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Dayton decision adds to volatile '06 for state Democrats
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Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, shown speaking to the Democratic National Convention in 2004, was one of the first Democrats to admit considering a run for Dayton's seat. (MPR file photo/Michael Khoo)
Mark Dayton's announcement that he's not running for re-election has touched off a flurry of speculation about both Democrats and Republicans who may run for his seat. Democrats need to find a candidate who they think can win a statewide election while Republicans need to rethink their plans to run for an open seat.

St. Paul, Minn. — As soon as the Dayton announcement hit, speculation was coming from everywhere on who might run. Within minutes, DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson had a list.

"Attorney General Mike Hatch. State Senator Steve Kelley, Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney. St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelley. Matt Entenza, the House DFL Leader. Mike Ciresi, who has run in the past. So let the dance begin and let's see what Minnesotans have to say," Johnson said.

Johnson wouldn't even rule himself out as a candidate. One Democrat who was quick to take himself off the list was Attorney General Mike Hatch, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor next year. He says he thinks the Senate seat, which Republicans thought they could win from Dayton, will stay in the DFL column.

It's pretty early but I would think a Democrat ought to win it. This is one of four states that have proved itself as related to the presidential race. But we'll see," Hatch said.

Among Democrats who say they're interested or won't rule out a run are attorney Mike Ciresi, state Sen. Steve Kelley, former Congressman Bill Luther and former Minnesota Trade Economic Development Commissioner Rebecca Yanisch. Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar says she's interested. She says she knows the state's voters and believes she has the network to help her raise the money needed to win.

"I'm seriously considering looking at the Senate race. I've been traveling around the state the last few years and I know there's some serious concerns about the direction of our state and our country," she said.

Other possible DFL candidates mentioned include Congresswoman Betty McCollum and radio hosts Garrison Keillor and Al Franken

Jeff Blodgett, who was campaign manager for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, says whoever wins the Democratic nomination needs to be prepared to campaign 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"I think it needs to be someone who knows what they believe and is willing to stand up for it, number one. And two, someone who connect culturally with people all over the state," Blodgett said.

Blodgett says money shouldn't be a factor because the race has already been receiving nationwide attention from both parties. He says the money will follow the nominees of both parties.

But Jennifer Duffy, with the Cook Political Report in Washington D.C., says one reason Dayton dropped out was because he couldn't raise money. She says both Republican and Democratic candidates need to be prepared to raise up to $12 million to run an effective campaign. Duffy says she's calling the race a toss up because she expects the field of Democratic and Republican candidates to be wide open.

"There's reason to think that you might see a Republican primary now where before this happened you might have seen a clear field for one of these candidates and that field might grow," Duffy said.

Duffy says possible Republican candidates include 6th District Congressman Mark Kennedy, 1st District Congressman Gil Gutknecht, Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer and former gubernatorial candidate Brian Sullivan.

Gutknecht issued a statement saying Dayton's decision changed the dynamic but not the stakes of the race. He said he would take a little longer to make his decision. Kennedy issued a release that praised Dayton but didn't mention his own possible candidacy.

Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Ron Eibensteiner says Kennedy has the distinct lead for the GOP endorsement. He's not sure if there will be other candidates competing for the endorsement.

"I don't know necessarily, now that it's an open seat, whether that would encourage more Republicans to reconsider. In most cases that's the case but here in Minnesota I think that an exception," he said.

In any event, both parties will need to change the playbooks for the 2006 race. Democrats need to find a candidate who can appeal to voters statewide. Republicans need to change their strategy from attacking Dayton to making the case for their own potential candidate.