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Dayton: Like him or not, Minnesotans know him

Mark Dayton, left, talks about his education policy proposals during a governor candidate forum last month in Minneapolis. Looking on is Rob Hahn of the Independence Party. Forum Communications/ Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Republicans most fear Mark Dayton in the governor's race.

Dayton brings the best name recognition of any candidate of any party, thanks in a good share to his family's department store roots. He has been running for more than a year and he has put in years in highly visible U.S. Senate and state offices.

Worst of all, from the Republican view, is Dayton has money, and plenty of it (although Dayton says he is spending down his department store fortune and sold some paintings to help his finances).

For years, the department store that bore his family name was a Minnesota staple. And the Democratic-Farmer-Laborite has not been shy about reminding potential Aug. 10 primary election voters about his connection to Dayton's and the discount store it spawned, Target.

"I have always said if I was as popular as the store, I would win every election," Dayton said.

But the candidate added that his family's retail background is not the main reason he could be elected: "If I win this election, it is going to be because people know me. They know that I care, they know that I can be trusted to do what is in the public interest.

"They may not agree with me on everything ... but I think they know that my commitment is sincere, that my convictions are strong and that I say what I mean and I mean what I say," Dayton said.

Dayton, a liberal in an era where conservatives feel they are gaining momentum, is a favorite Republican target.

The big question this year may be whether he will be swept away by a tide of voter discontentment with incumbents and long-time politicians.

Republicans certainly hope the trend pans out, and Minnesota GOP Chairman Tony Sutton does not mind stoking that fire.

"Minnesotans can expect to see millions of dollars in slick television ads from Mark Dayton over the next few months," Sutton said. "What they won't see is the truth about Dayton's record: national recognition by Time magazine as one of 'America's worst senators,' his self grading of own his Senate performance as an 'F,' his bizarre decision to shut down his Senate office or any discussion about the negative impact his job-killing tax increases would have on Minnesota's job creators."

DFL opponents Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Matt Entenza often have made Dayton their main DFL target, cementing the feeling that he is the candidate to beat.

Some supporters fear that his revelation earlier in this campaign that he is a recovering alcoholic could hurt his chances next month and in November. But Dayton gives voters more credit, saying people understand the problem.

"I think the superficial smears that will be directed against me ultimately will not decide this election," Dayton said.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Mark Dayton

Party: DFL

Age: 63

Home: Minneapolis

Political experience: Elected state auditor and served in appointed state government positions. U.S. senator 2001-2006. On President Richard Nixon's "enemies' list" for opposing Vietnam war.

Other background: One-time New York City teacher. Heir to Dayton's department fortune. High school all-state hockey goalie.

Education: Yale University.

Family: Divorced. Two sons.

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.