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Leading in recent poll, Dayton courts Willmar seniors on campaign stop

Mark Dayton, right, candidate for governor of Minnesota, answers questions from the crowd gathered Friday morning during a campaign stop at Deidra's Coffee House in Willmar. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)1 / 2
Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL senator and candidate for lieutenant governor running with Mark Dayton, answers questions from the crowd Friday during a campaign stop at Deidra's Coffee House in Willmar. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)2 / 2

WILLMAR -- Feeling good about the most recent poll that has him leading the DFL pack of gubernatorial candidates by 13 points, Mark Dayton said he's not taking anything for granted in his race for the state's top office.

During a campaign stop Friday in Willmar, which he said was his 98th community meeting, Dayton was courting a room full of people who were, for the most part, senior citizens.

With the primary election taking place "in the middle of summer" on Aug. 10 when college students and families are vacationing, Dayton said older Minnesotans will likely be deciding who will emerge as the Democratic candidate who will advance to the general election in November.

In recognition of the value of the senior vote, he's already asked his running mate, Yvonne Prettner Solon, to set up a telephone hotline for senior citizens if he's elected governor. The hotline would help them maneuver through complicated government systems for obtaining assistance with health care, housing or transportation issues.

Prettner Solon, who was with Dayton in Willmar and accompanied him on a tour of the Bushmills Ethanol plant in Atwater, said her own parents' difficulties with getting information about programs convinced her that it's important for the state to have one number that "mature adults" can call to get answers.

By choosing a running mate from Duluth, Dayton said his team is the only one that's not strictly from the metro area, which he hopes will appeal to voters in Greater Minnesota.

Although he takes polls with a grain of salt, Dayton said the KSTP/Survey USA poll of 2,000 Minnesota voters indicates he's the only DFL candidate who can beat Republican candidate Tom Emmer.

Touting his 35 years of public service on the state and federal level and his experience running -- and winning -- statewide elections, Dayton said he will be prepared to "fight fire with fire" if he faces Emmer in the general election.

He said there will be a "smear attack" against any DFL candidate for governor, but he's better prepared than the others to respond to anything that is thrown at him. This will be the eighth primary election Dayton's name has been on the ballot.

He said he's "banking my life" that Minnesotans' knowledge of his public service history and recognition of his name will pay off in August.

Dayton fielded questions about agriculture, health care, education and illegal immigration from the crowd.

Some wanted to know what the state could do to prevent illegal immigrants from coming here and others wanted to know what could be done to get legal immigrants to come to the state to work at food processing jobs that help keep food prices low.

When he was a U.S. senator, Dayton said he toured the nation's southern and northern border towns and supported every request from the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement for increased enforcement.

He said the federal government, not state or local entities, needs to address immigration issues.

Dayton said local police would be doing nothing but checking IDs and putting people in county jails if they were charged with finding illegal immigrants. He said, however, that employers need to be held accountable and should not be allowed to function "with a wink and a nod" when they knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

While explaining his stand on increasing taxes on rich Minnesotans, he said schools are overcrowded and are resorting to four-day weeks in order to prevent rich folks from "paying their fair share." It's not a matter of value and cents, he said, but a matter of values and priorities.

Dayton also got some advice from the crowd about running his campaign and what he should do, and not do, if he's elected.

"Promise to not spend your time running for president," pleaded a woman.

"Promise," Dayton responded.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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