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Candidate notebook: Horner doubts Emmer, Dayton attraction

HERMANTOWN, Minn. -- Tom Horner has his election victory formula figured out: Many people have not made up their minds about the three major governor candidates and the support of his two main opponents, Republican Tom Emmer and Democrat Mark Dayton, is so soft that voters will move to him late in the campaign.

That only can happen, he added, because Emmer and Dayton are far to the political right and left.

In most Minnesota governor races, candidates tend to take politically moderate stands, but Horner said that is not the case this year, opening the door for the moderate ground he stakes out. If all three major candidates look like moderates, he added, voters may find no reason to vote for an Independence Party candidate.

Horner sees Emmer, in particular, falling late in the campaign. "Rep. Emmer simply is not a candidate who is going to take a lot of independent and Democratic support."

His theory is that once Emmer support dwindles, Democrats soft on Dayton will realize they no longer need to worry about the GOP candidate and will consider Horner as a legitimate alternative.

"I'm pretty well positioned," he said, "and the environment is shaping up pretty well."

In a way, Horner added, this year's governor race is like the 2000 U.S. Senate race in which Dayton beat incumbent Rod Grams, thanks to a late coalescing of support behind Dayton.

No support?

Horner disputes political observers' opinions that he will struggle to pass bills with no Independence Party support in the Legislature.

"I think that is the only way we will get things done," Horner said.

Democrats and Republicans are so divided that they cannot work together, he said.

To make up for lack of party support, Horner said that he will go over the heads of lawmakers and talk to the public. Once he has the public on his side, Horner said, legislators will follow.

Family helps

Kevin Horner, 24, works full time on his father's campaign.

Often, he staffs the candidate's trips.

His daughter worked for the campaign in the summer, before returning to college. And his oldest son also has lent a hand.

Horner's wife, Libby, is campaign chairwomen.

Debates, debates

With more than 30 debates possible before the Nov. 2 election, it is a good thing that Horner "enjoys the give and take."

Dayton and Emmer have been very critical of Horner since early on in the campaign, proving they fear his vote-attracting ability. "They don't know quite how to place me."

"More times than not, I think I am the one who sets the tone," he said.

Lots of choices

Not being a member of one of the two big parties, Horner said, he has more options when it comes time to pick a Cabinet and other advisors.

"I get to pick from 5 million people," he said.

The last governor not a Republican or Democrat, Jesse Ventura, was praised widely for picking the best Cabinet in memory.

Still a reporter?

Horner recently sat in on a briefing led by Wayne Brandt, who represents the state's forest and timber industries.

It sounded a lot like a reporter interviewing a news source as Horner scribbled notes.

Not surprising. He was a reporter, then an editor, for a half-dozen years after college.

Such briefings help, Horner said. "It makes me more attuned to the issues."

Politics different

Horner has watched politics for years and has an opinion about what has changed:

"It has become much more adversarial, much more focused on finding that 'gotcha' moment."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.