WDAY: The News Leader

Published December 08, 2010, 01:30 PM

GOP's Emmer concedes Minn. governor's race

DELANO, Minn. (AP) — Republican Tom Emmer conceded the Minnesota governor's race to Mark Dayton on Wednesday, surrendering after a statewide recount failed to substantially change the Democrat's nearly 9,000-vote election night lead.

It was Minnesota's second big recount in just two years, following the 2008 Senate standoff between then-Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken that took more than two months and then spawned a lawsuit. Changes made since then let the state carry out the governor's recount in just a week.

In the previous case, in which Franken came out on top, the margin was also far smaller. Few observers had expected Emmer to close a gap of thousands.

"Minnesotans made their choice, by however thin a margin, and we respect that choice," Emmer told reporters at his home outside Minneapolis.

Dayton didn't immediately comment ahead of an afternoon news conference. Emmer said he had called Dayton earlier in the day and they had a cordial talk.

Emmer could have sued over the election outcome, and Democrats had feared he would do so simply to delay Dayton from taking office. But Emmer decided against it after a key state Supreme Court decision went against him. He cited the court's opinion in his concession, but also alluded to major issues facing the state.

"I do not believe a delay in the seating of the next governor will unite us or help us move the state forward," Emmer said.

Emmer's concession gives Democrats the governor's office, a prize they haven't won in 20 years. It also vaults the 63-year-old Dayton back into power just four years after he quit the U.S. Senate after slogging through a single term.

Dayton now has to move ahead quickly with his transition. He's due to take office Jan. 3 and the state has a budget deficit of more than $6 billion.

While the race was in limbo, both Dayton and Emmer got briefings from Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's administration on affairs of state and took steps toward building transition teams. Dayton traveled to Washington this month to attend a meeting of the Democratic Governors Association, though he was careful not to refer to himself as a governor-elect.

Far from a polished speaker, Dayton instead is cited by his supporters for his stiff resolve and call-it-like-it-is approach. Some Democrats cringed at Dayton's loud call for an income tax increase, but he never wavered on it.

Dayton's victory marks a revitalization of a political career many thought over after his Senate term, during which he was ridiculed by Republicans for temporarily closing his Washington office in response to information about a possible terrorist threat.

When he decided not to run for Senate again, Dayton said he was clearing the way for a Democrat who would have a better shot at winning. But he immediately set his sights on a second bid for governor, after having made an unsuccessful run in 1998.

Dayton plowed through a crowded Democratic field and won the nomination in a close primary that personally cost him millions. The department store heir didn't ante up as much for the general election, but never trailed in the polls.

Emmer, 49, is a three-term state legislator whose reputation as a Capitol firebrand made it a surprise for some when he beat out a more experienced lawmaker to become the GOP nominee.

His campaign was marked by early missteps and he trailed in early polls through the summer before closing the gap in the fall. His campaign also was hurt by some moderate Republicans defecting to endorse Independent Tom Horner, who finished third.

Emmer's concession came just as a state canvassing board was due to begin going over the recount results before certifying a winner. Minnesota tightened up its election laws after the Coleman-Franken recount exposed weaknesses.

Coleman chose litigation after losing the recount, and both sides poured an estimated $10 million into a legal fight that had major implications for Democrats' grabbing a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. The Minnesota seat stayed vacant for more than half a year.

Some Democrats had feared Emmer would pursue a lawsuit simply to keep Dayton out of office for weeks or months. That would have kept Pawlenty in power for extended time just as GOP majorities are taking over at the Capitol. But even some Republicans said they hadn't seen anything that would have supported a successful legal challenge.