Facing countdown, candidates for governor cover ground

Candidates race toward Tuesday with a push for every possible vote.

An albino rapper, a nostalgic department store worker, a new college grad, a Savage senior more interested in what's for lunch than who is for governor. The candidates feverishly pressed them all to vote as they raced toward Tuesday's primary election.

With Mark Dayton ahead in the polls but Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Matt Entenza closely clustered, all three know their final get-out-the-vote efforts this weekend could mean the difference between a campaign that lasts through November and one that dies in oblivion on Tuesday.

In the last few days, that has meant no crowd is too small, no voter too decided, no connection too tenuous to leave untouched.

"We can leave no voter at home," Kelliher said, as she spurred on volunteers at a DFL phone bank, echoing the urgency apparent among all the candidates in these final days.

Kelliher and Entenza campaigned close to their Twin Cities homes. Kelliher knocked on doors and dialed for votes with fellow DFL officials. Entenza campaigned with hip-hop artists, Somali shoppers and Hmong homeowners. Dayton flew to the state's four corners before returning to the Twin Cities for one more pitch to Teamsters and seniors on Saturday morning. Entenza and Kelliher both plan fly-arounds on Monday.

Despite their far smaller campaigns, Independence Party candidates Rob Hahn and Tom Horner also cajoled voters to choose them as the IP nominee is Tuesday's primary.

All hope this pre-primary ground name will guarantee them a place on the November ballot.

Meanwhile, Republican-endorsee Tom Emmer, who is all but assured of a general election spot, prepared himself for the coming fight by reorganizing his campaign. He confirmed on Saturday that he has hired Cullen Sheehan to run his campaign. Sheehan was the 2008 campaign manager for former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman. Emmer put former GOP Party chairman Chris Georgacas at the helm of a fresh team of advisors.

For the Democrats and Independence Party candidates, there was no time for reorganization -- they just needed to make sure supporters realize the primary is earlier than normal this year, and that they get to the polls on Tuesday.

'Like going home'

Friday evening found Dayton plying voters at a Country Kitchen in Winona. The crowd wasn't grand -- although a deputy campaign manager said the 50 people there were "the biggest crowd of the day." But the reception was fine.

Before Dayton arrived at the chain eatery, there was little evidence a major candidate for governor he was on the way. Next to a posting announcing job openings was a bigger sign that read simply: Welcome Mark Dayton.

That was enough for Marilynn Horness. Her daughter wheeled her into the restaurant, dressed like she was going to church on Christmas morning -- a bright red blazer, white beret and sunglasses. Back in the 1950s, Horness had worked at Dayton's, the iconic department store owned by the Dayton family. "Going to the store and shopping [was] like going home to me," she said.

Horness' eyes lit up when Dayton popped into the room. He listened to her story, then bent to kiss her hand.

On Saturday, Dayton continued his push for the senior vote, this time with retirees at Minneapolis Teamsters meeting hall.

"I just want to shake your hand and ... tell my wife I met you," said Tom Noethe, 81.

Pausing for an interview, Dayton shared words of wisdom borne of more than 30 years of campaigning -- phone banking, he said, is key to getting out the vote.

'I Am A Shameless Agitator'

Just off Lake Street in Minneapolis on Friday, DFL activists worked to turn that key for Kelliher.

The DFL party headquarters looked more like a college dorm than the hub of a statewide campaign. Pizza boxes were perched on a table, an "I Am A Shameless Agitator" button hung on a wall, and a dozen young campaign workers slouched on a couch or sat on the floor staring into computers.

Cheers erupted when Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, arrived. They grew louder when Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak walked in and grew to a roar when Kelliher appeared. 

Kelliher quickly donned a headset, plopped down at a computer and called Phyllis in Brooklyn Center. Then Donald in Edina, and Rita in Eden Prairie. She made another call, listened, clicked a "lean Dayton" button and continued to talk. Seconds later, the call was over.

"Four out of five isn't bad," Kelliher said.

Rybak, who lost the DFL endorsement to Kelliher, also made calls. Would he do more between now and Tuesday? Well, said Rybak, he had to prepare the city's budget and there was a family vacation. Before he left, a campaign worker shoved a list of Rybak supporters into the mayor's hands. His job: Get them "on board with Margaret," instructed party coordinator Sarah Clarke.

On Saturday afternoon, Kelliher found fans waiting at the Martin Luther King Center in St. Paul.

"My first pick was Mark Dayton, but he thumbed his nose at the rank and file DFLers," said Shawn Kevin McGovern.

'Reaching out'

Scores of newcomers to political campaigns stood in a hot, windowless room at Eclipse Records in St. Paul, ready to be dispatched on one of the oldest maneuvers in politics: a get-out-the-vote drive.

To give theirs a little sizzle, the Entenza campaign enlisted hip-hop artists to reach out to black and Latino neighborhoods in St. Paul and Minneapolis. "I'm here not so much because of the particular candidate, but because they are reaching out to young people," said albino rapper Brother Ali, 33, of Minneapolis.

On St. Paul's East Side, Xai David Yang spent Saturday on the prowl for fellow Hmong who could vote for Entenza. Yang said he hoped to hit 120 Hmong homes, pressing a message that Entenza would improve education. "We look at the cars, the gardens," Yang said. Hondas and Toyotas are signs a Hmong voter may be inside; "green onions, cilantro, pumpkins" are another," Yang said.

Pork tenderloin, 'goofy guy'

With fewer resources, the last-minute drive for IPers was a bit more hit-or-miss.

In his only public event on Friday, Independence Party candidate Horner traveled to SarahCare, a day care facility for seniors in Savage. When he got there, facility owner Deborah Delaney said she expected few of her clients would vote in the primary --and the "higher functioning" seniors were on a day trip to St. Paul.

After handing out literature and touring the facility, Horner entered a dining room decorated with scenes from World War II America and courted those who where left.

"I hope I can be an alternative for you," the former PR exec and Republican staffer said to the diners.

As Horner moved to another table, one man assessed his supper rather than the candidate: "She said pork tenderloin. It sure don't look like it."

Meanwhile, Hahn, suited up Saturday morning for a running event in Lowertown. Clad in a yellow spandex T-shirt with "Rob Hahn for Governor" emblazoned on both sides and shorts, Hahn worked the bustling 5k starting-line, handing out his purple business cards.

After running the 5k himself, a sweaty Hahn pressed his case.

Hope Kurtz, of Minneapolis, told him she worries about growing school class sizes and fewer programs, but added, "I also don't want to tax everyone to death."

The work of getting out the vote is hit or miss. But, Hahn said, in an Independence primary every little bit helps: "Maybe they go in the polls not knowing who to vote for and say, 'Oh yeah, he's that goofy, sweaty guy I met.'"

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • 651-292-0164 or rachel.stassen-berger@startribune.com

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