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Tight Polk County voting in governor's race mirrors statewide trend

Dismayed by the prospect of another potentially long and contentious recount in Minnesota politics? It's your fault, Polk County -- and the rest of northwestern Minnesota, where voting mirrored overall state results in the still-undecided contest...

Minnesota Governor's race
(Herald graphic)

Dismayed by the prospect of another potentially long and contentious recount in Minnesota politics?

It's your fault, Polk County -- and the rest of northwestern Minnesota, where voting mirrored overall state results in the still-undecided contest for governor.

In Polk County, where more than a quarter of the nine-county region's ballots were cast Tuesday, the tally was especially tight. Democrat Mark Dayton edged Republican Tom Emmer by 4,797 votes to 4,763, or 44.69 percent to 44.37 percent. Independent gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner claimed 1,025 votes, or 9.55 percent.

Unofficial statewide results show Dayton leading Emmer 43.64 percent to 43.20 percent, with Horner trailing at 11.94 percent.

In nine counties of northwestern Minnesota, Dayton led with 164,840 (45.3 percent) to 163,830 (45.1 percent).

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"We're in new territory here," said state Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, who survived the Republican takeover of both houses of the Legislature.

"I really don't look forward to a long recount or court challenge" in the governor's race, he said. "Everyone will have to hire attorneys, and it could be just as drawn out" as the 2008 U.S. Senate contest between Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken, the eventual winner.

If a long recount or litigation ties up the election result, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty would remain in office until it's decided. That would give the party "a free hand" in the interim, Stumpf said.

"They've got (control of) all three bodies, and there isn't anything we can do," he said.

"The governor will stay in office and, I suppose, submit a budget, working with Emmer's numbers in case Emmer wins. They'll have coffee every morning to work it out."

'A bad taste'

Mike Phillips, co-chairman of the Republican Party in Pennington County, said he hopes the governor's race can be resolved quickly -- in Emmer's favor.

"I would have liked to have seen (a decision), if for no other reason than to get away from a recount," he said. "That last recount hurt everybody...and left a bad taste in people's mouths.

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"A lot of people felt there were some difficult issues in the Coleman-Franken recount that were not adequately addressed. When people hear about 'found ballots' and things like that, they get nervous."

In the Dayton-Emmer race, "there already are some questions about voting machines in the metro area," Phillips said. "I don't see how you can avoid a sense of 'Here we go again.' "

In northwestern Minnesota, Dayton won five counties (Polk, Mahnomen, Red Lake, Kittson and Marshall) to four for Emmer (Roseau, Clearwater, Pennington and Lake of the Woods).

The Democrat's margin of victory was greatest in Mahnomen County, 54 percent to 34 percent, while Emmer did best in Roseau County, winning 49.5 percent of the vote to 39.65 percent for Dayton.

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to chaga@gfherald.com .

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