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Dayton into transition deeper than Emmer

State Rep. Tom Emmer on Tuesday says he will let the post-election process play out. A recount appears likely in the governor's race between Emmer and Mark Dayton unless Emmer pulls the plug. Pioneer Photo/Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Mark Dayton leads Tom Emmer in the Minnesota governor vote count and also leads in getting ready to serve.

Even though it probably will be more than a month before a winner is known, Dayton is beginning the process of picking top aides with a lead of less than 9,000 votes in the country's only undecided governor's race.

Democrat Dayton and Republican Emmer both are making plans to be governor, although Dayton is further along.

Emmer on Tuesday said he would pick his transition team "in a couple of days." Dayton already put one in place.

Dayton on Tuesday met with incumbent Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, and said he learned about the budget and security matters. Emmer met with Pawlenty on Monday.

"I'm not the governor-elect," Dayton told reporters after leaving Pawlenty's office, but once the recount is done in mid-December, he expects to be the winner.

Dayton said his aides are setting up a system to bring in people interested in specific agencies, such as agriculture and natural resources, so he can begin informally picking Cabinet commissioners and other key staff.

The state Republican Party appears to be preparing to challenge the recount in court.

In a 20-minute news conference Tuesday, Emmer's first public appearance in nearly a week, the Republican repeatedly refused to say whether he planned to challenge any recount in court or even whether he or the Republican Party is calling the shots.

"This is about making sure that the process ... the legal process, as it is, is followed," Emmer said.

During his news conference, he was asked several times whether he or party officials were making recount decisions. "I'm absolutely going to be involved," he said, but added that others also will be.

While Emmer said that "we will abide by that outcome," he said there are so many questions left after last week's election that he and the Republican Party need to closely monitor the contest.

Republicans say absentee ballots, military votes, election machine malfunctions and other questions leave the election in doubt.

Emmer trailed Dayton Tuesday evening 919,231 to 910,480. County canvassing boards are going through returns they already have turned in to the Secretary of State's Office. They are not counting every ballot again, but that may occur after the Nov. 23 State Canvassing Board meeting.

After a recount, the trailing candidate may take the election to court, like U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman did two years ago before eventually losing his re-election bid to Al Franken.

County canvassing boards have reported few changes since Election Day. The state's largest county, Hennepin, reported a half-dozen votes changed.

Typical was Washington County, east of St. Paul, were two precincts had one more ballot than the number of voters.

"Everything checked out fine," said Kevin Corbid, the county's top election official.

In west-central Minnesota's Kandiyohi County, no voting changes were reported.

"Everything measured up exactly," said Kandiyohi County Assistant Auditor Mark Thompson. "We were right on."

Republican leaders on Tuesday announced that former Minnesota Chief Justice Eric Magnuson will be chief litigator for Emmer's recount fight.

Magnuson resigned last year, after serving on the nonpartisan panel that recounted ballots in the 2008 U.S. Senate race.

Washington, D.C. attorney Michael Toner leads the GOP recount team.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer. Scott Wente of the Woodbury Bulletin and Carolyn Lange of the West Central Tribune contributed to this story.