Appearances mount as his first-ever re-election bid nears
VIRGINIA, Minn. – DFL Gov. Mark Dayton pledged unshakable support for embattled iron miners at a rally Monday, the latest stop in an aggressive new travel schedule that marks a turning point in his quest for a second term.
In recent weeks, Dayton has broken ground on long-sought convention center expansions for Republican-leaning Rochester and St. Cloud. He stood on the shores of Fountain Lake in Albert Lea to tout $22 million in projects in that area, including millions for environmental improvements to the lake.
On Monday, Dayton stirred the crowd at a mining rally on the Iron Range, shoring up the labor wing of the party in an area that could be critical to a second Dayton term.
“The story of the Iron Range is one of standing strong against exploitation and oppression, and too often of a government that will not stand with them,” Dayton said to a cheering crowd of 2,000 iron miners. “But now we have the best workforce in the world. We have you.”
With every stop, Dayton is starting to sketch out the political narrative that will shape his campaign. He is talking more about his job-creation accomplishments, and about Republican resistance to many of those ideas.
His Republican rivals, despite having to wage their own primary fights, are already taking the fight to Dayton.
During the steel rally, a figure hovered at the back, holding a sign that said “Save Our Steel Jobs” — state Sen. Karin Housley, of St. Marys Point. Housley also is the running mate for GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Honour.
“Scott Honour and I support the mining jobs in northern Minnesota,” Housley said. “We are all about mining jobs.”
After the rally, Housley toured the proposed copper-nickel mine in Hoyt Lakes, where PolyMet Corp. is seeking approval for a mine that could bring hundreds of jobs and millions in new investment. But the 20-year mine also could require environmental cleanup stretching out 500 years.
“There is room for common-sense growing jobs and protecting the environment,” Housley said.
GOP-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson issued a statement saying that Dayton is not leading on job-creation issues.
“Attending rallies is not leading, it is standing,” Johnson said. “When I am governor, I am not just going to stand with people who are losing their jobs, I am going to do everything I can to ensure that mining jobs aren’t just protected, they are expanded.”
A new role
As he hits the campaign trail, Dayton finds himself in an unusual position. Despite a long history in Minnesota politics, Dayton has never before run for re-election. He has served as auditor and U.S. senator, but only one term apiece. In each of those races he played the role of the scrappy insurgent, running well-financed but at times long-shot campaigns.
Now he is the well known incumbent running on his record, but without a catchy slogan like the populist “tax-the-rich” mantra that became a cornerstone of his first campaign.
Dayton’s recent travels are designed to highlight one of his bedrock beliefs — that government can be an effective and often essential tool in job creation. When he can, he highlights economic development projects and state investments passed over by previous Republican administrations.
“We want to showcase these projects, first of all where the locals have shown incredible perseverance, and where they can make a difference by revitalizing downtowns and creating jobs,” Dayton said.
Still recovering from hip surgery, Dayton plans to continue his robust official travel schedule before he tilts into full-on campaign mode.