On the surface, all is quite civil and orderly in Minnesota's lingering race for governor: DFLer Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer hustled over to the Capitol on Tuesday, offering handshakes and smiles and expressing quiet resolve to let the recount process unfold.
But beneath that statesmanlike veneer, a swelling cadre of attorneys and operatives are hunkering down in sweaty war rooms, building the political infrastructure for what could be a nasty recount fight in which Dayton clings to a lead of less than one-half of 1 percent.
Much of the plotting underway revolves around money -- a lot of it. To fuel a recount battle that could extend into a protracted court fight would take truckloads.
Some Republicans say the investment to put their man over the top would be worthwhile even as they privately concede it could be tough for Emmer to close the nearly 9,000-vote gap. Others say that prolonging the recount fight long enough to keep Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty in office an extra few weeks with a newly GOP-led Legislature would be a welcome bonus.
"I don't think there's any downside to keeping this recount going on as long as possible," said a high-level Republican operative who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "If we keep the process going, there are opportunities for us in the upcoming legislative session."
The two sides are crystallizing their legal and political strategies as they toggle from election mode to building a transition team and corralling legal and political help for the grinding recount battle.
Republicans, for instance, on Tuesday hired former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson as Emmer's chief litigator. Magnuson, a Pawlenty appointee, served on the canvassing board of the 2008 U.S. Senate recount between Democrat Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman.
An energetic crusader on the campaign trail, Emmer was more restrained Tuesday in his first news conference since the election. "The Minnesota voters have spoken," Emmer said. "We just don't know what they've said yet." Emmer, a Delano trial attorney who let his practice dwindle while campaigning, said he'll also need to look to his personal finances during the recount.
"The outcome could be that we're in the governor's office," he said. "By the same token, the outcome could be that I'm looking for a job, which we're happy to do as well."
Emmer, who has turned control of the recount effort over to the state Republican Party, declined to say how far he might push a legal challenge.
Money for the fight
Party leaders met behind closed doors at the Minneapolis Club on Monday with donors and operatives. Emmer and his wife, Jacquie, stopped by for about 45 minutes to answer questions, state Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton said.
Dayton's team is also leaning on frequent contributors for help. It estimates it might need to raise $2 million to cover costs of a recount and possible court battle.
"Unless there is a seismic shift in the remaining counties during this canvass, we see the results of this election to be virtually unchanged," said Dayton recount director Ken Martin.
Dayton's narrow lead has given rise to a tantalizing subplot as Republicans muscle up for a long fight: Emmer might lose, but a delayed Dayton's inauguration could allow Republicans to capitalize on Pawlenty's extra inning.
When the Legislature convenes in January, Republican legislators will sweep into power with a laundry list of possible targets for early passage, including modest tax cuts, some surgical budget cuts and even a high-profile effort to keep Minnesota out of President Obama's controversial health care overhaul.
Pawlenty has said he doesn't expect or want to his run as governor to be extended, but he stopped short of saying he would refuse to sign legislation that landed on his desk.
Senate Minority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, said a handful of bills could wind up on the Republican governor's desk. "If it's right for Minnesota, then sure," he said.
Several legislative watchers from both parties caution that public opinion could turn on Republicans if their legal fight fails to budge vote totals. There are also risks for Pawlenty if the public perceives political maneuvering.
"I don't think it's in Pawlenty's best interest and I don't think the public would react well in that kind of scenario," said Charlie Weaver, who led Pawlenty's transition team eight years ago and who now heads the Minnesota Business Partnership, which backed Emmer.
Democrats said such a scenario could pose a vivid test for Republican legislators who swept in on the promise of smaller government.
They could "burn the schools and villages" and really push the limits, said state Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. Or they could "be a little more cautious about public opinion." Winkler said. "I think it's a question of which side wins."
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • 651-292-0164 Baird Helgeson • 651-222-1288