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Update: With a late come-from-behind push, Dayton appears to win DFL nomination for governor

Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, left and on screen, talks with reporters at his primary election night headquarters where he awaited the result of his Democratic gubernatorial race Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010 in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Update: 9:01 a.m.

ST. PAUL - Minnesota Democrats woke up this morning wondering who would be their governor candidate.

While news media projections put Mark Dayton in that role, neither he nor rival Margaret Anderson Kelliher was ready to call the primary election over.

Dayton, the former U.S. senator and department store heir, had 178,146 votes (41 percent) in unofficial returns and Kelliher 172,570 votes (40 percent) with 96 percent of the precinct counted this morning. Matt Entenza trailed with 18 percent.

The picture was not expected to be clarified until this afternoon. The Dayton campaign said a Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party unity gathering scheduled for 11 a.m. probably would not happen then, and Kelliher's campaign scheduled a 3 p.m. news conference to discuss the election.

Kelliher went in front of supporters at 2:40 a.m., refusing to concede and saying that "every vote counts."

"We are not making any decisions," she told supporters in a St. Paul cafe. "We have some numbers to come in yet, but we are not making any decisions about it."

Minutes later, Dayton said: "I totally respect Speaker Kelliher's prerogative to wait until every vote is counted."

Dayton said his campaign's figures looked a lot like that of the news media. The Associated Press declared Dayton the winner at 12:21 a.m.

If Dayton's margin holds, he will face Republican Tom Emmer and Tom Horner of the Independence Party in the Nov. 2 election. Neither faced much of a challenge in Tuesday's primary election.

Dayton said he expects Entenza and Kelliher to back his campaign. Earlier, DFL Chairman Brian Melendez said that the party would unite behind whichever of the three candidates won the Tuesday vote because of them would be better than the alternatives.

Questions about how unified Democrats will be remained unanswered this morning, especially when people talked about the party keeping Dayton off the floor of its April convention in Duluth. Party officials said that since Dayton was not seeking the party endorsement, and planned all along to run in the primary, that he was not welcome.

Emmer said he did not care which DFLer he faced, saying they all stand for higher taxes and more government control.

Horner planned a morning Capitol news conference to discuss the upcoming campaign.

Dayton, the best known figure in the primary, pumped more than $3 million of his own money into the campaign. Kelliher, of much more modest means, tried to use the party endorsement and DFL manpower to counteract the money Dayton and Entenza poured into the race.

Kelliher is wrapping up two terms as state House speaker. Dayton was U.S. senator six years, served as economic development commissioner twice and was state auditor.

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.