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DFL lieutenant governor; 3 running mates, 3 backgrounds

ST. PAUL -- They come from different backgrounds: a bureaucrat, a state senator and a television personality. But they share a goal of playing backup to Minnesota's governor.

Voters likely will hear little about the trio of Democratic-Farmer-Labor lieutenant governor candidates before the Aug. 10 primary election, with many of their appearances away from the lights and cameras of the media. But on Friday night John Gunyou, Yvonne Prettner Solon and Robyne Robinson received their 15 minutes of fame during a debate aired statewide as part of Twin Cities Public Television's "Almanac."

Friday night's television appearance should have been easiest for Minneapolis' Robinson, running with former state Rep. Matt Entenza of St. Paul, because she spent 20 years as a reporter and anchor at Fox 9 in the Twin Cities.

Prettner Solon, who represents Duluth in the state Senate, is running with former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, who is leading in most polls.

Gunyou, the Minnetonka city manager, has obtained a lot of political notice lately as Democrats pull him into Capitol meetings, trying to show GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budgets are inadequate.

A governor candidate picks his running mate, usually to fill gaps in the candidate's background so the ticket attracts wider voter interest.

Prettner Solon became state senator in 2002, replacing her late husband, Sam Solon. She had served on the Duluth City Council a dozen years.

In the Senate, Prettner Solon used her psychology background on health committees. But then Senate leaders surprised many by appointing her chairwoman of the Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communications Committee where she has led efforts to make Minnesota a more energy-efficient state.

Robinson's pick may have helped energize the Entenza campaign after polls showed it in single digits. The Chicago native planned to work full time with her jewelry business, and even after she joined the campaign she said that remains a priority.

Gunyou is a different kind of candidate. He has not served in elective office, but is familiar with the political elite.

As a city and state financial officer, he has been on the inside much of his career. In fact, he served as state finance commissioner longer than anyone else.

Gunyou, an Ohio native, also has worked for private business.

The lieutenant governor, who is paid less than $80,000 annually, sits on several state boards and commissions but often has few duties other than replacing the governor if he leaves office. Traditionally, governor candidates promise that their running mates, whom they pick, will have important roles in state government, but that usually does not happen.

Entenza and Kelliher feature their running mates with their own pages on campaign Web sites, although far less prominently than the governor candidate. Prettner Solon makes due with a large photo on Dayton's first Web page and a news release elsewhere on the site about him picking her as a running mate.

Robinson made the biggest news of any running mate this year. A well-known news anchor, she already had made plans to leave television when Entenza announced her selection via Twitter moments before a Capitol steps news conference with her.

The pre-announcement hype easily outdistanced that of other candidates and drew more stories for the campaign.

It is unclear if that publicity can be credited for an increase in Entenza poll numbers leading up to the primary election.

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