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Dayton Joins Senate Race
by Mike Mulcahy
April 3, 2000
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Another DFLer has entered the race against incumbent Republican Senator Rod Grams. Department store heir and former state auditor Mark Dayton surprised officials from his own party by saying he intends to run. Dayton says he'll use his own money to bypass the party endorsement and run in the primary this September.

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MARK DAYTON HAS KEPT a relatively low political profile since coming in fourth in the DFL gubernatorial primary in 1998. But no more. Dayton says he's formed an exploratory campaign committee and definitely will run for U.S. Senate this year. "I believe of all the candidates that I can best serve the people of Minnesota in the Senate, " he said. "I have far more statewide experience than any of the others. I've devoted all my adult life -30 years - to public service. And the last 25 of those years to the people of Minnesota."

Dayton headed state agencies for Governor Rudy Perpich and first ran for statewide office in 1982. He ran for U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican David Durenberger and lost, despite spending $6 million of his own fortune. In 1990 he ran for state auditor and won but served only one term.

When asked about the timing of a run for Senate now, he responds with a glimpse into his personal life. "I've been trying to save my marriage and was unsuccessful," he revealed. "If I had been successful, I'd be living in Goodhue County instead of Minneapolis and certainly not trying to campaign for an office that would take me to Washington. But when in the latter part of January my wife - my ex-wife and my decision became definite, then that opened up the possibility that I might do something like this."

Dayton says his two sons are also old enough now for him to move to Washington.

Dayton says he doesn't think Rod Grams has done a good job for Minnesotans. He says a Minnesota senator should be on the agriculture committee, and that Grams has spent too much time looking out for the interests of the wealthy. Dayton declined to criticize the other DFLers in the race, but his actions may speak louder than words. And he says he'll use his own money to finance his primary campaign. "I'm well behind the others in terms of money raised and money spent so I expect I won't be either the wealthiest candidate in this race nor the highest spender, but I'll spend enough to be competitive in the primary and then I would expect if I win the primary to raise most if not all the money from other sources," he said.

Of the serious DFL candidates in the race attorney, Michael Ciresi and businesswoman Rebecca Yanisch have indicted they will not abide by the DFL endorsement and run in the primary. Dayton's decision to run has Republicans chortling. "With Mike Ciresi and Mark Dayton in the race on the DFL side, I guess it's becoming the party of the fatcats," said GOP Party Chair Ron Eibensteiner, who doesn't think the public will respond well to Dayton spending his own money to win a U.S. Senate seat. He says he expects Dayton's campaign to further split the DFL vote and help Grams.

DFLers naturally disagree. "Rod Grams is very weak so we've got someone else jumping in here April first thinking they've got a chance to take on the Senator as well," says DFL Party Chair Mike Erlandson. He says if Dayton does run in a primary, it will help the endorsed DFL candidate to win.

Of the other DFL candidates, Steve Miles seemed to have the sharpest reaction to Dayton's candidacy. He says a bank account isn't the same thing as a political base, and that Dayton seems to be running because he has nothing else to do.