Public affairs guru and former Republican staffer Tom Horner officially proclaimed himself an Independence Party candidate for governor Tuesday.

Both Democrats and Republicans are too extreme to deal with the issues of the day, Horner said.

"I've stayed right here. ... It is the Republican party that has moved way out there," Horner said, gesticulating his right hand fully to his right.

"And the Democratic party that has moved out there," he said, tossing his left hand out.

Horner called Republican-endorsed Tom Emmer "the most conservative candidate to ever run for governor" and said both parties are ignoring Minnesota's needs.

"The compelling choice in 2010 is this: Will we continue the same political fights of the last eight years -- Democrats and Republicans fighting over who is right rather than doing what is right," Horner asked.

Horner's quest is an ambitious one. The Independence Party has few resources and has won a major office only once -- in 1998, when Jesse Ventura "shocked the world" with his election as governor.

Horner is convinced his business acumen, years of public service and message will help him do it. He has some well-known names on his side.

Former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, a Republican who gave Horner his start in politics, is supporting his protege. "I am a Republican but I'm a Republican supporting Tom Horner for governor," the former three-term senator said. Durenberger said the GOP these days "doesn't represent the best values of Minnesota people."

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Penny, who earned a slender 16 percent as the Independence Party's 2002 gubernatorial candidate, joined Durenberger in praising Horner on Tuesday. Bake-off royalty and frequent political donors George and Sally Pillsbury are also lending support, Horner said.

He is a co-founder of Himle Horner Inc., one of the state's most powerful public affairs firms. Himle Horner's clients have included Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and Canterbury Park.

His standing in the business world may compel executives to answer his calls, but it doesn't give him an instant list of donors or a constituent base.

"Tom's a thoughtful candidate. That's why people are going to pause," said David Olson, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. But before they hit play, Olson said, Horner will have to answer the question: "Can he win?"

'Like a lot of Minnesotans'

Horner staked out the middle ground in laying out his positions Tuesday.

He said he's a "fiscal conservative" who wants to cut business taxes and raise cigarette taxes. He rejected both the "pro-life" and "pro-choice" labels on the always controversial issue of abortion rights. He praised immigrants' entrepreneurial spirit and called the new Arizona crackdown on immigration "appalling."

Horner also waded into the Vikings stadium issue, saying the team will need a state subsidy to build a new stadium. Horner said the Vikings are a client of Himle Horner, although not one he serves.

As an indication of his middle-ground philosophy, Horner pointed out that he voted for Pawlenty over Penny in 2002 and for President Barack Obama over GOP rival John McCain in 2008. He's contributed to Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen and to Penny, when Penny was a U.S. House Democrat.

"I am like a lot of Minnesotans ... I believe that I reflect the philosophy that I've always defined as being Republican philosophy," Horner said.

Democrats and Republicans said the Independence Party candidate really belongs to the other guy.

"Isn't it ironic that the day after the Republicans held a unity tour at airport hangars across the state, one of their best friends officially announces that he will run against them in the November election?" said DFL spokesman Donald McFarland, noting Horner's longtime gig as a Republican commentator on radio.

Republican Party chair Tony Sutton said Horner is just a liberal in disguise. "Horner comes from a long line of failed Independence Party candidates who talk moderation, but when push comes to shove, they always choose the liberal position," Sutton said.

Horner, vying for Independence Party endorsement this weekend, said he would run in a primary without the endorsement.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • 651-292-0164