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Frustrated Tom Horner goes on offensive during Governor Debate 26 as he sees time slipping away

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.”

Tom Emmer

MinnPost/Terry Gydesen
Tom Emmer

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.)

Tom Horner

MinnPost/Terry Gydesen
Tom Horner

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.

Mark Dayton

MinnPost/Terry Gydesen
Mark Dayton

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.

Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 10/25/2010 - 08:42 am.

    On paper, Mr. Horner’s plans may seem the most rational to newspaper editorial writers. Unfortunately, for him, he has some serious problems with average voters. First he is well known as a Republican. And this is a two-edged sword. Republicans know this and blow him off as a RINO, or worse. And of course DFLers just write him off as Emmer light. Then there is Horner’s long term record as a lobbyist. Trying to hide these associations is not selling. His hands are not clean on the Viking’s stadium issue. But thanks for Mr. Horner to contributing to an atmosphere where all of the candidates have had to lay their plans out on the table – at least to some extent. This has been very helpful.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/25/2010 - 09:29 am.

    Well we all know that the media by and large is the great champion of perceived middlism, and that’s Horner… even if he isn’t really a moderate. I think the business interests a lot of these endorsers serve have realized that Emmer’s not going to win so they’re promoting the next best choice.

    Meanwhile, I have ask all these Horner supporters what’s so great about a plan we know won’t work? Horner has never produced a balanced budget plan, but seems to have all kinds of good ideas for financing a Vikings stadium?

  3. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/25/2010 - 10:24 am.

    Horner’s biggest problem is that he is not a charasmatic actor and professional wrestler, but a rather bland Republican lobbyist. For that reason alone, Horner never had a chance.

    Putting that aside, I think that Horner’s failure to disclose his clients and his past work is also hurting him. This is a guy who has had his fingers in all kinds of public issues, but won’t come clean about his involvement. Horner and his supporters don’t think its a big deal, but then claim to be surprised that Horner has the highest negatives of the three candidates. I think voters see Horner as dishonest and untrustworthy, and as someone who is out to serve his (secret) clients and not the public at large.

  4. Submitted by Brian Simon on 10/25/2010 - 11:46 am.

    Paul Udstrand writes
    “I have ask all these Horner supporters what’s so great about a plan we know won’t work? Horner has never produced a balanced budget plan, but seems to have all kinds of good ideas for financing a Vikings stadium?”

    Paul, you’re hitting on a good point. Personally I’m going to vote for Horner, but not with a lot of enthusiasm, partly because of the stadium plan, partly because some of his other policies are not ideal. I suspect that few voters find themselves in 100% agreement with the candidates for whom they vote. Certainly Dayton is not the preferred choice of many DFLers – perhaps even most. Emmer likewise isn’t exactly inspiring Repubs – particularly the ‘RINO’/moderate types.

    So what’s a voter to do? I could join the legions of unenthused Dayton voters, and just play defense – keeping Emmer out. Or I could vote for the guy who I think is better for the state (Horner). Since none of the parties nominated a better candidate than Horner, I’m stuck with him. I’ll say again that I wanted Ryback for the job, but the DFL has such an asinine endorsing process, they put up another deficient candidate (in a long line of deficient DFL Gov candidates). Dayton will likely win, and given the low prospects for Horner and the extreme incompetence of Emmer, that is the outcome I’m rooting for. But Dayton won’t get my vote.

  5. Submitted by Steve Marchese on 10/25/2010 - 11:48 am.

    By most measures, Horner comes across as a reasonably thoughtful and sane individual. He certainly has contributed to making the discussions more focused on policy proposals than posturing.

    That said, as someone who finds some appeal in Horner’s candidacy, I also have a much stronger desire not to see a Governor Emmer. For many people who support Dayton, that may be the clinker. We can talk about not voting our fears, but the reality is that every Democratic-leaning vote for Horner is a vote for Emmer. It’s the unfortunate reality of a three way race. It’s also a chicken and egg problem — in order to demonstrate viability, Horner needs higher poll numbers. But people like me won’t cross over to him unless he produces those numbers, further depressing the poll results.

  6. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/25/2010 - 12:26 pm.

    Brian, if the outcome you are rooting for is a Dayton victory, why don’t you just vote for Dayton? There isn’t going to be any kind of moral victory for Horner if he gets 15 percent instead of 10. He will go back to his public relations work and the Independence Party will disappear until the next election cycle. Voting for Horner also won’t teach the DFL a lesson. If the last 20 years of failure haven’t taught the DFL that their asinine endorsing process needs fixing, nothing will. You may get some personal satisfaction in voting for who you believe is the best candidate, but if Dayton loses, I expect the buyer’s remorse will outweigh that feeling. And the way Dayton loses this race is for enough people like you who are rooting for a Dayton victory to vote for Horner instead.

