It may be a stretch to call a 63-year-old former state auditor and U.S. senator a political insurgent. But Mark Dayton took an insurgent's path to an apparent victory in Tuesday's primary, squeaking by party endorsee Margaret Anderson Kelliher and another rebel from the party fold, Matt Entenza, to win the DFL nomination for governor.

Also winning major-party nominations for governor Tuesday were the Independence Party's Tom Horner, who ran a politically savvy campaign to dispatch four rivals, and GOP endorsee Tom Emmer, who faced nominal opposition.

Together, the three major-party nominees cover a wide span of American political thinking. They are positioned to present general-election voters with very different proposals for restoring fiscal health and prosperity to a state that's reeling from the Great Recession.

Dayton executed a political comeback many observers did not foresee when he voluntarily left the U.S. Senate four years ago. In defeating Kelliher -- who had this Editorial Board's endorsement on the DFL ticket and who had not conceded at press time -- Dayton demonstrated both skill and grace. It won't be easy for him to unify his party. But he has made that task easier with his refusal to advertise criticism of his primary rivals.

His win might be called a triumph of money over the lower-budget DFL Party machine but for the fact that self-financed Dayton was outspent by self-financed Entenza, who came in third. Dayton had other assets his rivals did not. Tuesday was his fifth appearance on a statewide ballot; it was Kelliher's first. He bears a storied name in Minnesota business and philanthropy; despite four years as state House speaker, Kelliher did not enter the race widely known.

More than the others, Dayton employed a simple campaign message that evidently struck a chord with a segment of DFL voters. It's that the state and local tax rate paid by affluent Minnesotans is lower than that borne by everyone else and ought to be raised substantially before more services are cut.

Both Kelliher and Entenza -- and this newspaper -- preferred smaller tax increases aimed at higher income levels than Dayton would target. But in the face of a projected $6 billion deficit in the 2012-13 state budget, Dayton argued, smaller tax increases would mean deeper cuts for education, public safety and the rest of government services.

A brutal recession has left half of Minnesotans, as measured by the July 26-29 Star Tribune Minnesota Poll, feeling worse off than they were two years ago. That distress likely has deepened some voters' class resentment and resistance to cuts in services that benefit the whole. Dayton, more than the other DFLers, offered voters a chance to say no to more cuts.

The vein of support that Dayton tapped Tuesday is one that may have been overlooked by observers caught up in last year's sudden rise of the anti-Obama Tea Party movement on the right. It may be that in Minnesota, a counterweight to the Tea Party is coalescing on the left. Dayton's challenge now is to capitalize on that force without sending more tax-wary general-election voters scurrying to another camp. The outcome of yesterday's IP primary assures that any stray DFL voters will be heavily courted not by one other campaign, but two.