Minnesota's candidates for governor are keeping busy Friday as they prepare for another debate this weekend, the first in the Twin Cities.
Gov. Mark Dayton is speaking Friday morning at a leadership summit of the Minnesota State College Student Association in Bloomington.
Dayton also has an active official schedule Friday, with a handful of events closed to the press: a conference call with executives at BNSF Railway and Minnesota Power; a special Cabinet meeting for an update on Minnesota's Ebola preparedness and prevention efforts; and an evening banquet of the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association.
Republican Jeff Johnson does not have public events on his calendar Friday. His campaign said he would be fundraising and doing media interviews, and on Saturday had plans for retail campaigning in a number of locations.
Hannah Nicollet from the Independence Party has several campaign events Friday and Saturday as well. She's appearing Friday night on Duluth Almanac Extra, and at a Saturday conference in favor of marijuana legalization.
Dayton and Johnson are set to debate Sunday morning. It will be aired live on Fox 9 in the Twin Cities.
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glenn Howatt
Absentee ballots are streaming to election offices across the state but very few of those early voters are new voters, according to a Star Tribune analysis.
Only 5.6 percent of the nearly 34,000 voters who have already had ballots accepted did not vote in the last midterm election year, 2010. Another five percent did not vote in 2010 or 2012, the last presidential election year.
The analysis indicates that despite pushes from both Democrats and Republicans, new voters are not yet availing themselves of the law that allows anyone to vote by absentee.
About 34,000 people voted by absentee ballot as of Oct. 14. Another 6,000, in small, rural precincts, voted by mail.
Of the people who cast absentee ballots, 29 percent also voted absentee in both the 2010 and 2012 elections. Another 31 percent went to the polls in both of those election years.
The analysis also shows that more voters who have already had ballots counted come from Democratic areas than from Republican areas. By county, by Minnesota House district and even by precinct, more ballots are flowing in from areas that lean toward Democrats than lean toward Republicans.
Nearly half of absentee ballots have been cast by voters who live in Democratic House districts, 32 percent came from those in Republican House districts and about 19 percent came from swing districts.
Minnesota voters do not register by party so the Star Tribune does not have access to the personal politics of voters.
Keith Downey, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party, and Ken Martin, chairman of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, have both been pouring over absentee voter list. Both parties have invested in identifying voters by party.
With that data, the DFL and the Republican Party have come up with different results.
Martin, the DFL chairman, said their numbers show that 59 percent of absentee ballots have been cast by voters they have identified as Democrats. Martin said many of those Democrats are infrequent voters -- exactly the demographic they have need to turnout if the DFL is to do well this year.
The Republican Party shows statewide 39 percent of absentee votes so far have come from Republicans, 36 percent came from Democrats and 25 percent came from independent or unidentified voters, Republican chair Downey said.
Across the state, significantly more voters are opting to vote absentee than had in the 2010 election, according to the secretary of state.
Compared to nearly 40,000 accepted ballots as of Wednesday, election officials had only accepted 23,000 absentee ballots by this point in the 2010 election.
This year for the first time, anyone who wants to vote absentee can do so regardless of whether they can show up at the polls on Election Day. Previously, voters would have to offer an excuse for why they needed to vote absentee.
Below, see the number of ballots already cast and accepted, by county.
Updated to reflect more specific numbers.
Less than three weeks until the general election, Republican candidate for governor Jeff Johnson on Thursday secured another endorsement from a business group, the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business.
Johnson, who is running to unseat Gov. Mark Dayton, last month received the endorsement from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce's political action committee.
"We're excited about his candidacy," said NFIB state director Mike Hickey. "Jeff was a very good friend of ours when he served in the legislature. He's a very impressive legislator."
Hickey also criticized the current administration for its record on issues important to the state's NFIB, which represents 13,000 small business across Minnesota, including the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Minnesota.
"It's been a rough ride with Gov. Dayton," Hickey said.
He pointed to the Dayton's 2012 vetoes on legislation that would have reduced the commercial property tax rate and tort reform as examples of the governor's disappointing record with small businesses.
At Thursday's news conference, which came on the heels of the announcement by PreferredOne that it's insurance premiums would rise on average by 63 percent, Johnson in harsh language criticized Dayton for the MNsure and PreferredOne rate hikes.
PreferredOne sold plans with some of the lowest rates in the country but last month said it would not sell plans through MNsure in 2015. By offering the lowest rates, PreferredOne nabbed nearly 60 percent of the 55,000 Minnesotans who purchased insurance through the state exchange.
Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner, has steadily hammered at Dayton since the Commerce Department announced earlier this month that insurance premiums for plans sold through MNsure will rise on average 4.5 percent. Republicans have called the statistic bogus, saying it masks higher rate hikes.
"That 4.5 percent statistic is bogus, it's meaningless, it's nonsense. It was a blatant lie coming from the governor," Johnson said Thursday. "I believe Gov. Dayton needs to apologize to the people of Minnesota for lying to us about the MNsure rates."
In response to accusation from Johnson that he’s “lying” about the 4.5 percent rate increase for MNsure, Dayton said "Commissioner Johnson gets more desperate by the day, and so his rhetoric escalates."
On the rise in PreferredOne's insurance premiums, Dayton dismissed Johnson's claims using a baseball analogy. "PreferredOne dropped out of the system. If the Twins have a player with a lousy average and they release him, they don't include his batting average in the average of the next year's team," he said.
In the final stretch heading to the Nov. 4 election, Dayton and Johnson have stepped up their attacks on one another in debates and public appearances. They are set to debate for the fourth time Sunday.
Photo: State NFIB director Mike Hickey announced on Thursday his group's endorsement of Jeff Johnson, a Republican running against Gov. Mark Dayton. Ricardo Lopez/Star Tribune
Both Gov. Mark Dayton and his Republican challenger, Jeff Johnson, are courting traditional constituencies on Thursday.
Johnson is appearing at a morning news conference organized by the Minnesota chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business. The group represents over 13,000 small business owners statewide, and has been a traditional ally of Republicans at the Capitol.
Johnson's campaign said he also plans to offer comments on news of premium hikes on PreferredOne insurance plans that were sold on MNsure last year.
Meanwhile, Dayton is headed later in the morning to speak at the Education Minnesota Professional Conference at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in downtown St. Paul. The state's largest teacher's union, Education Minnesota has tended to support mostly Democrats politically, and has already endorsed Dayton's re-election.
Dayton is also making remarks at the groundbreaking of a Highway 610 expansion project in Maple Grove. Also Thursday, Dayton is speaking at a DFL get-out-the-vote training event in Little Canada.
The day after the debate in Duluth between Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican Jeff Johnson, it's a quiet day on the campaign trail in the race.
Dayton, whose campaign debuted its third TV ad on Tuesday, has no public campaign stops on his schedule Wednesday. But he's got a couple of northern Minnesota appearances on his official schedule: at the University of Minnesota Crookston, at the grand opening of a sewer treatment facility in Chisholm, and at the dedication of a public library in Ely.
Dayton is also meeting privately in the afternoon with leaders of Essar Steel in Hibbing.
Johnson does not have plans to appear publicly on Wednesday. His campaign said he would be fundraising and doing media interviews.
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