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Gov. Dayton faces unique challenges in first — and last — race for re-election

Office of the Governor
At 67, Mark Dayton is now Minnesota’s oldest sitting governor, and recent hip surgery could make campaigning more strenuous than it was during his first run in 2010.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is facing his first — and last — race for re-election this fall, and with that comes some unique challenges.

This time, the first-term governor has a record to run on, which can cut both ways. While he plans to tout increased job numbers and investments in education over his first four years in office, he will also have to defend his support for increased taxes and the state’s rocky rollout of its health insurance exchange, MNsure.

At 67, Dayton is also now Minnesota’s oldest sitting governor, and recent hip surgery could make campaigning more strenuous than it was during his first run in 2010.

For now, at least, things don’t look so bad. The Star Tribune’s recent Minnesota Poll put Dayton’s approval rating at 58 percent, his highest since entering office three years ago. But facing a six-candidate Republican field for governor, Dayton knows he will weather many more political attacks before November.

“A year is a millennium in politics. We are still two-thirds of a millennium away from next November’s decision date,” Dayton told MinnPost in an interview about the upcoming legislative session and his re-election campaign. “I’ve been doing my best for the first three years of my term and I intend to continue to do my best for this next year, and I hope people will decide that Minnesota has made significant progress during my term.”

Here are Dayton’s Monday comments on a wide range of subjects:

Dayton on his recent hip surgery and how it will affect his campaign:

It limits my mobility right now. I have a partial body cast on. I’m meeting today with Rep. [Paul] Thissen and Majority Leader [Tom] Bakk. I’ll be doing those kind of legislative meetings here at the residence instead of the Capitol for the next couple of weeks, and then after that, I expect to be at the Capitol. I’ll have a brace on but hopefully — I’ll not race around the block — but I’ll be out there and able to hold meetings and the like. I’m already fully engaged.

“If this were to persist, I would be concerned, but I don’t expect that to happen. I expect by the summertime to be able to move around freely and I intend to move around the state. I have a job to do as governor, so I’m going to give that the first priority, but there will be additional time that I will be able to spend around the state, and I look forward to doing that.”

Dayton on his message to voters this fall:

We’ve turned the corner in Minnesota; we straightened out our fiscal problems. We are running surpluses now instead of multi-billion-dollar budget deficits. We paid back the $2.8 billion we owed the school districts and we straightened out the state’s fiscal mess.

“We have made taxes fairer by asking the wealthiest 2 percent to pay more of their income in taxes. We did not raise income taxes on the other 98 percent of Minnesotans, and we took that money and invested most of it in education.

“That means over $1 billion in additional investments in education over the last three years, which led to early-childhood education services, all-day kindergarten starting next fall, tuition freezes at the University of Minnesota and the [Minnesota State Colleges and Universities] campuses, and a per-pupil formula aid increase, which has been long overdue for school districts that have been underfunded for years. Education is the key to our future success, and I think the news last week on [graduation] rate improvements show we are on the right track.”

Dayton on his biggest regret in his first term as governor:

Well, MNsure. I would certainly like to go back to the drawing boards with the benefit of this experience and go back and get a different group of consultants that could come up with a better and more successful package. But Hillary Clinton says, ‘There are no do-overs in life,’ so we are making the best with what we have now.”

Dayton on his re-election chances:

“My campaign theme was ‘A Better Minnesota,’ and I think Minnesota is better today than it was three years ago. We have 120,000 more people working today than we did three years ago, we have education investments I talked about, property tax relief. But Minnesotans will decide for themselves at that point next November whether the direction we as the state are headed and where we continue to go, if they think it’s best for themselves and their families.

“Or whether it looks like another re-warmed-up version of the same policies that have been operating in the state for the previous eight years, if we go back to that somehow and get better results. That’s the debate we are going to have over the next summer and fall. I look forward to that.”

Dayton on campaign attacks:

“It will be challenging and there will be — unfortunately — a great deal of negativity. The independent expenditure groups can come in and spend unlimited money without disclosing their sources and run whatever kind of vile trash they decide to without any consequences. I expect it will be ugly and very difficult and challenging, but that’s the nature of the process, and I’m prepared for that. It’s the last time I will be seeking re-election, so I’m going to give it all I got. I have a terrific running mate in Tina Smith. She is already traveling around the state actively and will continue to do so, and the more people get to know her, the more they will like her and feel even better about our ticket.”

