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Published October 24, 2010, 04:51 PM

3 Minn. governor candidates walked different paths

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Winning the Minnesota governor's race comes with these prizes: a wider-than-ever river of red ink in the state budget, a stack of school IOUs and a tapering off of federal stimulus money that eased past budget trouble.

By: BRIAN BAKST, PATRICK CONDON, Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Winning the Minnesota governor's race comes with these prizes: a wider-than-ever river of red ink in the state budget, a stack of school IOUs and a tapering off of federal stimulus money that eased past budget trouble.

Sound appealing?

It does to three contenders who have taken far different paths to their party nominations. After more than a year of stump speeches, thousands of TV commercials and stacks of plans and promises, the race between Democrat Mark Dayton, Republican Tom Emmer and the Independence Party's Tom Horner is headed for its finish.

Jobs and the state budget are the focus of the race. Dayton is promoting new taxes on those with the highest incomes as the cornerstone of his budget fix. Emmer wants to chisel away the deficit from the spending side of the ledger. Horner would broaden the sales tax to include clothes and some services while cutting the overall rate.

Here's a deeper look at the candidate backgrounds:

MARK DAYTON

Mark Dayton has wandered from job to job throughout his adult life — dabbling in teaching, helping steer the state bureaucracy and serving in the U.S. Senate.

But politics have always been his center of gravity.

Now 63, Dayton is on his fifth trip down Minnesota's campaign trail, notching two wins and two losses since first appearing on a ballot in 1982.

In his U.S. Senate run that year, Dayton was the dark-haired, svelte upstart against the political pro. Today, in his second run for governor, Dayton is the silver-headed journeyman with a meatier build and resume.

He's banking that voters will opt for earnestness over flash; Dayton is more likely to recite a litany of statistics to make his point than he is to uncork a catchy soundbite.

In a year when candidates stress outsider credentials, Dayton isn't shying from his extensive ties to government, which include four years as state auditor and five at the helm of cabinet-level state agencies.

"You wouldn't ask someone with no business experience to come in and be CEO of 3M or Target," Dayton said. "So why would people think that there isn't a baseload experience in government leadership that's essential in leading the ship of state?"

Dayton was born to a life of privilege, an heir to the department store chain that ultimately grew into Target. Aside from a summer internship, Dayton steered clear of the family business.

After earning an Ivy League degree, Dayton headed for a science teaching position in a New York City neighborhood school but lasted less than two years. His time at a Boston social service center for runaways was similarly brief.

Then came his exposure to the political world, first as a speechwriter for then-Sen. Walter Mondale and soon after as an aide on Mondale's 1976 vice presidential campaign. By 1978, Dayton landed an economic development post in state government, the first of two he would hold.

He aimed high and went all-in during his 1982 Senate bid, spending $7 million of his own money in a failed attempt to unseat Republican Sen. David Durenberger. His first win wouldn't come until 1990 when he won a downballot race for state auditor. He left after one term, eyeing the governor's seat in 1998 but getting eliminated in the primary.

Along the way, Dayton's two marriages collapsed, including one to Alida Rockefeller that produced two sons. He battled alcoholism and sought inpatient treatment. He revealed during this campaign that he relapsed late in his single Senate term and sought treatment in 2007 for drinking and depression. He says he has been sober since.

Dayton's Senate term, which he won in 2000 after spending $12 million to overtake a Republican incumbent, was by most measures a disappointment. Dayton was panned as ineffective, criticism underscored by a decision to temporarily close his Senate office over fears that terrorism endangered his staff and visitors. Dayton stood by the decision but didn't stand for another term, saying his party could field a better candidate.

But while others were writing his political obituary, Dayton was looking ahead to the next thing, mentioning his interest in the 2010 governor's race on his last day as senator.

Dayton formally began his run in early 2009, and survived a Democratic attrition in a field of a dozen candidates en route to the Nov. 2 ballot.

___

TOM EMMER

In the world of wait-your-turn-politics, Tom Emmer cut the line.

Little known before throwing his name into a wide-open governor's race, Emmer used hustle and gusto to land the Republican endorsement this spring and the party nomination months later.

Emmer, a three-term state legislator, is ardently conservative with a voting record to match. He's a magnetic speaker, though occasionally brash.

Even Emmer realizes he's attempting to fit a groove as a statewide candidate in a year when conservative passions are running high. "Eight years ago I don't think my strong personality sells that well. Four years ago, probably not. Maybe even two years ago," Emmer said.

Emmer campaigns as an outsider eager to shake up government. Unlike past major party nominees, he wasn't been a power player in state politics before making his run.

