Mark Dayton's primary victory opened the financial floodgates, and spending could top $20 million.
Mark Dayton insists his riches aren't what they once were, but his win in Tuesday's DFL primary for governor still sent opponents scrambling to amass war chests to compete.
The governor's race is already the richest Minnesota has ever seen, and the spending could double to more than $20 million before voters go to the November polls. With Dayton, the department store heir, in it, the projected cost immediately grew.
"Their checkbook has a lot more zeros," said Michael Brodkorb, deputy director of the Minnesota Republican Party.
Dayton isn't the only force driving up the zeros. Corporate-backed groups, labor unions, Dayton family members and Washington partisans will all pour cash into Minnesota to twist the race their way.
But it all starts with the candidates, and for Republican Tom Emmer and the Independence Party's Tom Horner, Dayton's coronation means fundraising overdrive.
Emmer campaign manager Cullen Sheehan bets that Dayton will "continue writing pretty hefty checks."
Emmer, who lacks a track record of raising big money, may struggle to keep up.
The DFLer's money has an upside for his opponents -- they can spend and get more.
Because of Dayton's financial wherewithal, Emmer and Horner will get hundreds of thousands of dollars under the state's public financing system and get to split the state cash that Dayton didn't take. The two are also freed from the subsidy program's spending limits, so they can spend as much as they can raise. Had Margaret Anderson Kelliher won Tuesday's DFL primary, all of the candidates would get to spend only about $3 million each.
Dayton, who self-financed a 2000 Senate race to the tune of $12 million, has already sunk more than $3 million into his campaign, a figure that is likely to rise. But last week, the millionaire insisted he had to do some unpleasant dialing-for-dollars to keep going.
"I hate it just as much now as I hated it yesterday, as I hated it before, but, you know, that's a necessity," he said.
Candidates do not have to publicly report their spending until late September.
Some extra help
Emmer begins the general election race with a financial disadvantage -- his fundraising numbers last month lacked pop, and the Republican Party's savings were paltry. But he can count at least one well-financed friend in his corner.
MN Forward, empowered by new campaign-finance rules, has lined its pockets with more than $1 million of corporate cash and has already run a television ad in Emmer's favor. Treasurer Charlie Weaver said the group hopes to raise between $2 million and $5 million.
But not all the cash will help Emmer -- MN Forward is playing in other races as well -- and not all of it will show up in television ads. Social media is also part of the plan.
Dayton has allies in his corner, and they're not shy about showing their might. The Alliance for a Better Minnesota, funded by unions and many members of the Dayton family, has bashed Emmer on the airwaves for months and won't let up. They raised more than $1.5 million so far this year.
The former U.S. senator also asked President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to visit and help him raise the cash he needs.
Horner is the furthest behind in the money chase. The public relations executive, with no political experience except as a Republican staffer, wants to spend $2.5 million on the race. By July he had raised less than $200,000.
These days, he's shilling for cash every day and said if his opponents are distracted with each other, he can spend more time raising funds.
"They're lobbing grenades largely over my head at each other," Horner said. He plans to start running ads in a few weeks.
Money from Washington
Because Minnesota is one of 17 states with a tossup governor's race, the partisan governors' groups will dip in, too.
Neither the Republican Governors Association nor Democratic Governors Association would divulge exact plans. But the RGA had $40 million on hand to spend last month, and DGA spokeswoman Emily Bittner said there are "a lot of zeros behind the number" they'll spend here.
Given the open seat and more flexible campaign finance laws, Gary Goldsmith, executive director of the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, said he expects the 2010 numbers to reach sky-high.
Outside advocacy groups could end up spending just as much as the candidates, he said.
"I think the public will judge whether that message is equal in power to the message of the candidates," Goldsmith said.
Eric Roper • 612-673-1732