Minnesota's race for governor is about to get a political booster shot from national Democrats. But will it be free of side effects?
DFL candidate Mark Dayton announced Wednesday that Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton will travel to Minnesota in the coming weeks to support his campaign. He has also asked President Obama to lend him a hand and the White House confirmed that Obama would visit the state -- though his exact mission here remains unclear.
After a bruising primary fight in which Dayton barely defeated the endorsed DFL candidate, the former senator hopes the boldface names will rally the base and haul in some much-needed cash ahead of the general election.
But the visits could also link Dayton to Washington Democrats at a time when their support is sagging nationally and party leaders are struggling to maintain their majorities in Congress.
Biden is expected to speak at a public rally in early October, while Clinton will probably have time only for an evening fundraiser, Dayton said. The campaign is still waiting to hear back about Obama.
"I think the three of them spaced out over the next few weeks will really help ignite excitement for this race among the party activists," Dayton said.
Republicans are hoping the visits will amp up their own fundraising and push middle-of-the-road voters away from Dayton.
"He ties himself really closely to the policies of the administration that haven't worked this summer. It's not going to help him in November," said Tony Sutton, state Republican Party chairman. "On the other hand, he may need them to solidify his base."
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann e-mailed supporters Wednesday, assuming that Obama would campaign for her opponent, state Sen. Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud. "I need you to stand with me to build an offense in advance of this visit," Bachmann wrote.
Kathryn Pearson, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota, said the visits are likely to generate a wave of enthusiasm among the left -- especially given Clinton's popularity.
"With President Obama, given his low approval ratings, it's a little trickier," Pearson said. "But he's still popular among Democrats and he still would help Democratic candidates raise money."
She noted that the three Democrats' presence in a statewide race could threaten to alienate some independent voters, although Dayton has never shied away from his liberal beliefs.
"It reminds [independents] that the Democratic candidates are connected to national politicians," Pearson said.
Dayton said voters will be able to distinguish easily between state and federal issues. He noted that he disagrees with Obama on health care, favoring a single-payer approach to the president's reforms.
"People recognize that this is more of a referendum on four more years of Gov. Pawlenty's direction for the state than it is about the [president]," Dayton said.
Importance of Minnesota
But why Minnesota?
Emily Bittner, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Governors Association, said national Democrats have their sights on the North Star State because it is a top prospect for Democrats to pick up a Republican governor's seat.
Like the Senate and House, Democrats are in danger of losing their 26-24 advantage in governors' mansions nationwide.
"Minnesota is a top-tier pickup opportunity for us," Bittner said.
Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at the Cook Political Report, said national attention is focused more on governor races this year because of the power the victors will have in redrawing congressional boundaries after the census.
Minnesota, she said, is seen as "one of the states to fight for."
Dayton said he embraces the Democratic agenda and is proud to stand with his president and vice president.
"Rep. Emmer was endorsed by Sarah Palin," Dayton said. "I look forward to her coming in, as well."
Jeremy Herb • 1-202-408-2723 Eric Roper • 612-673-1732