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Mark Dayton, left, and Tom Emmer disagree during a Friday public television debate. The two and Tom Horner, met for the first time in a general election debate. Don Davis / State Capitol Bureau

Explosive debate sets election tone for Minnesota governor's race

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ST. PAUL - Minnesota's major governor candidates wasted no time launching attacks on each other Friday night in the first debate of the general election campaign.

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In an explosive debate, Republican Tom Emmer blasted Democrat Mark Dayton for being involved in government much of his career.

'"I have actually been living outside government while you are living inside," Emmer told Dayton.

Dayton strongly complained that Emmer has not said how he would balance a $6 billion state budget deficit.

"Where is the $6 billion in cuts going to come from?" Dayton demanded.

Independence Party candidate Tom Horner responded with what appears to be a standard line he will deliver in the remaining 81 days of the campaign.

"The bickering has got to stop; how are you folks going to work together?" he said, adding that he provides a middle ground. "Minnesotans deserve a better discussion than this. Come on."

But Horner also was involved in the fighting.

"May I finish?" Dayton asked at one point when Horner talked over the top of him.

"No, you may not," Horner shot back.

During the hour-long Twin Cities Public Television "Almanac" debate broadcast statewide, hosted by Eric Eskola and Cathy Wurzer, each frequently talked over another's answer.

The debate provided proof that the candidates have irreconcilable differences and set the stage for a raucous general election campaign.

The key difference was what has been discussed for months: Dayton would raise taxes on the rich and Emmer would balance much of the state deficit by cutting programs and improving the business climate. Horner would raise some taxes and use unspecified reforms to help balance the budget.

"It is not so much a matter of whose taxes are going to go up, but how we are going to reduce taxes on job providers," Horner said.

The Independence Party candidate would lower the state sales tax, but apply it to more items, such as clothing and haircuts.

Dayton kept hammering Emmer for not spelling out specifically how he would balance the budget; specifically, he asked what cuts Emmer would make.

"You are basically saying that there is $6 billion of waste ... and nobody is going to notice the difference," Dayton said.

Dayton, who won the Democratic-Farmer-Labor primary election Tuesday, said his DFL opponents were wrong when they said that his plan would raise taxes too much. He said well-off Minnesotans do not pay as high a percentage of income in taxes as others.

An uncle in the rich Dayton clan once told him that "we should want to pay more taxes," and Dayton agreed.

Emmer fired back that "your only answer is raising taxes. ... That is the middle class you are going after."

However, the GOP candidate said, there are plenty of places to cut government. He was not specific.

Also, Emmer said, government has to drive job creation. He has said that less regulation and lower taxes would help.

Emmer told about a Clay County farm couple who wanted to expand their business, but "they expanded in North Dakota ... and today that business has a payroll of $1.4 million."

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