Minnesota campaigns shouldn't cost millions of dollars, says Tom Emmer, the Republican-endorsed candidate for governor.
Emmer, who's spent about $500,000 so far on his campaign, saw three DFL candidates spend 16 times more -- more than $8 million since Jan. 1, in campaign finance reports publicly released Tuesday.
"And most of it's directed at us," Emmer said Tuesday in an interview. "Talk about David and Goliath."
With three Democrats fighting for the DFL nomination, former House DFL Minority Leader Matt Entenza pumped $4 million of his own money into the campaign while former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton wrote a check for $2.8 million. House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher reported spending $675,000 since Jan. 1.
Democrats often claim that Republicans represent big moneyed interests, but Emmer said, "We are the little guy. We represent the little guy and we are the little guy."
Emmer, an attorney and state representative from Delano and his wife have seven children. "Our family represents probably 80 percent of this state. And the other people running for this office? They're good people ... but when it comes to being able to relate where the average family is in this state, they really don't have that direct connection. They don't understand."
Economic times are tough, and Emmer said the Minnesota people might not take to large campaign sums spent on advertising.
"They believe we can keep doing things the way we've been doing them, because they don't see the pain," Emmer said. "They don't see the worry that families in this state are experiencing. And that's whether or not they have a job, because all the ones that do have a job are really concerned whether that job will continue to be there."
It's not a statement to make when turning over the keys from one generation to the next, he said.
"One spent $4 million of his own money and the other one has spent almost $3 million of his own money just since January," Emmer said. "I was blown away ..."
Most of Dayton, Entenza and Kelliher's spending has been on television ads. The three face off in the Aug. 10 primary, with Kelliher carrying the DFL endorsement.
"We have been introducing ourselves one hand at a time all across this state," said Emmer, who reported about $355,000 cash on hand. "We don't have that kind of money to go up on the air on a daily basis, to keep publishing things which I would say, respectfully to the others, some of it is just patently false."
One ad which Emmer calls offensive claims that he voted against additional education funding and would not be an education supporter as governor.
"I never have," he said of ad claims that he cut education spending. "That's the one area where I actually voted to hold it harmless and put more money there within the last six years."
It's the political season and huge dollars are being spent, Emmer sid.
"Beltrami County is not exactly one of the wealthiest counties -- in fact it's one of the poorest," Emmer said. "To an average family who lives in Beltrami County, when you think about how hard it is right now to scrape out a living, to put food on the table and clothes on your kids, and you see people spending millions of dollars for 100,000 votes?"
Predictions call for 100,000 to 200,000 people to vote in the Aug. 10 DFL primary, the first time the primary has been held in the summer and before the State Fair, the traditional politicking place before the usual September primary.
Emmer also believes the tiff he had a week ago over a tip credit for wait staff was misinterpreted and won't harm his campaign.
"I think we've had a positive response from it -- people realize I'm not going to be a career politician. I'm not going to go out and choose every word the way career politicians do because, God forbid, we might disagree with somebody out there. I think it's time people want to hear somebody who tells you."
Emmer said he will always be honest and direct.
"What I'm interested in is making sure everybody succeeds," he said, "finding a way that people can realize their greatest potential by taking away the obstacles that I believe government has created."
Emmer said he never proposed a tip credit, but said he would as governor sign a bill crossing his desk with the credit. The tip credit recognizes wait staff's tips as part of their wages and applied toward the minimum wage, which the employer can set as low as $2.13 an hour.
"I never proposed a tip credit, I never proposed to cut the minimum wage," Emmer said. :I did just the opposite. ... You can't do that, especially in this economy. It's got to be a win-win for everybody."
Emmer said he learned "that you have to be careful how you answer these things. I said servers need to make as much money as possible, restaurants need to stay open."
Minnesota lost 300 restaurants in the last year, he said.
"Somebody grabbed and put a headline in the paper," he said. "Arguably, tip credit could be viewed that way but that's not what we said."
One good thing out of the deal, Emmer said: "The name ID thing sure did get taken care of in short order, didn't it?"