Corporate Players in the Minnesota Governor's Race

In Minnesota, a legitimate three-way race for governor seemed fated. For one, Minnesota has a history of electing Jesse Ventura, an outsider who was not affiliated with either political party, to the governor's mansion. Secondly, voters nationwide are fed up with politicians and with both political parties. And after current Governor Tim Pawlenty announced he would not be seeking an additional term, presumably because he has his eyes on the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, early polling seemed to indicate a three-way race.
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Mark Dayton, a scion who's running with Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (affiliated with the national Democratic Party) and who had, by most accounts, a rather uninspiring and lackluster career in the United States Senate, has pulled ahead of Tom Emmer, the Republican candidate. Independence Party candidate Tom Horner, meanwhile, has seen a slight surge of support after weeks of stagnation behind his two opponents.

Dayton has spent more money, much from his personal wealth, than both of his opponents, and that has allowed him to maintain the momentum his campaign has built in recent weeks. Last week, Barack Obama campaigned on his behalf at the University of Minnesota.

Homer was hoping that by this time polls would show him within striking distance of Dayton and Emmer, but by most public accounts, he seems to be underperforming--at least compared to the benchmark the Horner campaign set a month ago.

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Emmer, meanwhile, has tried to conceal his history of staunchly socially conservative views to focus on fiscal issues. While he has attempted to focus on Minnesota's high tax rates, he has, in the past, been outspoken against gay marriage and has opposed the extension of health benefits to partners of same-sex couples. National GOP candidates such as Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty have campaigned on Emmer's behalf.

These issues came to the fore after the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United that corporations could contribute unlimited amounts of money to political groups. Target made a contribution to a pro-business group called MN Forward, which then ran advertisements on Emmer's behalf. Outraged liberal groups boycotted Target and demanded that the company balance its contributions to MN Forward by donating to groups that support Dayton. In response, Target said it would review its activities more carefully in the future.

Democrats are trying to find legislative ways to limit corporate contributions in the future. In the meantime, Minnesota may provide Democratic activists with a case study on how to discourage corporations from contributing to various causes, as well as give other corporations a bit more pause before they decide to write checks for huge sums to money to causes their customers may not necessarily support.