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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published December 05 2010

Minnesota Political Notebook: GOP chairman changes from emotional to legal

St. Paul – Minnesota’s Republican chairman called reporters to his office a block north of the state Capitol the day after the election to outline what he saw as irregularities in voting that he said could affect the governor’s race.

“The race for governor is not over,” Sutton declared in an emotional, rising voice. “We are concerned there are so many discrepancies.”

He wanted all the publicity he could get, complaining about Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and how the Nov. 2 election was run.

Fast-forward to the past few days and find a different Tony Sutton. He still says there were voting problems, but he is not inviting media into GOP headquarters. He talks on the telephone with reporters, but is much more reserved.

His job now, it appears, is coordinating a team gathering evidence for a possible election court case in the Democrat Mark Dayton-Republican Tom Emmer governor battle.

Sutton said his job is to make sure “Republicans have confidence in the election, win or lose.” In an interview, the Hibbing native made it clear that going to court may be how to accomplish that goal.

“We are in the process of putting together a potential case in case we decide to go that route,” he said.

The governor recount is due to end Dec. 14 with the State Canvassing Board declaring a winner. The loser has two weeks to file a court case, which happened in the 2008 U.S. Senate recount.

Sutton changed his media strategy when his focus turned to a court case.

Most telling of the differences between the two sides is how they deal with pictures. Dayton’s folks welcomed video and still photographers into their recount center, where on the recount’s first day 100 people worked.

Sutton promised to let a photographer in the GOP post, but rescinded the offer.

“Why let the opposition into the huddle?” party spokesman Mark Drake asked. “Why hand over your playbook?”

Work or not?

More than 3,000 Minnesotans volunteered to help the two governor candidates during the statewide recount, with Dayton getting far more people than Tom Emmer.

Sutton, whose party is running the Emmer recount effort, said there was a reason his candidate was outmanned.

“Our people work for a living,” Sutton said. “Our people have to take off work to do these things.”

But when Dayton recount director Ken Martin was asked, he said the same is true for Dayton volunteers, with most taking vacation days from work. In talking to volunteers, Dayton himself mentioned a teacher who took all three of her personal days off to aid in the recount.

Sutton said the Dayton camp can afford more help. “Those guys have a ton of money.”

Martin countered with: Although Dayton raised more than $1 million for the recount, it is becoming tough to find more. “People are tapped out.”

On the recount’s first day alone, Martin said, more than 2,000 Dayton volunteers were in place. Emmer had about 600, Sutton said.

Dayton credits ex

Politico, the Washington political news source, was there when Dayton credited his former wife for helping him in the Minnesota governor’s race.

“Dayton, who is clinging to a 9,000 vote lead over Republican Tom Emmer in the still unresolved Minnesota governor’s race, said if it had not been for the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, he would have likely come up short,” Politico reported. “Fueled by labor unions and Dayton’s ex-wife, Alida Messinger, the alliance raised several million dollars to air television ads against Emmer. According to Factcheck.org, Messinger poured $500,000 of her own money into the effort.”

Rural leaders named

With both of the top House Republican leadership roles filled by Twin Cities representatives, some rural lawmakers now are in leadership positions.

The newest assistant majority leader was elected by his fellow freshmen. He is Rep.-elect Kurt Daudt of Crown, who lives on a farm once owned by his grandfather just north of the Twin Cities.

The majority whip will be Rep. Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake. A whip is key to make sure Republicans are on the same page on critical votes.

Other assistant majority leaders include Reps. Bob Gunther of Fairmont and Paul Torkelson of southwestern Minnesota’s Nelson Township.

Hamilton, who raises hogs, was an interesting pick as a leader after he famously voted to override a Gov. Tim Pawlenty veto of a transportation funding bill, against the wishes of Republican leaders.

Republicans take control of the House next month after four years being out of power.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.