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First governor debate: Candidates on the attack

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ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's major governor candidates wasted no time launching attacks on each other Friday night in the first debate of the general election campaign.

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In an explosive debate, Republican Tom Emmer blasted Democrat Mark Dayton for being involved in government much of his career.

'"I have actually been living outside government while you are living inside," Emmer told Dayton.

Dayton strongly complained that Emmer has not said how he would balance a $6 billion state budget deficit.

"Where is the $6 billion in cuts going to come from?" Dayton demanded.

Horner responded with what appears to be a standard line he will deliver in the remaining 81 days of the campaign.

"The bickering has got to stop; how are you folks going to work together?" he said, adding that he provides a middle ground. "Minnesotans deserve a better discussion than this, come on."

But Horner also was involved in the fighting.

"May I finish?" Dayton asked at one point when Horner talked over the top of him.

"No, you may not," Horner shot back.

During the hour-long Twin Cities Public Television "Almanac" debate broadcast statewide, hosted by Eric Eskola and Cathy Wurzer, each frequently talked over another candidate's answer.

The debate provided proof that the candidates have irreconcilable differences and set the stage for a raucous general election campaign.

The key difference was what has been discussed for months: Dayton would raise taxes on the rich and Emmer would balance much of the state deficit by cutting programs and improving the business climate. Horner would raise some taxes and use unspecified reforms to help balance the budget.

"It is not so much a matter of whose taxes are going to go up, but how we are going to reduce taxes on job providers," Horner said.

The Independence Party candidate would lower the state sales tax, but apply it to more items, such as clothing and haircuts.

Dayton kept hammering Emmer for not spelling out specifically how he would balance the budget; specifically, he asked what cuts Emmer would make.

"You are basically saying that there is $6 billion of waste ... and nobody is going to notice the difference," Dayton said.

Dayton, who won the Democratic-Farmer-Labor primary election Tuesday, said his DFL opponents were wrong when they said that his plan would raise taxes too much. He said well-off Minnesotans do not pay as high a percentage of income in taxes as others.

An uncle in the rich Dayton clan once told him that "we should want to pay more taxes," and Dayton agreed.

Emmer fired back that "your only answer is raising taxes. ... That is the middle class you are going after."

However, the GOP candidate said, there are plenty of places to cut government. He was not specific.

Also, Emmer said, government has to drive job creation. He has said that less regulation and lower taxes would help.

"Government has got to get out of the way," he said.

Emmer told about a Clay County farm couple who wanted to expand their business, but "they expanded in North Dakota ... and today that business has a payroll of $1.4 million."

Emmer, 49, has been a state legislator serving the Delano area since 2005. He is a lawyer and served on two city councils.

Dayton, 63, entered Minnesota politics 35 years ago. He has been a U.S. senator, state auditor and state economic development commissioner. He lives in Minneapolis.

Horner, 60, was a Republican public relations executive until he opted to become the Independence Party governor candidate. He is a Minneapolis native who lives in Edina.

Emmer and Horner faced easy primary election contests, but Dayton won a narrow victory over House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher.

Voters will pick among the three, and four minor party candidates, in the Nov. 2 general election.

Minnesota's governor is paid $120,303 annually, but to get that paycheck the combined campaigns will spend millions of dollars.

Dayton already has dumped about $3 million of his own money into the campaign, but he said this week that he must work to raise funds. He often has said that he does not like that part of being a candidate.

Emmer has given few specifics about his plans for the state so far, saying he needs to meet with Minnesotans before firming up proposals. He stumbled early last month when it took 10 days to clear up a controversy about whether tips should be taxed as wages.

Just before the primary election his rookie campaign manager was replaced by Cullen Sheehan, who managed Norm Coleman's Senate campaign two years ago.

Emmer is on the right wing of the Republican Party.

Dayton, meanwhile, is on the political left. He wants to raise income taxes on couples earning at least $150,000 a year and raise property taxes on richer Minnesotans.

On Friday, several DFL-leaning unions that had supported other candidates endorsed Dayton. Earlier in the week, DFL leaders who supported Kelliher and Matt Entenza pledged in the primary to work for Dayton.

Horner is trying to tell voters that he is in the middle politically.

That is the same campaign theme used by other Independence candidates, but only Jesse Ventura (in what then was the Reform Party) has succeeded in the party.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.

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