  7. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 10/25/2010 - 01:06 pm.

    I second the comments Dan directed toward you, Brian. This type of voting has led to 8 years of Pawlenty, and the only reason it looks to not work for Emmer this year is that he is both more extreme than Pawlenty (although Tim is trying hard to change that) and less media-friendly.

    I fully respect your desire to support the candidate who best fits your views, but I would suggest doing so by trying to fix the current system (for instance, working towards bringing ranked-choice voting to state-wide offices), and in the meantime recognizing the limits of the system- where a vote for a 3rd candidate is a gift to one of the others. There is enough familiarty and “buzz” around ranked-choice voting such that the goal of bringing it statewide is better than just a pipe-dream, but it will never happen under Governor Emmer.

  8. Submitted by Arito Moerair on 10/25/2010 - 01:29 pm.

    “People are voting out of fear,” he said.

    Mr Horner, you act as if this is surprising. Just how short is your memory? We witnessed this same spectacle in 2002 and 2006. Do you want people to vote out of fear? Do you honestly think that’s a healthy scenario?

    If that’s a bad situation, you should drop out. If you won’t drop, then it simply proves that these IP candidates are not really trying to bridge some mythical gap they complain about — they’re just out there inflating their giant egos.

    Mr Horner, you are no different. You have an ego bigger and better inflated than the Metrodome. What you’re saying here is, “If I can’t win, I’ll take you down with me.”

    How does that help Minnesota? No matter how tiresome your bemoaning of the two-party system has become, you don’t want to help anything, you just want to get your way. You’re pathetic.

  9. Submitted by Brian Simon on 10/25/2010 - 02:24 pm.

    “Brian, if the outcome you are rooting for is a Dayton victory, why don’t you just vote for Dayton?”

    Because he is not the best candidate for the job. I refuse to vote out of fear of Emmer.

  10. Submitted by Brian Simon on 10/25/2010 - 02:29 pm.

    “This type of voting has led to 8 years of Pawlenty”

    No, it hasn’t. 8 years of Pawlenty was the result of poor candidate selection by the DFL. If you want my vote, nominate someone worth voting for. Dayton doesn’t fit the bill; nor did Hatch, etc.

  11. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/25/2010 - 03:54 pm.


    Like you, I wanted the DFL to nominate Rybak, who seemed like the obvious choice. Unfortunately, the DFL endorsement process, which again like you, I consider to be asinine, did not produce that result. When that kind of thing happens, as it frequently does with the DFL, I go back to the Will Rodgers quote: “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.”

    If you didn’t care whether Emmer or Dayton won, you should go ahead and vote for Horner. But by your own admission you have indicated that you want Dayton to win the election. Why you wouldn’t do something that helps achieve that outcome is beyond me. You aren’t giving Dayton your first born child or even admitting you like the guy. There is no penalty for voting out of fear if that’s what you want to call it, just as there is no reward for sticking to your principles and voting for a guy who can’t win. Most elections are won with the support of a large number of nose holders. Go hold yours and vote for the guy you want to see win.

  12. Submitted by Allison Sandve on 10/25/2010 - 06:28 pm.

    Kudos, Brian, two important points: Mr. Dayton is “not the best candidate for the job. I refuse to vote out of fear of Emmer” and “I refuse to vote out of fear of Emmer. If you want my vote, nominate someone worth voting for.” Exactly.

    In voting for Tom Horner, I am voting my conscience. I think he’s the best candidate for the job. Beyond that, what’s past will be prologue if either of the other two are elected: The acrimony and division they’re fueling via their PAC-bolstered campaigns gives us a good look at the stalemates and gridlock that would define the next four years.

    BTW, Tom Horner isn’t a lobbyist — never was. (Mr. Emmer throws that one out there a lot, too.) Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as the saying goes. I was a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin in the ’90s. Lots of legal requirements go into it — registration fees and meticulous record-keeping, etc.

  13. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/25/2010 - 07:15 pm.

    The DFL echo chamber is in full mode today.
    The polls are certainly good news for Dayton. And good for him, he has run a solid campaign so far.

    I could live with Emmer, but I would prefer Horner. I’ve never voted enthusiastically for anyone. Fingers crossed is as excited as I get.

  14. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/25/2010 - 10:19 pm.

    Like I said, if you don’t care whether Dayton or Emmer is our next governor, Horner is your guy. But if, like Brian, you want to see one of them win, think hard before you vote for Horner. Or stay home and watch TV instead of voting, which is the functional equivalent.

  15. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/26/2010 - 06:55 am.

    Smug and self righteousness never translates well in the comments section.

  16. Submitted by Brian Simon on 10/26/2010 - 01:01 pm.

    “Or stay home and watch TV instead of voting, which is the functional equivalent.”

