:50 pm.

    The median income for a family of four in MN is $81,477 in 2009 according to the Dept. of Health and Human Services.

    What cop and teacher are bringing home $150k?

  11. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/02/2010 - 05:10 pm.

    Joe, were not talking just any family here, this is a family headed by two government employees.

    Here’s one page (of dozens) of teachers making $80k a year.

    Here’s another page of cops with $90k+ base salaries (not including overtime which doubles some cops salaries).

    Hope that helps.

  12. Submitted by Bonnie Hayskar on 08/02/2010 - 06:31 pm.

    Doug, I was one of those people who pretty-much accidentally tuned into the debate. And I was glad I did, because as a dyed-in-the-wool DFLer, I have been ashamed of our state since Pawlenty et al showed up.

    I was a State employee during the Perpich administration—served as Deputy Director of Tourism—and Mark Dayton was Commissioner of the Department of Trade and Economic Development (DTED) for which I worked. I used to attend Monday-morning, DTED-staff meetings when my boss, the Director of Tourism, was unable to attend.

    So I came to the debate as a DFLer first and as a former employee of the State of Minnesota second. Third was as a taxpayer.

    I’m not writing to endorse a candidate. I’m writing to say I understand the dilemma. Each candidate has tremendous appeal to me–I know that is hard to believe in a field of low-key Minnesotans. And one could say, “Vote on who can defeat Emmer,” but I prefer to think positively, not in terms of defeating.

    So I’m asking myself, if Emmer is the Republican heir-apparent, how do I get “My Minnesota Back”? Emmer, Bachman, et al really epitomize something a friend from Texas and I were talking about last week. They are all about hate. They are like saying, “stand up behind us in this line if you hate all those people who are different from you or who hold different views.”

    What lots of other people know–and I think a lot of them are DFLers–is that “LOVE” is an action verb. You can just sit in your chair all day and hate stuff. But to love stuff, you have to actually get up and do something. You physically, financially and emotionally have to connect and do something.

    So go love Minnesota. Send her off in the very best direction. And love her people and her magnificent land. There is nothing the Republican Party offers that the people of Minnesota need or can benefit by. They offer hate, degradation, self-interest, and disdain.

  13. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/02/2010 - 08:32 pm.

    Thanks Bonnie, that insight was certainly better than no insight at all…well, maybe not, but I’m a team player.

  14. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 08/02/2010 - 08:48 pm.

    And that’s all they have to offer because they have no ideas own. Except NO.

  15. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 08/03/2010 - 06:48 am.

    Slow down there Speedracer….

    The Pawlenty administration has managed to more that double Minnesota’s deficit since our GOP governor entered office nearly eight years ago. My basic understanding of math tells me that our ‘fiscally conservative’ governor has not made a lot of headway putting MN back in the black.

    If you take a look and start to relate the GOP’s political rhetoric to reality, you’ll find that there is a wide gap.

  16. Submitted by Joseph Rodrick on 08/03/2010 - 08:45 am.


    Those employees must be at the high, high end of the payscales. Here in Greater MN, there is absolutely no cop or even sheriff’s deputy that makes anywhere in the neighborhood of 90k.

    And certainly most teachers aren’t even close to 80k in Greater MN. Perhaps in areas with a much higher property values the schools can pay that much, but outside the metro those salaries are very hard to come by.

  17. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/03/2010 - 11:18 am.

    Joeseph, I didn’t make the numbers up, and I provided the link.

    Your argument is with who ever is in charge of reporting state salary data for the Pioneer Press.

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