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Final governor TV debate feisty

ST. PAUL -- Tax talk ruled as Minnesota's governor candidates Friday night engaged in their final televised debate.

Democrat Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer were the prime combatants as the most recent poll indicated they are locked in a neck-and-neck race, with Tom Horner of the Independence Party far behind.

Dayton said that Emmer voted to raise property taxes when he was a city council member and the Republican blamed state aid cuts to cities as the reason. Dayton, a former U.S. senator, said that an Emmer administration would reduce city aid and force other councils to raise local taxes, too.

Emmer fired back, saying that is not true. Local Government Aid, designed to help cities pay for basic services they otherwise cannot afford, mostly goes to just a few cities, Emmer said, indicating most cities would be little affected by cuts. The state lawmaker from Delano said 20 cities get more than half of the aid and five cities get 40 percent.

The Republican told Dayton that the former senator just cannot understand decisions like he made on Delano and Independence city councils: "You've never had to do that."

Emmer said he has been on the outside looking at politicians, but Dayton retorted by saying Emmer actually has run for office more than the five times he himself has.

As the other two argued, Horner portrayed himself as in the political center, and more reasonable: "How does a Gov. Dayton, how does a Gov. Emmer get things done?"

The hour-long debate on Twin Cities Public Television "Almanac" was as heated as the 28 that came before.

Most of the other debates centered on economic issues, and little new ground was plowed on other issues Friday night.

Co-host Cathy Wurzer tried to get Emmer to talk about abortion, but the candidate refused. ""I have a history, I have a record on those issues. But this campaign is about the economy."

Emmer is supported by the state's largest anti-abortion group and he has sponsored legislation fitting that philosophy.

Dayton and Horner said they are happy with existing laws.

"I believe that abortions should be safe, legal and rare," Dayton said.

The debate kept returning to taxes.

Dayton defended his plan to mostly tax the rich, disputing Emmer's claim that raising taxes on wealthy Minnesotans also would increase taxes on small businesses.

The state Revenue Department says just 8 percent of state businesses would be pay more taxes under his plan, Dayton said.

Horner said that while Dayton's plan might just affect a few businesses, it would hurt 90 percent of the state's jobs.

The latest poll shows Emmer and Dayton in a dead heat. The SurveyUSA-KSTP poll came out hours after one that gave Dayton a double-digit lead.

The new poll shows Dayton with 39 percent, Emmer with 38 percent and Horner with 9 percent. It indicates Emmer holds big leads in southern and western Minnesota with Dayton doing well in the Twin Cities and north.

Horner's drop in support is consistent across most recent polls. He had said he needed to be in the 20 percent range in mid-October and never made that, although he came close before the slide began.

The three candidates plan a full schedule of events today, highlighted by Emmer and other Republicans hosting Republican dignitaries from around the country in Blaine.

At the same time, Horner plans a "restore sanity" rally at the Capitol and Dayton plans a variety of stops, including some at campaign centers.

On Sunday, rallies are expected before the campaign's final debate. The Minnesota Public Radio debate begins at 4 p.m. Sunday, at St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theater.

In other election news:

-- One good sign for voter turnout, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said, is that the deer hunting season does not begin until the Saturday after the election.

-- Visiting gives Minnesota voters a chance to see if they are registered, which can save time at the polls. Also, the site provides other voting information, including who will be on the ballot.

-- Secretary of State Mark Ritchie predicts that 2.1 million Minnesotans will vote Tuesday, down from the 2.9 million who cast ballots in the 2008 presidential election. If Ritchie's crystal ball is accurate, that would be about 60 percent of eligible voters.