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Dayton's personal, political style won't be confused with Pawlenty

MINNEAPOLIS Prepare for an abrupt about-face in both personal and political style as Mark Dayton becomes governor after eight years of Tim Pawlenty's leadership. Pawlenty has often touted his blue-collar background. Dayton grew up in one of the s...

Mark Dayton meets with the media
Mark Dayton faces one of the largest news conferences lately in a Minnesota Capitol room Wednesday, December 8, 2010, as he acceptssd victory in the Minnesota governor race. More than a dozen television cameras were joined by about that many still photographers and a couple of dozen reporters.


Prepare for an abrupt about-face in both personal and political style as Mark Dayton becomes governor after eight years of Tim Pawlenty's leadership.

Pawlenty has often touted his blue-collar background. Dayton grew up in one of the state's wealthiest families.

Pawlenty exudes confidence as he heads into his possible presidential run. Dayton says he is reminded daily of his faults and works to correct them.

Pawlenty is quick with a quip and has trouble getting through a press conference without cracking wise. Dayton is a gentle teaser in private, but seldom jokes in public.


"I'm very serious about what I'm doing," Dayton said as his campaign drew to a close this fall. "We are going to bring out the best in people. That's what this election is about. It is about returning state government ... to the values of the people of Minnesota."

First Lady Mary Pawlenty has been the current governor's chief sounding board and adviser, and they are in the thick of raising two teen-aged children. Dayton, 63, is twice divorced and will be the first spouse-less Minnesota governor since 1915. He has a close, genial relationship with his two adult sons, Eric and Andrew.

Then, there are the obvious political differences. Pawlenty is a staunchly Republican governor whose signature has been cutting spending and vetoing tax increases. Dayton, the liberal Democrat, called taxes "the lubricant for the machinery of democracy" in a campaign speech last fall and said he will "insist" on fair taxes.

How he did it

The campaign trail was not without bumps for this heir to a department store fortune.

Rejecting his party's endorsement process, Dayton beat big-spending Matt Entenza and party-endorsed Margaret Anderson Kelliher in an August primary.

In an anti-tax environment, he promised higher taxes on top income earners and more government. He endured dozens of debates, fended off political enemies who questioned his mental health and drew down his own fortune for the opportunity to forge what he calls "a better Minnesota." Even Election Day proved complicated, with a thin margin propelling the race into a mandatory recount.

He has had some high-powered help. When his own riches weren't enough to fuel the campaign to the finish line, the nation's top politicians -- President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton -- arrived to rev up crowds and bring in needed cash.


He has overcome more personal issues in the campaign. Late last year, he revealed a long struggle with depression and an alcoholic relapse toward the end of his Senate term. Minnesotans appeared to take the revelation in stride.

After a divisive primary, Dayton quickly re-knit fractious Democrats.

"I love Mark Dayton," said Kenneth Woodard of Minneapolis, a former Kelliher supporter who stumped for Dayton after the primary.

Minnesota's new governor is far more comfortable on a personal, one-on-one level than he is in the spotlight.

During a fall campaign stop, as Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak exhorted the crowd to turn out for his former political rival, Dayton formed his characteristic half-grimacing smile and quickly ducked down to chat with a couple of little kids about their ages and their thoughts.

That ability to personally connect worked well for Dayton as he crisscrossed the state for almost two years. Jibril Said, of Minneapolis, worked the Somali community for Dayton during the campaign, urging them to vote for a man he said typified the leadership Minnesota needs.

Dayton, he said, "cares about people."

The road ahead


Dayton inherits a $6.2 billion state deficit that must be addressed in the legislative session that begins in January.

He says he is intent on working to right what he views as a profoundly wrong turn the state has taken. To do that, he will need to quickly forge a working relationship with a Legislature suddenly in the control of the Republicans.

"We face very difficult decisions ahead," he said Wednesday, addressing the people of Minnesota after GOP candidate Tom Emmer conceded. "I want you to know that I will always do my best to make the best possible decisions ... for all of you, for your children and your grandchildren."

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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