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Campaign Notebook: Tom Emmer

LITTLE FALLS -- They call it an RV, for recreational vehicle, but in this case it should be known as a CV, campaign vehicle.

Wrapped in Emmer for governor signs, the 10-year-old rented motor home is a story of its own.

Republican governor candidate Tom Emmer credits his wife, Jacquie, for finding the rental unit, which he called a great value to the campaign. As she boiled water in the microwave oven for a cup of coffee it is obvious they like the RV life, the couple made it clear they enjoy the RV lifestyle.

When school was out during the summer, the couple's seven children often tagged along in the RV.

The vehicle's usefulness extended in an unexpected way when daughter Katie called and said her Delano volleyball team's bus broke down. The Emmermobile came to the rescue and delivered 20-some high school athletes to their volleyball game in Farmington.

"I'm actually having fun," Emmer said, bouncing to each bump in the pavement while his wife struggled to stay on her feet taking hot water out of the microwave.

Family ties

It is seldom that Emmer delivers a campaign speech, no matter how short, that he does not mention his wife and seven kids.

The children starred in his first television commercial and some have been involved in the campaign.

But how did they arrive at seven? Emmer, 49, explained what he told his wife: "As many as you want, but I want to be done when I am 40. ... She was pregnant with Johnny when we both were 40."

That mission accomplished, Emmer sounded a bit wistful when he said that within five years only two kids still will be at home.

The candidate has spent nearly every night of the campaign at his Delano home, and while he has given up hockey coaching for now, he has tried to get to many of his children's activities.

For instance, on one Friday night, with a chill just creeping into the air, Emmer and wife left their campaign RV in the Dassel-Cokato High School parking lot to watch son Bobby play for his Delano team. The couple sat with his parents in relative obscurity in the visitors' stands.

Hockey coach

Democratic governor candidate Mark Dayton is known as a hockey goalie, and he often talks about the sport, but Emmer takes a back seat to no one in his love for the game.

One of his best-known campaign icons is a giant "Team Emmer" hockey jersey.

After playing for years, including at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Emmer took up coaching the sport. He mostly has mentored 7- and 17-year-olds.

"The younger ones do not give me the reward," he admitted.

He said that all players deserve ice time, adding that he cannot let the best players skate the whole game. "Every one of them has a certain gift."

Emmer resembles famous basketball coach Bobby Knight. And like Knight, Emmer admits to being "very intense," but not so much so that he throws chairs.

Legislative surprise

Emmer served on Delano and Independence city councils, but was not prepared for the Legislature when elected six years ago.

"I had no idea how intense it would be," he said, noting that he got up at 4 a.m. to work in his legal office. "I was whipped by the time we got to March."

Who's Emmer?

Emmer's biggest task during this campaign was to introduce himself, especially since he is running against one of the state's best-known politicians in Dayton.

The GOP candidate guessed that the average voter says: "He's talking my language, but I need to know more about him."

Emmer said that if voters get to know him, he will do well. "I believe I am most like other voters in Minnesota."

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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.