Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday that he intends to "be as conciliartory as possible" with the GOP-controlled House he'll face in his second term.

But Dayton said it remains to be seen "whether [Republican leaders were] willing to assume the mantle of leadership" and would compromise, or whether they'll "jam everything up."

Dayton said a Legislature divided between a DFL Senate and a Republican House is "a prescription for gridlock unless we rise above it."

Dayton reminded Republicans that "when you run for office you deal with rhetoric; when you serve in office you deal with reality."

Dayton made his remarks Wednesday morning after easily winning re-election over the GOP's Jeff Johnson.

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DFL Gov. Mark Dayton decisively won a second term Tuesday over Republican challenger Jeff Johnson as voters went for experience over a new direction, and handed Dayton one last win in his long political career.

Dayton led Johnson 50 to 45 percent with 97 percent of precincts reporting shortly after midnight. First elected governor in 2010 after stints as U.S. senator and state auditor, Dayton consistently led Johnson in polls leading up to Election Day, although the race tightened in its closing days.

In winning, Dayton defied what was shaping up as a good year for Republicans and a bad one for incumbents nationwide. But the governor’s second-term agenda will face a tougher political environment at the State Capitol in January. Republicans were poised late Tuesday night to end the DFL’s two-year dominance of the Legislature by regaining a majority in the state House. The DFL-led Senate was not up for re-election this year.

“I believe we all want what’s best for Minnesota. We just disagree on the details,” Dayton said in his victory speech at a Minneapolis hotel.

Johnson called Dayton shortly before 11 p.m. Dayton thanked his opponent for a “generous” concession.

“I want to thank the people of Minnesota. All of you who trusted me,” Dayton continued, flanked by his sons, daughter-in-law, running mate Tina Smith and her family. “It is a trust I will treasure and a responsibility I will remember.”

Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner from Plymouth who offered a more conservative direction for the state, said the ideas he proposed would continue to be part of the political debate.

“I wish Gov. Dayton success because I want Minnesota to succeed,” Johnson told Republicans at their election night event. “I love this place and I want it to be better than it is. That fight doesn’t end tonight.”

Hannah Nicollet, a former software developer and political novice, proved not to be a factor in the race, compared with recent Independence Party predecessors. Late into the night she remained in the low single digits.

With victories by Dayton, U.S. Sen. Al Franken and other statewide candidates, Minnesota was a looking like a Democratic holdout on an Election Day that saw Republicans take the U.S. Senate majority and win other high-profile races. With Republicans winning governorships in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and South Dakota, that leaves Dayton as the only Democratic governor in the Upper Midwest.

A fast start

Early in the evening a wave of cheers erupted at the DFL party in downtown Minneapolis when several TV networks, drawing on exit polls, projected wins for Dayton and Franken moments after the polls closed.

“It’s an important election,” said Robin Lindberg of Plymouth, who volunteered for the DFL. “We want to be part of the celebration. We’re in trouble if he [Dayton] doesn’t win.”

Dayton and Johnson crisscrossed the state in recent days. Dayton, whose first campaign TV ad cast him as the state’s hockey coach, donned a succession of Minnesota college hockey jerseys at DFL get-out-the-vote rallies in spots like St. Cloud and Duluth.

Johnson kept a busy schedule leading up to Tuesday that mixed retail campaigning at suburban park-and-rides, grocery stores, bars and cafes, with last-minute broadcast interviews and stops at GOP offices to thank volunteers. Bearing a red nametag pinned to his chest, Johnson said he would be a more engaged governor who would make a priority of more efficient state spending.

“He’s just not up to the job anymore,” Johnson said of Dayton in one of the Republican’s final TV ads, which aired up until Election Day.

Dayton’s campaign countered that Johnson has been short on substantive policy proposals and vague about where he would cut state government spending even as he promised greater fiscal prudence and tax relief. DFLers have linked Johnson to more conservative elements of the GOP, noting that he actively sought backing from Tea Party activists when he ran for the party endorsement.

Johnson, a 47-year-old attorney, was a state representative from 2001 to 2007, and has represented portions of suburban Hennepin County as commissioner since 2009. He lost one previous statewide race, as the Republican attorney general candidate in 2006. The Detroit Lakes native is married and has two teenage sons; his family stood behind him as he conceded, as he thanked them for putting up with the demands of a statewide race.

As a candidate for governor starting in May 2013, Johnson sought to unite a fractured state GOP reeling from years of serious financial problems and three successive elections with no statewide victories — a streak that survived another election cycle Tuesday.

In August, Johnson narrowly won a low-turnout, four-way GOP primary to emerge as Dayton’s challenger. He promised a comprehensive audit of state government spending, a focus on education policy and a reduction of the state’s corporate tax.

Near the end of the campaign, Johnson finally caught up to Dayton’s fundraising. But it remained a low-spending race in comparison to this year’s U.S. Senate and Eighth Congressional District contests, and to many other governor’s races around the country.

Dayton had much on the line Tuesday. Boasting a political career that started in the 1970s and included six years in the U.S. Senate, Dayton ended on a win. Dayton, 67, said this was his last campaign.

An heir to the family whose downtown Minneapolis department store later spawned the Target Corp., Dayton’s political career has been marked by three statewide victories but has had its share of bumps. He voluntarily left the U.S. Senate in 2006 after a single term that included several instances of unflattering national attention. His 2010 campaign for governor was initially laughed off by political insiders, but he managed to win a contested DFL primary and then narrowly beat Tom Emmer.

Twice divorced, with two adult sons, Dayton had an eventful first term. His battle over taxes and spending with legislative Republicans led to a government shutdown in July 2011, but a year later he teamed with legislators from both parties to approve a nearly $1 billion, public-private financing plan for a new Vikings stadium.

In 2013, after DFLers reclaimed legislative majorities, Dayton and DFL lawmakers hiked income taxes on the wealthy and cigarette smokers. Much of the new revenue went to higher per-pupil payments to school districts, to fund expanded all-day kindergarten and to freeze tuition at public colleges.

Dayton also signed bills legalizing gay marriage and medical marijuana, boosting the minimum wage and creating the MNsure health insurance exchange.

 

Reporters Eric Roper, Elizabeth Sawyer and Kelly Smith contributed to this report.