EAGAN, Minn. — With bins of aircraft parts at his back, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer told the plant founder's life story as if it were his own, talking about sweating over paychecks and vendor bills to get a new manufacturing business off the ground.
Days later, Democrat Mark Dayton toured a 2-year-old Bloomington company that makes solar panels for commercial buildings. Dayton said his plan to set up a revolving fund to retrofit public buildings could help the company thrive.
The competition for the "jobs governor" mantle has reached a fever pitch in the final week of Minnesota's race. Both Dayton and Emmer are hitting small businesses and factories around Minnesota to press their case, and both have closing TV ads that fit the theme.
A third candidate, the Independence Party's Tom Horner, frequently mentions his role in establishing a business, a respected Twin Cities public relations firm.
It's no mystery why the candidates are playing up their recipes for priming the economy. Like the rest of the nation, Minnesota took a beating during the recession, shedding 130,000 jobs. While some have returned, forecasters say the state won't be back where it was until the end of next year.
Independent polls show Dayton leading in the race to replace departing Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, though Emmer appeared to be gaining ground in a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll out earlier this week. Minnesota's last Democratic governor was Rudy Perpich, who left office in 1991.
In an ad that began airing Wednesday, Emmer talks about restricting state spending and holding down taxes. It ends with the tagline, "Tom Emmer. The jobs governor we need."
A Dayton ad describes his past as a state economic development commissioner and leads off with a pledge from the former U.S. senator: "I promise that if I'm governor, I will go anywhere in this state or nation or world if there is a job to be gained for Minnesota."
Emmer, an attorney and state legislator from Delano, has proposed cutting corporate taxes to motivate employers to hire.
Dayton said he would work to bolster tax credits aimed at encouraging investment and jobs in startup companies. And he has proposed passing a $1 billion public works bill soon after taking office to get work to idled laborers.
At the manufacturing plant on Monday, Emmer alluded to the early days of a small-city law firm he started where a paycheck was never a sure thing.
"Some of us understand what it's like to actually do it ourselves, go out there and create things for ourselves and others," Emmer said.
He then jabbed at Dayton, an heir to a department store fortune. "He doesn't understand what it is to start a business because, frankly, the wealth that he has was bestowed upon him by folks that did create a business, his parents," Emmer said.
Dayton passed the Emmer comments off as "typical campaign rhetoric."
"I've always said I was very fortunate ... and I've tried to use my good fortune in ways that benefit Minnesotans," Dayton said in an interview Wednesday.
He added: "The experience I have had leading three state agencies is far more relevant to the role of being the chief executive of the state government of Minnesota than anything my opponents bring from their life experience."
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