Minnesota Republicans suffered steep losses in 2012 after challenging Democrats over gay marriage. Most voters didn't see it the GOP's way.
This year Republicans are talking economy, not social issues. But the GOP contenders seeking a shot this fall at Gov. Mark Dayton face a similar dilemma — how to convince voters Dayton and the Democrats have bungled the state's economy when most indicators show Minnesota is recovering pretty well.
Dayton's touted the recent job growth in public appearances, a signal he thinks the latest economic news will help him get re-elected.
"Our work isn't done, but my goodness we have 154,000 more jobs in Minnesota than when I took office," Dayton said. "We're doing a lot of things right."
Dayton's Republican challengers argue Minnesotans aren't feeling it.
"There are a lot of people out there working part-time jobs who are struggling," former state Rep. Marty Seifert said. "You can throw around statistics all you want, but as I travel the state and meet with real people there's a lot of struggle out there."
The statistics, though, are compelling. The state's unemployment rate is the lowest it's been in seven years. The Twin Cities has the lowest unemployment rate of any major metropolitan area in the country and in many respects the state's economy is doing better than the nation.
Dayton has benefited from timing, taking office in 2011 when the state and nation started to gain steam after the Great Recession, University of Minnesota economist Tom Stinson said.
Still, Dayton deserves some credit for the "strong" economy, said Stinson, who spent 26 years as Minnesota's chief state economist before retiring last year.
"Governors get blamed for a bad economy when it's not their fault," he said. "We have to give them a little bit of latitude for taking credit for an economy that's doing reasonably well."