Time’s running out on this gubernatorial campaign, especially for Independence Party candidate Tom Horner.
Sunday’s Star Tribune poll showed that Horner, despite all the newspaper endorsements he’s received, despite the endorsements of three former governors, is sliding. The Strib’s Minnesota Poll showed him with 13 percent of the vote, down 5 points from a poll last month.
That same poll found DFLer Mark Dayton with a 7-point lead over Republican Tom Emmer, 41-34.
At Debate No. 26 Sunday night, this one sponsored by KSTP-TV and the League of Women Voters and broadcast live across the state, neither Dayton nor Emmer strayed far from his standard message.
Horner seemed to try to take a few extra shots at both of his opponents, though Emmer claimed not to notice.
“I didn’t even feel that,” said Emmer, when asked if he thought Horner was more aggressive. “I was just watching the senator.”
More and more, this appears to be a two-person race, and there seems to be little Horner can do about it.
Horner more aggressive in debate
He did try to take some jabs.
When Emmer tried to say that both Dayton and Horner would use state-sponsored gambling money for the general fund, Horner snapped back at the Republican that he has “a listening problem. . . .You put your stake in the ground and won’t move.”
Emmer let the jab bounce off his back.
(Emmer’s claim to the contrary, Horner consistently has said that any money the state might receive from gambling revenues from something such as a racino should be used for special programs, perhaps including a Vikings’ stadium, outside the general fund.)
Horner also seemed to take extra shots at Dayton. As Republicans have since August, Horner questioned Dayton’s “ability and temperament to lead.” He also attacked Dayton for making campaign promises.
“You’ve never met a promise you won’t make to a special interest group,” Horner said to Dayton at one point in the debate.
But Horner’s based his whole campaign on being reasonable, to being bigger than the finger-pointing of either Democrats or Republicans, so even his shots were pretty mild.
Horner does not dispute the results of the Strib’s poll but says he believes there remains considerable “soft support” for both Emmer and Dayton. He acknowledges, however, that he’s caught in the wasted-vote syndrome. Some so fear Emmer that they’ll vote for Dayton; others so fear Dayton, they’ll vote Emmer.
“People are voting out of fear,” he said.
Little time, limited resources
With so little time, what’s left for him?
He’ll try to keep get the message out — on limited resources — that he’s the right choice.
“Why do all the newspaper and all of the people who have been there [a reference to the support of former Govs. Al Quie, Arne Carlson and Jesse Ventura] say support my campaign?” Horner said.
He’s also going to trying to plant a seed in voters’ minds that the heavy dump of negative ads expected from organizations that support either Emmer or Dayton really are the responsibility of the two candidates.
He said it is “disingenuous” of Dayton and Emmer to say that they can’t do anything to prevent the negative ads from so-called independent organizations.
“I’m for a better Minnesota,” Horner said, “not a bitter Minnesota. … A leader would stand up and say [to the independent organizations], ‘Here’s the tone; what you’re doing is unacceptable.’ “
As it is, Horner said, he’ll try to get out the message that the ugly ads show that Emmer and Dayton supporters believe “Minnesota is up for sale.”
Fine talking points, perhaps. But he seemed to acknowledge that his hopes are getting dim. He acknowledged the poll numbers are not what they need to be to show a campaign on the upswing.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do in eight days,” he said.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.