"I'm just a guy from Delano," he says often.

But at 49, Emmer is no stranger to the halls of government. He's held one elective office or another since 1995, when he first joined a city council. He won a seat in the Minnesota House in 2004.

Emmer made a splash with bold but sometimes unrealistic proposals to punish sex offenders and restrict state-subsidized services to illegal immigrants. His legislation offered a platform but little actual influence.

The hockey rink rat is used to rough-and-tumble environments. Emmer played his way through college and spent countless hours ferrying some of his seven children to games.

Born in Indiana while his father studied at Notre Dame, Emmer spent much of his childhood in Edina. The family was in the lumber business, sometimes struggling to make it work.

Emmer went on to earn an undergraduate degree in Alaska and later a law degree in Minnesota. He eventually established his own law practice, defending insurance companies and others in personal injury cases.

The political bug bit in the mid-1990s when he won a spot on the city council in Independence, a small city west of Minneapolis. When he and his wife, Jacquie, moved to nearby Delano, he landed a council seat there.

An incumbent's retirement cleared the way for Emmer to move up to the Legislature in a solidly Republican district.

Emmer found a niche as a conservative voice of conscience, often going against his own party leaders and finding himself among a small band of opponents on legislation.

So it was understandable when Emmer stepped up last summer to oppose the GOP front-runner, then-Minority Leader Marty Seifert. Trailing in money and early supporters, Emmer surged past Seifert by the time the endorsing convention arrived.

He even withstood his GOP's rival attempt to make light of two drunken driving arrests from decades earlier. Those arrests, coupled with an Emmer bill to change DWI laws, became the crux of a summer ad onslaught by left-leaning groups.

Even at the campaign's toughest moments, Emmer kept his buoyancy. He's quick to flash a smile, and poke fun at himself for coming off as overly serious at times.

___

TOM HORNER

Tom Horner worked around politics and politicians most of his career, but it wasn't until the year he turned 60 that the lifelong insider finally stepped onto the candidate's stage.

Horner is a former U.S. Senate staffer and adviser to a generation of Minnesota Republicans, a public relations executive and a political pundit. But when it came time to run for office, he shed his GOP label and planted his flag in the Independence Party camp.

Now, he hopes that even in this year of the outsider that a moderate with deep establishment ties can win with a vow to govern from the center.

"There's a stridency from both parties in their approach to governing," Horner said. "They think whoever preaches harder to the choir wins. I've spent my career accomplishing things by building coalitions, and I think that's what this state wants."

Horner tells his audience that the run is a professional capstone, not a stepping stone. With thick gray hair, crisply tailored suits and a broad Midwestern accent, Horner could practically play a Minnesota governor on television — though his wonkish tendencies sometimes can seem bland before audiences as he emphasizes the policy over the personal.

Horner's career as a communicator has family roots. His father, Jack Horner, was the Twin Cities' first TV sportscaster and the host of the first live television program in Minnesota history, broadcast on KSTP-TV in 1947.

Horner grew up the fifth of six boys near Lake Harriet in south Minneapolis, attended Catholic elementary and high school and graduated from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. By his late 20s, Horner was an editor at the Sun newspaper in Bloomington.

It was as a journalist that Horner got to know David Durenberger, who hired the younger man as a communications aide in his successful 1978 bid for the U.S. Senate. Horner quickly rose to be Durenberger's Washington chief of staff. He returned to Minnesota in 1982 to manage Durenberger's successful reelection bid against Mark Dayton — the Democrat Horner now faces in the governor's race.

Not long after moving to Washington, Horner met Libby Shelton, who had worked for Hubert and Muriel Humphrey. They were soon married, and in 1985 the couple returned to Minnesota to raise three children.

In 1989, Horner and a Republican legislator co-founded a PR and public affairs firm, Himle Horner. The venture remains vibrant, but Horner recently sold his interest and promised he wouldn't be influenced by former clients, though he kept some of their identities private.

Besides his PR work and a regular gig as a commentator on public TV and radio, Horner remained an informal adviser to Minnesota Republicans including Arne Carlson, Norm Coleman and Tim Pawlenty. But he said he grew increasingly disturbed by what he sees as the rightward lurch of the GOP, citing the rise of Michele Bachmann in Minnesota and Sarah Palin on the national scene as key moments in his own defection.

Though a self-described fiscal conservative he qualifies his criticism of government spending, and is moderate to liberal on on social issues. He voted Pawlenty for governor in 2006, but in 2008 he cast his ballot for Barack Obama for president.

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