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 02/25/2014 - 11:12 am.

    Missing from this piece: the environment, a big risk…

    …for Dayton, as he must choose sides in the sulfide mining debate. It’s not just PolyMet, it’s a whole raft of mining projects waiting in the wings to see how the PolyMet proposal turns out. If PolyMet’s project proceeds, every vein of metal in northern MN will be fair game.

    So the stakes are huge.

    On the one side, there is the money, and on the other side, the current environment of northern MN.

    On the money side you can see the mining companies, of course, but also labor, and a substantial majority of public opinion in the north who think that those 300 jobs and the spinoff effects are worth what will be traded for them.

    On the other side, those with environmental concerns are aghast that the consequent issues of water pollution will continue for hundreds of years, and that there seems to have never been a clean sulfide mining project ANYWHERE. They don’t believe the rosy speculations of “we can do it, even if it’s never been done before”.

    Dayton can’t mollify both of these, and he can’t say he favors neither. He’s going to have to pick. Usually, he can be expected to come down on the side of the money. But it will cost him.

  2. Submitted by Joel Fischer on 02/25/2014 - 02:55 pm.

    Why is it his last race for reelection?

    Has he said he’d only serve two terms?

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 02/25/2014 - 03:13 pm.


    I think Steve Titterud is correct about the environmental conundrum. It’s a lose-lose situation for Dayton.

    The prospect of trading 300 jobs over the next 20 years in return for centuries of poisoned water, almost surely made potable, if that’s possible, via taxpayer dollars when the company walks away, would be laughable if it weren’t so painfully bizarre – and possible. That Dayton may need those Arrowhead votes makes his campaign more complicated, but I’m inclined to argue that, in the end, it won’t make much difference unless he takes an improbable environmental stance. Everyone reading this knows that, no matter who the Republican candidate is, he’ll support mining of almost any kind and at almost any environmental cost. The Republican environmental record has been pretty consistent with the Republican record regarding workers for a couple decades, and I’ve seen no indication that the party’s current crop of gubernatorial candidates are markedly different from the standard party position in that regard.

    So, if Dayton says “no” to PolyMet, he may well lose the election, and have his decision promptly reversed by the incoming Republican replacement. If he says “yes” to PolyMet, he might still lose the election if environmentally-conscious voters do what right-wing voters typically do to punish Republican policy positions they don’t like – stay home. In the meantime, since big bucks are evident on both sides, it’ll be years before the various courtroom dramas have played themselves out.

    Given that frame, I’ll certainly be a less-enthusiastic Dayton supporter if he says “yes” to PolyMet, but there’s no one in the Republican camp – at least not yet – that I can support at all, and if a Republican wins, PolyMet is home free anyway.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 02/25/2014 - 05:04 pm.

      Bet on a big mining future for MN. Another dimension…

      of the issue is that polls show the environment is low on the voter’s priority list. This will not be lost on Dayton and it certainly won’t be lost on his challenger.

      According to Rasmussen Reports (see, the environment comes in at 14th in a ranking of issues by importance to voters.

      Then see for various polls which measure the most important issues to voters, and the environment seems hardly even to register.

      Now, none of the polls cited are unique to Minnesota, but they do show which way the wind blows.

      The recent “Minnesota Poll” (which is trademarked by the Star-Trib) at, purports to characterize the views of Minnesotans on the issue.

      I would take any “Minnesota Poll” results with a BIG grain of salt, as the Star-Trib is, ethically speaking, DEEPLY compromised (recent example: Vikings Stadium). They use journalistic premise to advocate for positions that benefit their bottom line, not to address the public interest.

  4. Submitted by jason myron on 02/25/2014 - 06:30 pm.

    All Dayton and the Dems

    have to do is to point eastward and remind people at every possible opportunity, that this state could have looked just like the one next door.

  5. Submitted by Christopher Robin Zimmerman on 03/10/2014 - 04:05 pm.

    One mailer with the stadium groundbreaking photo…

    …should be enough to sink Zygi’s good friend, if there’s any justice in this state.

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