Two years ago Mark Dayton finished a disappointing fourth in the DFL gubernatorial primary.
Today, with the Democratic U.S. Senate primary 12 days away he is the front-runner in a four-person field of candidates who want to run against Republican Sen. Rod Grams.
What's made the difference?
"I've kept on trying," the 53-year-old former state auditor said in a visit to Brainerd Wednesday.
His dogged determination was aided by an expensive media campaign this summer and the name recognition that comes with being the only one of the four candidates to have run for statewide office. Those factors have made him a 9-percentage-point favorite in the latest poll.
His major opponents are Rebecca Yanisch, Mike Ciresi, state Sen. Jerry Janezich, who has the DFL endorsement.
The Dayton campaign has spent $2.95 million in the last reporting period, nearly double that of his nearest competitor. He's acknowledged that he is fortunate that he doesn't have to appeal to special interest groups to raise money. He doesn't accept Political Action Committee or PAC money.
"The biggest advantage is I don't have to spend the hours on the phone (raising money)," he said.
But that same wealth, he said has been a real obstacle for him since some people who don't want to entrust political office to someone who comes from a privileged background.
He thinks his government service as state auditor and Minnesota economic development commissioner under Gov. Rudy Perpich has shown people that he's more than just "Mark Dayton -- department store heir." Dayton sees his government service as a plus, noting that most Minnesotans would be disconcerted to board a Northwest Airlines flight and have the pilot announce that he'd never flown an airplane before.
Dayton wants to see a ban on campaign "soft money" in which political messages are promoted without being linked to a specific candidate.
He objects to Republican congressional plans for tax cuts that provide a little bit of money for most Minnesotans but "a whole lot for people like me, who are wealthy." He would rather see that money go to increased federal aid to education, Head Start programs and long-term care.
Should he win the Sept. 12 primary Dayton intends to get up at the crack of dawn and immediately start the eight-week campaign against Grams. He sees no problem unifying the Democratic voters.
"It has not been a nasty or divisive campaign," he said.
People he talks to while campaigning are concerned with pocketbook issues such as health care. He said that in the last decade the number of uninsured people has grown from 33 million to 44 million. The health care system, he claimed, is inequitable and inefficient. He said his own Patient Bill of Rights can be summed up in two words -- "Doctors decide."
After his trip to Brainerd Dayton headed back to the state fair where 1.5 million people gather during a 12-day period. The fair, he discovered, can be a humbling experience for politicians. This year he noticed a large crowd gathering around some else while he had almost no visitors at his booth only to discover that his rival for the crowd's attention was Minnesota Vikings receiver Cris Carter.
"That put me in my proper place," he said.
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