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Dayton defeats Johnson in governor's race

Minnesota governor Mark Dayton, right, and lieutenant governor Tina Smith celebrate their victory at the DFL Head Quarters at the Minneapolis Hilton Hotel on Tuesday, November 4, 2014. (Pioneer Press: John Autey)

ST. PAUL -- Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton won one final victory Tuesday to cap his nearly 40-year career as a public servant.

Dayton beat Republican Jeff Johnson. With about 99 percent of precincts reporting, Dayton held a 50 percent to 44 percent lead.

"Let us all begin again to build a better Minnesota, beginning tomorrow," Dayton said as he accepted his victory at 11:19 p.m.

Dayton said that he will continue to work on his ideals, although he told people who did not vote for him that "I feel the same responsibility to serve you to the best of my ability. ... We all want the best for the state of Minnesota, we just don't agree on the details."

Johnson conceded just before 11 p.m., thanking his family and supporters for their help and prayers.

The Independence Party candidate, Hannah Nicollet, was getting about 3 percent of the vote, not enough to for her party to maintain official major party status that provides easy access to the ballot. No other Independence candidate was doing better.

Dayton supporters said they are happy Dayton is returning.

“Gov. Mark Dayton has been a defender of women’s health and economic security since his first day in office," said Sarah Stoesz of Planned Parenthood. "He’s vetoed every horrific attempt to restrict access to safe and legal abortion in Minnesota since during his tenure. He ushered Obamacare, the greatest advance for women’s health in a generation, into Minnesota without hesitation."

This year's race began as one between two nice guys, but ended with harsh talk like many other races.

Dayton said he improved Minnesota by creating jobs, investing in education and reforming government. Johnson said Dayton raised taxes too high and the jobs he created still left many Minnesotans underemployed.

Johnson labeled Dayton as incompetent and said the Democrat did not know what was in bills he signed. Dayton, however, said that Republicans were nitpicking on details when they should focus on the fact that as governor he took the state from a $6 billion budget deficit to budget surplus.

Dayton said Tuesday’s election would be his last. After he worked briefly as a New York City teacher, he began working for then-U.S. Sen. Walter Mondale 39 years ago. He later moved to the administration of Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich and served one term as auditor and one as U.S. Senate, with a defeat in his first governor's race in between.

This year's election was the first time Dayton ever ran for a second term. He said that the governor's office suits him better than any job he has held. Dayton grew up in the Twin Cities, where he has lived much of his life.

Johnson is a lawyer raised in Detroit Lakes, Minn. He attended college in nearby Moorhead, worked out of state for a few years, became a Minnesota state representative and lost a race for state attorney general. He has been the lone Republican Hennepin County commissioner the past six years.

Headed into the election, Dayton led Johnson by an average of nearly 9 points in October polls.

Minnesota's governor serves a four-year term and next year will be paid $123,912.

The Dayton-Johnson campaign began with the candidates giving voters few specifics. Dayton campaigned very little until October arrived, while Johnson was on the trail much of the time all year.

Taxes were a major issue in the campaign.

Dayton often talked about how his plan to raise taxes $2 billion, mostly on the rich, provided needed funds for state programs such as education. He won that proposal when voters two years ago gave him a House and Senate controlled by fellow Democrats.

However, things did not go as well for Dayton in his first two years in office. Right out of the chute, he and Republicans clashed on the budget, leading to a 21-day shutdown in 2011.

Johnson did not discuss the shutdown as much as he talked about Dayton not knowing items in bills he signed into law.

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.