Dayton wins U.S. Senate election

by Megan Boldt

Pete Johnson and
Jessica Thompson
After a long campaign and millions of dollars, DFL candidate Mark Dayton garnered 49.73 percent of the state’s votes to win the Minnesota U.S. Senate race.
Dayton beat incumbent Sen. Rod Grams and Independent Party candidate James Gibson. Grams came in second with 41.63 percent, with Gibson at 6.54 percent.
Dayton campaigned heavily for the 60-and-up vote, focusing on Social Security and Medicare issues. The strategy paid off on Tuesday.
“Even if you didn’t vote for me, I’m in office to work for you,” Dayton said.
Although the Senate race has been close, Dayton led polls from the campaign’s start by a fairly significant margin.
Dayton’s support did, however, drop 3 percent in the latest Star Tribune poll, but he still lead Grams by 9 percent.
Grams remained optimistic and said the polls could not be relied upon, despite results of the final 1994 poll that exactly reflected his margin of victory.
Dayton consistently held the lead in support from women, the elderly, and in the Twin Cities, where he held a 28-point lead in the most recent poll.
Throughout his campaign, Dayton advocated health care reform, early childhood education, tax cuts for the middle class, affordable housing, airport noise reduction, Medicare prescription drug benefits, and aid to family farms.
Dayton received harsh criticism in early October by both Republicans and Democrats for owning corporate stock in pharmaceutical companies. Soon after, he sold his stock to avoid any potential conflicts.
He said he was the only major U.S. Senate candidate who supports immediate health care coverage for all Americans.
He also supports tax deductions for college tuition expenses and increased federal funds toward education.
Several voter polls indicated that the millions of dollars spent by the candidates on attack ads has created a negative impact. Two-thirds of the respondents to the final poll said they believed the campaign was “more of an attack campaign,” and only 18 percent described it as “informative.”
Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton applauded the choice of Minnesota voters.
“Dayton is in a position to put Minnesota in a significant leadership position,” she said. “He will bring issues such as housing and health care into the forefront and will work to do something about them.”
Dayton began his career teaching ninth grade science in a New York City public school in 1969. He then became a counselor for a Boston social service agency from 1971 to 1975. During this time, he was active in the anti-Vietnam war movement and was the only Minnesotan named to President Nixon’s “Enemies List.”
Dayton’s political career began in the late 1970s, when he worked as a legislative assistant to Sen. Walter Mondale in 1975 and on the staff of Gov. Rudy Perpich two years later.
He ran for U.S. Senate for the first time in 1982, where he won the primary but lost the general election to incumbent Sen. David Durenburger.
Since that defeat, Dayton has served the state by working on the energy commission for three years and as State Auditor for four.
In 1998, Dayton ran for Governor but lost to Skip Humphrey in the DFL primary.
Grams ends his only term in January.
Grams served as a U.S. House representative from 1993 to 1994. During his tenure as a U.S. Senator, Grams has served on numerous committees, including banking, housing, energy, foreign relations, economics and budget.
The former television news anchor has touted legislative initiatives such as the $500-per-child tax credit and restrictions on spending Social Security surplus during his tenure as U.S. senator.
Like Dayton, Grams also faced criticism. The legal problems of his 22-year-old son Morgan made headlines throughout the campaign. In July 1999, Anoka County Sheriff’s deputies stopped Morgan while driving a vehicle with marijuana in it.
As polling results streamed in, Grams supporter Tony Skrinska tried to be positive even though the numbers indicated his candidate was losing.
“It’s an uphill battle from here, but I’m still optimistic,” he said.
University senior Scott Swenson, 21, said he voted for Grams because, like his candidate, he is fiscally conservative and wants a smaller government.
“It’s a democracy,” he said. “We can’t always win.”
University economics sophomore and co-chair of the Minnesota College Democrats Matt Falkner disagreed with Grams supporters.
“Rod Grams’ time is up,” he said. “He’s shown the people of Minnesota he really doesn’t care about their interests.”
Independence Party candidate James Gibson finished third, capturing 6.54 percent of the vote.
Gibson, who was endorsed by Gov. Jesse Ventura, was a major third-party candidate and the highest profile candidate of the Minnesota Independence Party.
“Everybody out there knew what we were up against,” he said. “We could have easily fallen below (5 percent) given the amount of resources spent on Grams’ and Dayton’s campaigns.”
Gibson’s showing is a setback for the Independence Party, who hoped the 2000 election would act as a springboard for building a statewide party.
Gibson campaign manager Neal Levine said the goal was not to win, but to keep major party status.
“We’re going to get our lives back together, catch up on things, re-evaluate and go forward,” Gibson said. “If I were to run again I would start at a higher plane, which would be a whole lot easier.”