    By that measure, Hatch voters should have stayed home in 2006. Certainly, the outcome would have been the same. Heck, DFLers may as well have skipped the last 5 gubernatorial elections, if the only votes you value are the winners.

  17. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/26/2010 - 02:07 pm.


    You’re voting for Horner because didn’t get Rybak? Do you really think Horner is closer to Rybak than Dayton is? How can you conclude that a lifetime Republican is a better choice for the Democrats than the one they produced?

    I agree, the Democrats have a problem producing good candidates. I would have preferred Rybak or Rukavina (sp?) but Dayton will work, and he can win. My concerns about Dayton had nothing to do with his plan, I was worried about other drawbacks that he’s obviously overcome.

    Frankly, I think a vote for Horner is a fear based vote. Many so-called Democrats appear to be terrified of liberal candidates for some reason. I think Franken, Dayton, and Wellstone proved that liberals can win.

    I think if you think it through, you may realize that Horner’s appeal is his mediocrity, and you’re impulse to vote for him may be an expression of ill conceived middlism masquerading as independence.

  18. Submitted by Brian Simon on 10/26/2010 - 03:00 pm.

    Paul, you are rating the candidates on issues, which is fine, its just not what I do. Issues are certainly important, but they are secondary, for me, to the ability to negotiate, and the ability to lead. Similarly important is a candidate’s willingness to consider multiple solutions to a problem, based on outcome, rather than ideology.

    If I look at the three candidates, Emmer fails on all scores: inability to lead, uncompromising on his ideology, which itself is antithetical to the idea that government performs valuable services, so he’s the easiest to eliminate.

    Dayton, likewise, falls short as a leader – he just doesn’t exude that characteristic that makes people think “this guy should be in charge.” I do give Dayton credit for taking on the no-taxes crowd head-on with his tax-the-rich campaign. But at the same time he seems myopically wedded to that proposal to the point that he’s not considering anything else – even after finding out it won’t generate the necessary revenue. That is disconcerting, for me.

    Which brings us to Horner, the 3rd out of three candidates who aren’t going to be case studies in leadership. Horner’s sales tax proposal isn’t much more appealing than Dayton’s tax-the-rich campaign, except that it targets consumption, rather than income. Properly structured, I think it can be designed to be reasonably progressive. Which is also my final point. The Gov doesn’t get to write the laws, or the budget, he only gets to propose a budget & sign or veto whatever the Lege comes up with. Of the three candidates, Horner seems most likely to sign a balanced budget that doesn’t necessarily match his proposal. Further, I can imagine a gov Horner proposing a sales tax change to balance the budget, but being willing to horse trade some of the sales tax changes for some of the income tax hikes that Dayton is proposing – if the Legislature were bold enough to propose such. And that is why I’m voting for Horner.

    Lastly, y’all that abhor ‘middleism’, whatever that is, might want to take the mean of the pendulum swings over time & infer from that what the majority of voters prefer. Peace.

  19. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/26/2010 - 03:55 pm.

    Brian, your argument on Hatch is off the mark. Hatch could have and nearly did win that election. He may have well have lost it because some of his potential supporters voted for Hutchinson or stayed home and watched TV. It isn’t voting for a losing candidate that makes your vote a waste – its voting for a candidate that never had even the slightest chance of winning that makes it so. The problem isn’t “middleism.” The problem is that Tom Horner is not and never was a viable candidate.

    I also find it disconcerting that you find Dayton’s revenue shortfall to be disconcerting, but you give Horner – whose plan has an even bigger shortfall – a free pass. You may also may be right that a sales tax can be configured to be reasonably progressive, but Horner’s isn’t configured that way. For someone who seems to value progressive taxation, why Horner’s regressive tax plan appeals to you is a mystery. Finally, if you think that a Democrat is going to be unwilling to compromise his position after being elected, you have not been following politics since, well, pretty much forever.

    Again, for those who don’t care whether Dayton or Emmer gets elected, I won’t try to talk you out of voting for Horner. But for the Brians of Minnesota who actually do seem to have a preference, think about whether that righteous feeling of voting for who you think is the best candidate is going last through four years having a governor who “fails on all scores.”

  20. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/26/2010 - 10:39 pm.

    //Lastly, y’all that abhor ‘middleism’, whatever that is, might want to take the mean of the pendulum swings over time & infer from that what the majority of voters prefer.

    Dude, no majority is going to elect Horner. The swinging pendulum notion is one of the most dangerous illusions of modern politics. It gives people the freedom to conclude that elections really don’t matter.

    Unless you know Horner personally Brian, you’re reading an awful lot into his public displays and campaign ads. Remember, the guys a PR executive.

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