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Contrast is stark in three men looking to run state

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ST. PAUL -- Dreams of 1994 dance in Republicans' heads while Democrats dream of getting one of their own in the governor's office for the first time since Jan. 7, 1991.

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The Independence Party dreams of returning to the glory of when Jesse Ventura shocked the world.

Millions of dollars and months of campaigning later, however, only one dream can come true.

When Minnesotans head to the polls Nov. 2, they will face as stark a contrast as they ever have in a governor's race. The most difference can be found in how three leading candidates would deal with what most in the Capitol expect to be a nearly $6 billion deficit in the two-year budget that begins July 1.

Democrat Mark Dayton, a former U.S. senator and state official, stands far on the political left, wanting to raise taxes $1.9 billion on couples earning more than $150,000 annually. He also would raise property taxes on homes worth more than $1 million.

Republican Tom Emmer, on the conservative right, denies there is a deficit, saying it exists only if state spending is allowed to automatically increase. He would cut some business taxes and keep overall spending to levels current taxes would bring in. Still, he would increase some spending, such as health care, while cutting other programs.

Tom Horner of the Independence Party blends cuts with tax increases, including expanding the sales tax to clothing while trimming the overall rate.

Candidates wanting to replace Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who opted against a third term, agree each has presented more information about how they would balance the budget than in past elections, but each plan contains plenty of blanks.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor Chairman Brian Melendez is counting on dissatisfaction with how Pawlenty managed the state budget to help Dayton become the first DFL governor since Rudy Perpich left office in 1991.

"Tim Pawlenty has driven the car into the ditch way more than George Bush did," Melendez said.

GOP Chairman Tony Sutton, meanwhile, has led the jeers at Dayton, with one focus being when the the-senator closed his Washington office due to what he says was a secret report saying there was a terrorist threat.

"The broad responsibilities of the governorship demand calm, steady, reassuring leadership," Sutton said.

"These are precisely the qualities which Mark Dayton lacked six years ago when he closed his office and which he still lacks today."

Republicans hope races nationally and in Minnesota look like 1994, when the party took control of Congress and made advances in many other areas.

Four minor-party candidates also are on the ballot and a couple of write-in hopefuls are running.

Voters may register at the polls on election day.

Absentee voting ends the day before election day, and county auditor offices are open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. the Saturday before the election so people who will not be in their precinct may vote absentee.

The governor's race gets the most attention, but it is far from the only one in the Nov. 2 election.

The normally placid state auditor's race has plenty of spark this year as incumbent Rebecca Otto, a Democrat, tries to fight off Republican Pat Anderson, the woman she beat four years ago. Otto claims Anderson's one term as auditor was punctuated with math mistakes, while Anderson says Otto works too closely with local governments she is supposed to audit.

The other two statewide political races have been much more docile.

DFL Attorney General Lori Swanson is challenged by Republican Chris Barden while Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie faces Rep. Dan Severson of the GOP.

A couple of other statewide races have gained little attention, but mark a departure from traditional campaigns. They are in the contest for state Supreme Court justice where challengers are tied to the Republican Party.

Tim Tingelstad of Bemidji is challenging the best-known justice, former Vikings football star Alan Page. And Justice Helen Meyer faces Greg Wersal, who has won U.S. Supreme Court support for opening the judiciary to campaigns more like those seen in political races.

Two congressional races have raised eyebrows.

Republican challenger Chip Cravaack in the 8th Congressional District, covering northeast and north-central Minnesota, is giving long-time U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, a Democrat, a run for his money. Oberstar usually wins with at least 60 percent of the vote, but observers say this year's election could be close.

A Democrat in southern Minnesota, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, also faces a tough challenger in state Rep. Randy Demmer, a Republican.

Every one of the 201 seats in the Minnesota Legislature is up for grabs this year.

While DFLers hold significant House and Senate majorities now, Republicans hope an anti-Democratic wave nationally will aid them in getting control of at least one chamber. Even many Democrats admit it is likely that the GOP will make legislative gains this year.

Perhaps the biggest prize in winning the Legislature this year would be the task next year drawing new political boundaries. Legislators need to take new census data and reconfigure legislative and congressional boundaries to ensure equal representation, and the majority party has control of that process, which could cement control of the party in power.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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