Recount possible as DFL race nearly tied between Dayton and Kelliher
ST. PAUL -- The Democratic-Farmer-Laborite governor's primary election race hinged on northern Minnesota counties, and a possible recount was being discussed late Tuesday.
With votes trickling in from northern Minnesota, Margaret Anderson Kelliher's all-night lead shrunk as Mark Dayton gathered more votes from northern counties.
Kelliher, looking to become the state's first woman governor, had 41 percent of the vote, compared to Dayton's 40 percent, with 83 percent of precincts reporting in unofficial returns. The margin was about 5,000 votes.
Matt Entenza, who conceded 90 minutes after the polls closed, had 18 percent.
Dayton said he expected his numbers to improve as St. Louis County and other Iron Range votes are counted. He credited his running mate, Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon of Duluth, for the ticket doing well in the northeast.
However, Twin Cities-area counties have more votes than others and Dayton would have to dominate in other areas to win.
Dayton said the race could end with a 2,000- to 3,000-vote difference. If the smaller number holds, it could be close enough to require a recount.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said he is ready for a recount if needed. A primary election recount two years ago took three days.
St. Louis County was the largest one remaining to send in most of its votes late Tuesday, but a number of others such as Carlton, Cook, Mahnomen, Pine and Roseau also reported few votes.
Kelliher is the first women candidate endorsed by a major party, but the two men in the race spent millions of dollars of their own money in the campaign.
Dayton, with decades in the public eye, hoped that senior citizens turned out in large numbers on a hot and sometimes rainy day to make the difference. Dayton was the leader of polls leading up to the election, in part because his family started the Dayton and Target department store chains and in part because he is a long-time public servant.
Kelliher and Entenza hoped their strategies of targeting specific potential voters would be more successful than the Dayton campaign's wooing of senior citizens.
Entenza conceded at 9:25 p.m.
"In a democracy, of course, the people speak," Entenza said.
It all boiled down to the relatively few voters who went to the polls Tuesday, fighting the heat, rain and a primary that came a month earlier than normal during busy a busy summer month. All those factors added up to what most observers predicted to be a light turnout in a state that leads the country in general election voting.
The Democratic-Farmer-Laborite winner will face Republican Tom Emmer and Tom Horner of the Independence Party. Emmer faced token opposition. Only Rob Hahn mounted a serious campaign against Horner, but Horner easily won.
Emmer said it was ready to take on any DFL candidate: "It won't matter because the message is the same."
In other races, Democratic incumbent Mark Ritchie beat perennial candidate Dick Franson, DFL Attorney General Lori Swanson easily beat challenger Leo F. Meyer and Republican attorney general candidate Chris Barden appeared to beat Sharon Anderson, who regularly runs for the office.
In U.S. House races, party-endorsed Dan Powers in the 2nd Congressional District lost in the DFL primary to Shelley Madore, who faces U.S. Rep. John Kline, and in western Minnesota's 7th district GOP-endorsed Lee Byberg beat Alan Roebke for the right to face U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson.
Winners of Tuesday's primary advance to the Nov. 2 general election.
By far the most attention was paid to the DFL governor's race.
Kelliher had the advantage of being endorsed by the party's state convention, which brought with it manpower and lists of potential voters. She said with that, she could target potential voters without spending money to air television commercials for weeks before the election.
The Kelliher campaign also worked to get absentee votes, which may have helped her vote total.
The secretary of state's office reported more than 30,000 absentee votes were cast in the election, more than any previous non-presidential year primary.
Democrats emphasize this year's governor race because they see an opening to get back into an office they last won 24 years ago. About 30 candidates jumped into the race soon after Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced he would not run for a third term.
In the governor campaign, Dayton, 63, emphasized one issue above all others: Income and property taxes need to rise for the richest Minnesotans.
While Dayton would boost income taxes on people earning $150,000 or more a year, Kelliher and Entenza set the mark at $250,000.
Dayton has been state auditor, state economic development commissioner and U.S. senator. The Minneapolis resident and heir to a department store fortune also ran for other offices and lost in a career devoted to public service.
Kelliher, 42, is ending her second term as House speaker, capping a 12-year house career. She touted her victory over Pawlenty in raising fuel taxes to increase transportation funding.
Entenza spent more than $5 million of his own money into the primary contest, with Dayton contributing less to his campaign. Dayton spent more than $3 million.
The money already spent is more than any other governor's race in state history.