The Minnesota Vikings are struggling on the field, but the team's long drive for a new stadium is finally gaining ground in the gubernatorial campaign.

Forced to confront a politically dicey public-policy question made more sensitive by the budget deficit, all three major-party candidates have said they would work with the team to try to solve the decades-old Metrodome problem. But only one of the candidates, the Independence Party's Tom Horner, has provided enough detail to give stadium proponents real hope.

Horner's proposal includes financing options and a call for the team to make a 40-year commitment to the state and cover 40 percent of the cost of a stadium. The GOP's Tom Emmer and Democrat Mark Dayton have offered little more than general support and -- echoing consistently squishy stadium supporter Gov. Tim Pawlenty-- Emmer has said he would oppose any spending from the state's general fund.

It should be clear to Minnesotans by now that it will take the leadership of the next governor to find a stadium fix that minimizes the hit on the state's budget while ensuring that a valuable community asset and economic engine doesn't pack up and skip town. Horner would do that; the jury is still out on Emmer and Dayton.

Last weekend, downtown Minneapolis was alive with sports-related economic activity, with more than 140,000 people attending two Twins games and the Vikings' home opener at the Dome. And just over the river, the Minnesota Gophers played before 50,000 fans at TCF Bank Stadium.

We have no way of knowing how many of the dollars spent in area hotels, restaurants and stores last weekend came from Iowa, Wisconsin, the Dakotas and other states, but you would have a difficult time finding another metro area that could match the energy level of Minneapolis when the Twins, Vikings and Gophers are playing to sellout crowds.

This page has consistently argued that it's worth it to be part of the stadium arms race because the economic-development benefits of being a major-league city outweigh the price of admission -- significant public subsidies for wealthy team owners. (And we have consistently disclosed that development of the Metrodome site could include property now owned by the Star Tribune, and that at one point the Vikings had an option to buy some of the newspaper's land.)

Horner's plan is not fully baked -- we'd like to see him move away from expanded gambling as a revenue source, and we wonder if it's realistic to put any kind of meaningful tax on event tickets -- but he deserves credit for putting some possibilities on the table and making it clear that the Vikings will have to make a major financial commitment to the project to win his backing if elected. It's also revealing that Horner has met with the team and discussed his plans. That shows the kind of proactive leadership that's needed on complex issues.

We'd urge all of the gubernatorial candidates to start lobbying the city of Minneapolis to be more than a passive observer in the stadium problem-solving game. The city stands to benefit more than any other prospective contributor except the team, and Hennepin County already did its part in serving as the local partner for the Twins with Target Field.

A version of a stadium bill proposed late in the 2010 legislative session would have asked Minneapolis to extend sales taxes now being used to partly fund the city's convention center. Because the bill never gained support as the session drew to a close, the convention center proposal didn't get the kind of due diligence it should have, although, not surprisingly, city officials quickly discounted the plan's viability.

Our next governor will inherit a budget mess, but Target Field should have reminded Minnesotans that making progress in even the most difficult economic times is a smart investment in the region's future. The Vikings are next in line, and one of the three gubernatorial candidates will play a major role in determining the fate of the franchise.