ST. PAUL —
So what's the signature issue of Dayton's second-term bid? Dayton didn't have a quick answer, giving a long reply about the need to keep investing in Minnesota schools, colleges and infrastructure.
"I want to see all those things enacted, and to get us out of this financial hole we've been in since I arrived," Dayton said. "We're getting there, but we're not out of it yet. When we are, as I say, the real joy will be to take on the initiatives that really move this state forward."
Poll after poll has shown majority support for Dayton's income tax hike. But Republicans thinking about the governor's race see an opening not so much in the specific tax hikes Dayton has advocated, but rather in what goes hand-in-hand with tax increases: more government spending.
"Where he gets it from is largely irrelevant. The point is he's trying to make government bigger," said state Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, a fiscal and social conservative, attorney and former talk radio host who's considering a bid for governor. "The answer to every problem is that we need to spend more on it."
So far, no Republicans have announced plans to run. Besides Thompson, familiar GOP names are considering the race or rumored to be. Jeff Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner and Republican National Committee member, said he's close to a decision. Other possible contenders include Senate Minority Leader David Hann, former House Speaker Kurt Zellers, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, state Sen. Julie Rosen, Wayzata investment banker Scott Honour and Minneapolis attorney Ron Schutz.
Dayton has the advantage of a state Republican Party that's on a serious statewide losing streak, and still trying to climb back from several years of financial and organizational disarray. In the absence of a strong central party, Republican campaign veterans Ben Golnik and Tom Erickson recently launched the Minnesota Jobs Coalition. The group has unleashed a steady stream of criticism of Dayton's tax and spending plans and his leadership style.