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Brian Bakst, Associated Press Writer, Published July 20 2010

Three Democrats in Minnesota governor hunt mix it up in radio debate

ST. PAUL (AP) — Three Democrats angling for the party's gubernatorial nomination traded shots Tuesday over who has the best vision, know-how and resolve to pull Minnesota out of an economic funk.

With the primary election only three weeks out, the Minnesota Public Radio debate was a fleeting chance for Mark Dayton, Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Matt Entenza to display differences to a mass audience.

For much of the hour, Dayton was a frequent target.

As they did in a televised debate a few weeks ago, Kelliher and Entenza vigorously challenged the wisdom and practicality of former U.S. senator's signature proposal. Dayton is pushing to raise income taxes starting with individuals earning more than $130,000 a year. The other two candidates want to raise top-end taxes, too, but they would have them kick in on salaries above $250,000.

Dayton attracted new criticism when he defended his formula as one Minnesota relied on in its heyday.

"Our future is the same as the past," Dayton said. "It's building a foundation of a good state economy through investing in quality education."

Kelliher, the state House speaker, said looking backward isn't the way to go.

"We can't think we can go back to the 1980s. The game has changed," Kelliher said, adding, "We need to be more competitive. We need to be more aggressive."

Entenza, a former House minority leader, seized on the Dayton comment as well.

"What we have to have is a strategy for the future," he said before launching into a description of his centerpiece proposal to spur investment and create jobs in clean-energy industries.

Minnesota's next governor is expected to face a budget shortfall topping $6 billion. In recent weeks, Dayton has accused his Democratic rivals of withholding details about how they'll address it.

Kelliher came to Tuesday's debate with a fuller proposal than she's had previously. She said she would rely on increases in taxes and other state revenue for 40 percent of her fix, deferring planned payments for another 30 percent and making cuts and tapping into unused federal aid for the rest.

Kelliher worked to sell herself as the Democrat with the most experience in dealing with a broken budget.

"I have been in the arena for the last four years," Kelliher said. "My two opponents, they have not been in the arena. They have not been there."

Dayton left office in 2007 after a single Senate term. Entenza gave up his legislative seat the same year during an abbreviated run for attorney general.

But Dayton sought to turn Kelliher's time in her top position as a liability, noting that Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has gotten most of what he wanted recently even though he faced a Democratic-controlled Legislature.

When the tone between Kelliher and Dayton got heated, Entenza tried to play peacemaker.

"Wrangling back and forth doesn't help us," he said, adding, "It would behoove all of us to stay focused. What are the positive things we can do together."

The Aug. 10 winner is likely to face Republican Rep. Tom Emmer, the heavy favorite in his party's primary. The Independence Party has a spirited contest involving Tom Horner and Rob Hahn.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.