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Minnesota Gov. Dayton Chases 2nd Term In Final Run

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Democrat Mark Dayton waited to learn Tuesday if Minnesota voters would rehire him as governor, the first time the veteran politician has asked to keep an elected position.

His Republican opponent, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, looked to vault past the incumbent after playing catch-up the entire campaign. Johnson made political longevity an issue in the race, saying of Dayton in a late television ad that "after 37 years in politics, he's just not up to the job anymore."

Polling stations throughout the state opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday, including one at St. Jerome's Catholic Church in Maplewood, which was getting a steady stream of voters.

Among them was Kathleen Leahy, 59, who said she voted for Johnson and other Republicans because she wants a change. She was also unhappy with the problematic rollout of the state's health insurance exchange, MNsure, and with Dayton's performance.

"I don't think that Dayton is really up on everything," Leahy said. "Whenever he talks, he struggles with his words. I don't have any confidence in him. I think he seems lost."

Toya Logan, 44, of Brooklyn Park, said she supported Dayton because she feels the state is on the right track, especially where jobs are concerned.

"I think Minnesota is moving in a positive direction. I do pay attention to jobs ... even when I'm driving around I see so many help-wanted signs," Logan said, later adding: "Minnesota is a state to want to be in."

This campaign was markedly different from Dayton's bid four years ago, which was so close it spilled into a recount. Dayton and Johnson spent far less, as did outside groups. Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet was far less visible than previous third-party hopefuls and polled in the single digits.

Dayton, 67, is in his final campaign of a four-decade career that included stints as state auditor and U.S. senator — walking away from each after one term.

His time as governor started rough, with a big budget deficit and a standoff with majority Republicans that led to a nearly three-week government shutdown his first year. But when Democrats took over the House and Senate in 2012, they pushed through Dayton's tax-the-rich plan to help fund all-day kindergarten statewide, freeze public college tuition and beef up economic development programs. With full control of government, Democrats legalized gay marriage, authorized two union drives and raised the minimum wage — key accomplishments for the party base.

Meanwhile, Johnson, 48, had a tough path to his party's nomination. He spent almost a year chasing the endorsement of GOP delegates at the state convention, and still had to defeat better-known and better-funded Republicans in the August primary.

The road was no easier against Dayton, whose long career in politics gives him name recognition among voters. Polls taken even late in the race found many respondents didn't know who Johnson was.

Johnson conceded he was challenging a "decent guy" in Dayton, even while portraying him as incompetent on several fronts. Johnson said voters should boot the governor over his handling of a $1 billion Vikings stadium deal that put taxpayers on the hook for about half the cost and the faulty MNSure rollout. Johnson said he would rein in state spending and cut taxes, but seldom spelled out where he would extract budget savings.

It is Johnson's second bid for statewide office, having lost in a 2006 run for attorney general. He previously served three terms in the Minnesota House.

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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