A gubernatorial campaign that’s been going on for more than a year clearly is moving into its frenetic — and hyperbolic — stage.
This morning, the Republican Party held one of its usual “bash Mark Dayton” news conferences.
This time, the target was Dayton’s record as commissioner of economic development during the Rudy Perpich years. So enthused were the Republicans that the party’s deputy chairman, Michael Brodkorb, suggested that if he were still alive, Perpich just might “embrace” GOP candidate Tom Emmer over Dayton.
More on that later.
This afternoon, DFLers were holding their kickoff Get Out the Vote function, featuring 5th District Rep. Keith Ellison and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine. That’s Step One of a huge push to get voters to the polls, the DFL vowed.
Meantime, Tom Horner’s campaign continued to release newspaper endorsements, noting the Duluth News Tribune’s support of the Independence Party candidate. Tony Sutton shrugged off the endorsements as just the work of “liberal editorial boards,” which sort of blows off the fact that a number of the papers supporting Horner traditionally have supported Republicans.
Sports analogies abound
Sports analogies flew as Sutton described the campaign: “the fourth quarter” of a football game, the “final two minutes of an NBA game.” And, Sutton concluded, momentum is on Emmer’s side.
What of the odds being cited by Nate Silver, the poll aggregator at FiveThirtyEight who claims Dayton has an 80 percent chance of winning?
“Who?” Sutton asked.
“Nate Silver, New York Times” was the response from a reporter.
“East Coast guy?” said Sutton, dismissively. “Come Election Day, we’re going to win.”
GOP goes after Dayton’s jobs record
What Sutton most wanted to talk about this morning was what he says was Dayton’s “record” while he was commissioner of economic development — on two different occasions — under Rudy Perpich.
From the beginning of his campaign, Dayton has talked about his performance in that job as one of the reasons he’s most qualified to be governor. He has said that in that position he helped stimulate job growth in Minnesota in the 1980s.
Sutton begged to differ this morning.
“Mark Dayton’s actual record as economic development commissioner was marked by failure, wasteful spending, lack of planning, exaggerated claims, improper use of funds, outrageous budget requests and decision-making based on politics, not merit,” Sutton said.
Party officials handed reporters a bundle of printouts of 1980s newspaper clippings to support the sweeping allegations.
Not surprisingly, those clippings — mostly from the St. Paul Pioneer Press — supported, in part at least, the huge statements Sutton was making.
Legislative auditor an equal-opportunity critic
There was, for example, a 1985 story that reported the findings of Legislative Auditor James Nobles, who said that the state had wasted money “in a $100 million effort” to spur jobs development through Dayton’s department and the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. The same article, however, did note: “Most efforts … have been worthwhile. … But numerous government programs have directed money to businesses that did not need help, that failed to produce promised jobs and that failed to meet expectations.”
(The same iconic Nobles, by the way, has been equally critical of several programs favored by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, including the JOBZ tax credit program and Q-Comp, the merit pay program for teachers. Additionally, the auditor has been critical of the way Pawlenty’s office handled expenditures.)
There was another article in the Republican bundle, from the Star Tribune, saying that Dayton had exaggerated claims by his department of the number of jobs created by its programs. The claim: 22,963 jobs. The actual number: 16,271.
There was another, an editorial from the Fargo Forum, claiming that Dayton sent money to Duluth that was supposed to go to the Moorhead region of the state.
Sutton and Brodkorb said that was a show of political favoritism.
And there was another article about why, under Perpich-Dayton, the state didn’t get the Saturn automobile plant. The now-closed plant ended up in Tennessee. (High shipping costs was the reason given for Minnesota’s loss, although Perpich-Dayton did try to lure Saturn with a $1.4 billion package of incentives.)
And finally, Sutton pointed to at least a temporary rift between Dayton and the Perpich family, when Dayton stepped down as commissioner. Sutton pointed to a 1993 letter to the editor from the governor’s son, the mercurial Nick Perpich, to support that claim.
“Dayton resigned because he believed a recession was coming and he feared damage to his political prospects,” Nick Perpich wrote.
It was at this point that Brodkorb suggested that Rudy Perpich himself came to appreciate tax cuts as the best way to create job growth. And that’s when he said Perpich would be an Emmer supporter.
Deep down, presumably even Brodkorb might have seen that as a stretch.
But hey, we’re in the final days of a long campaign.
Dayton campaign criticizes ‘smear tactics’
The Dayton campaign responded quickly to the latest broadsides, through a statement from campaign manager Dana Anderson.
“This is another desperate attempt by the Republicans to smear Mark and distort his excellent record of public services,” she wrote. “The thousands of jobs Mark helped create as Commissioner of Economic Development were the result of hard work and good policy and many of the companies he helped have grown and prospered in Minnesota, continuing to employ Minnesotans today. … One of these programs, the Economic Recovery Fund, provided funds to local governments to make loans to small businesses. This initiative has been continued under two Republican and one Independence Party Governors. (Its name has been changed to the Minnesota Investment Fund.)”
Included in the Dayton statement were letters from executives of companies who sang the praises of the state help they received and of how they were able to expand their companies.
Today’s event underscored again a decidedly different approach the two parties have taken to this campaign.
Republicans have regularly called news conferences to rip Dayton.
The DFL Party, meantime, hasn’t issued quite the same sort of attacks at Emmer.
All the while, it should be noted that none of the three candidates and their campaigns have engaged in questioning the character or basic integrity of their opponents.
Kristin Sosanie, spokeswoman for the DFL, said the Republicans are holding so many “blast Dayton” news events because of the weakness of their own candidate.
“When you have someone who doesn’t have much to say about any issue and you have Mark Dayton, who has a clear vision for how to move Minnesota forward, no wonder you have to go back 30 years to try to find something,” she said. The Republican attacks, she said, “just show the strength of Mark Dayton.”
Sutton comments draw DFL gasps
Perhaps the most surprising thing that Sutton said was that Dayton hasn’t been holding public events lately, while Emmer has been “barnstorming” the state, drawing large crowds. Sutton also said the party’s internal polling shows momentum coming Emmer’s way. (He refused, however, to divulge any stats from those polls.)
Katherine Tinucci, a spokeswoman for the Dayton campaign, said that the Dayton campaign is doing NO internal polling and, as far as she knows, the DFL is not, either.
But she gasped at the notion that Dayton has been out of sight.
“Given the sheer volume of debates, I don’t know how anyone can say that any of the candidates has lacked for public events,” Tinucci said.
She did agree that Dayton has not done the sort of rallies Emmer is doing. Rather, she said, he’s continuing to move around the state, talking to various groups.
The rallying — the big get-out-the-vote push — begins now, she said.
“I mean, we’re bringing the president of the United States to town,” Tinucci said. “I can’t imagine a bigger public event than that.”
Sutton and Brodkorb said they’re thrilled that the president is coming to town because “it will shine a light on the contrast” between Emmer and Dayton.
At this morning’s event, Sutton also said another “big name” Republican would be coming to Minnesota on behalf of Emmer. Then, Sutton was not at liberty to say just who that would be.
Later in the day, however, the party announced that two politicians would be coming to support Emmer on Oct. 30: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.