Budget deficit key issue in Minnesota's governor's raceby Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The three major party candidates for Minnesota governor have crisscrossed the state for months, appeared at 26 debates, and spent nearly $8 million this year on their campaigns.
Most polls show a tight race, with DFL candidate Mark Dayton edging slightly ahead of Republican Tom Emmer, and the Independence Party's Tom Horner running a distant third. Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty opted not to seek a third term, amid speculation of a 2012 presidential run.
Minnesota has not elected a DFL governor since Rudy Perpich won reelection in 1986.
Much of the debate during the campaign has centered on how to fix the state's projected $5.8 billion deficit.
Dayton has called for higher income taxes for wealthy Minnesotans, which he has said would prevent deep cuts to education and social services. Emmer has vowed not to raise taxes, and has said that the deficit is the result of rampant government spending. For his part, Horner has said the state can balance the budget in part by expanding the sales tax to clothing and services and lowering the tax rate.
Dayton was already well known to many Minnesotans. The department store heir served one term in the U.S. Senate from 2001-2007, and has served as state auditor and as a legislative assistant to Senator Walter Mondale. He contributed over $3 million of his own money to his campaign.
Emmer has served more time in elected office than his DFL opponent, although he has sought to portray himself as a political outsider. Emmer began his political career in 1995 when he was elected to serve on the city council of Independence, Minn. He later served on Delano's city council before he was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives.
Unlike his opponents, Horner has never held elected office. He worked as press secretary and chief of staff for Republican senator Dave Durenberger, and later co-founded a public relations firm where he built a reputation as a Republican strategist. Horner, who portrays himself as a centrist, has received the endorsement of three former Minnesota governors, but has lagged behind in polls.
Across the nation, a record 37 gubernatorial seats are up for grabs, and more than half have no incumbent running.
Right now, there are 26 Democratic governors and 24 Republicans, but polls suggest that Republicans will gain the advantage after today's election. Democrats are in danger of losing governorships in key swing states, including Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa.
The polls close in Minnesota at 8 p.m.
Check MPR News Tuesday night for up-to-the-minute coverage of the gubernatorial election results.