Dayton rides Range precincts to dramatic win

Mark Dayton defeated Margaret Anderson Kelliher in yesterday’s DFL gubernatorial primary. He’ll go on to battle Republican Tom Emmer and the Independence Party’s Tom Horner in the November general election.

Dayton won this thing exactly how people thought he would, with the 8th CD and support from traditional, older DFL voters. The only drama was how close the election would prove to be and how Anderson Kelliher held such a commanding lead early in the reporting. The Iron Range and Duluth, despite my personal loyalties, did exactly what I thought they would — deliver a several thousand vote margin to Dayton. Anderson Kelliher failed to do what she needed to — control that margin of defeat by closing the gap in Range towns. Dayton pulled mid-50s in percentages in most of these towns, with Margaret in the 30s. Dayton’s share surged to the 70s in some places like Buhl.

Fans of American history will appreciate this. Dayton won Minnesota in the exact fashion that Huey Long won Louisiana in the 1920s — a near-perfect rural/urban split. With the low (but not too low) turnout, the strength of rural areas was magnified.

Throughout the night I knew the Range would spot Dayton about 4-5,000 votes. When Margaret led by 20,000 as she did early I still believed she would win, but when her margin shrunk to a couple thousand before I went to bed the writing on the wall became obvious. The despair at the Dayton headquarters, followed by the unexpected calm, was entirely justified.

Congratulations to Mark Dayton and his running mate, Duluth’s Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon. They had a rural Minnesota plan to win and managed to execute. Congratulations also to the DFL field organization and Margaret’s campaign. They seized what was a sure loss and almost pulled off a major upset. Bear in mind, between Dayton and Matt Entenza, Margaret was outspent by $9 million in a primary. She lost by just a few thousand votes. This was undoubtedly Rocky I. People forget Rocky lost in Rocky I.

Now the DFL party will go through an elaborate, probably stilted and needlessly difficult unity dance. That’s the way of these things. The third act of this play will begin shortly.


  1. The Prettner-Solon pick was genius.

    November will decide who gets to lug around their neck a 6 billion dollar millstone.

  2. I posted this over at Polinaut last night, but in Minnesota terms, I think the race this most closely resembles is the 1994 DFL Governor’s primary. Not identical, but in both cases, you had three-way contests, with the top two candidates separated by less than 2%, and an outstate/metro split. Hatch/Dayton won outstate, running most strongly in northern MN, while the party-endorsed Marty/Kelliher won the metro and a handful of rural counties with colleges in them.

    The main difference being, of course, that in 1994, the metro candidate squeaked through, while this time the outstate candidate prevailed. I think this is mainly because of relative strength in the metro. In ’94, Hatch played the divide-the-state card a little too aggressively and ran third place in Hennepin and Ramsey, somewhere in the teens. Whereas Dayton had more of a positive, soft-sell approach to outstate-vs-metro that didn’t piss too many people off, and came in a more respectable second place in Hennepin and Ramsey somewhere in the 30s.

    BTW, I looked up the figures for Balsam. It seems that 33 of your neighbors agreed with your choice, while 45 went for Dayton and 26 for Entenza. (And 1 for Peter Idusogie. Any guesses who cast that one?) In other news, Rukavina’s home precinct of Pike township went for Dayton by a bigger margin than Balsam did. So much for the vaunted endorsement of the Brown-Rukavina axis! 😉

  3. Brother, it was like trying to sell cappuccinos along the shoulders of Highway 7. We actually held the line better in Itasca. Dayton took 63 percent of Ruk’s entire district. I wish I knew the Idusogie voter in Balsam. I’m sure that’s an interesting person.

    Your assessment seems right. We could dissect it six ways ’til Sunday, but it’s done now. This whole process has seemed to me to be one last big hurrah for the Range to flex it’s DFL might. Redistricting is going to be ugly down the line. And Iron Rangers aged 30-50 are not the straight ticket voters their parents were.

  4. Yeah, I agree. While Dayton ran strongly on the Range it was nothing compared to the 80-90% Range vote that Rudy Perpich used to get in his primaries with metro candidates.

    One other interesting tidbit from the 1994 race: Lori Swanson was Mike Hatch’s campaign manager, and R.T. Rybak was running Tony Bouza’s shop. I find that intriguing because I suspect we may see those two running against each other for Governor in 2014. (Either November won’t go the DFL’s way, or it will and Dayton will quit after one term. I feel more confident predicting this outcome than I do the result 12 weeks from now.)

  5. Yes, it is interesting how the same players have been in the system a long time. I was recently involved in a proceeding that invoked the 1980 primary challenge of Jim Oberstar, something involving many of today’s Range political figures.

    Rybak/Swanson seems like something that would be a blowout for Rybak … if he could get a union endorsement to save his life. I know Dayton says he’ll run again but, like you, I’ll wait and see on that. In truth, sending Dayton in there to do all the unpleasant things that need to happen for just one term might be what the state needs.

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