MINNEAPOLIS — Third-party candidate for governor Tom Horner said Wednesday that he sees a path to victory in the election’s final week that would come mainly at the expense of Republican Tom Emmer.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Horner predicted the race would come down to him and Democrat Mark Dayton. Polls so far have shown it as a battle between Dayton and Emmer, but Horner’s assessment shows where he believes he could gain the votes to reach a winning margin.
While Horner insists he’ll attract both Democrats and Republicans, he said he thinks Emmer already is falling from a “ceiling” of support in polls. He does not expect the same for Dayton.
“I think we get to the last week and people will increasingly perceive this as an outcome of either a Governor Dayton or a Governor Horner,” Horner said.
With recent polls showing Dayton at 35 to 40 percent and Emmer a few points behind, Horner said his best chance would be to sneak a point or two past Dayton. “I can win with 37 percent of the vote,” he said.
As Republicans won the last two governor’s races, Minnesota Democrats frequently complained of the Independence Party candidates spoiling their chances. Horner, a former Republican who on Wednesday announced his endorsement by 13 former Republican state lawmakers, is shaking up that dynamic.
State GOP chairman Tony Sutton dismissed Horner’s analysis that Emmer would be left in the dust. He said conservative and moderate voters alike would be drawn to Emmer as the only candidate to reject tax or spending increases. He also said Horner would suffer from not being able to match either major party’s ability to mobilize their bases and get voters to the polls.
Emmer, at an afternoon fundraising event with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, denied his support is thin. “There’s a lot of coalescence, a lot of momentum behind our candidacy. In fact the Republican base has never been more unified,” he said.
The two previous Independence Party candidates, Tim Penny and Peter Hutchinson, failed to catch fire by Election Day. Penny, a former Democratic congressman, did the better of the two with 16 percent of the vote.
In addition to Republican state lawmakers, Horner is endorsed by former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger — his former boss — and former Gov. Arne Carlson. Sutton dismissed Horner’s Republican backers as “a generation of Republicans that were not successful, the permanent minority. There’s a special place in hell for these quislings.”
By contrast, Horner’s only Democratic endorsement of any note so far is by Joan Niemiec, a former Minneapolis city council member. He said in the interview that he would announce more prominent Democratic supporters soon.
Still, there are signals Democrats are worried Horner stands to drain votes from Dayton as well. Both parties have upped their attacks against him in recent weeks, with Democrats and their interest groups blasting the former public relations executive for corporate and special-interest ties.
A spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Horner, who has sold his shares in the public relations firm Himle Horner and no longer has active clients, has been criticized for refusing to disclose a full list of who he worked for over the years.
Horner said the past work hasn’t “formed who I am, the outlook I take on policies.”
If he becomes governor, Horner said he would erect a wall between himself and the firm, staying out of decisions when Himle Horner bids for state work. “If there are other standards, I am certainly open to looking at those,” he said when asked if he would attempt to exclude the company from entering into state contracts.
Horner argued he is being held to a different standard than Emmer, an attorney whose past work involves representing insurance companies seeking to limit accident payouts.
As he seeks to present a down-the-middle alternative to Emmer’s promised spending cuts and Dayton’s vow to raise income taxes on the wealthy, Horner said his first two-year budget as governor would total $38 billion — the amount the state is due to spend under the most recent economic forecast and $5 billion more than the upper limit Emmer has set.
The most notable area of Horner’s budget plan is his proposal to impose the state sales tax on more things. He plans to broaden the base to include now-exempt items like clothing and services like haircuts and body piercings while at the same time slicing the overall rate by 1 percentage point. Horner hasn’t offered a full list of services that would be newly taxed, although he said grocery and medical exemptions would remain intact.
“Whether I specify or not, they’re going to go after me on that,” Horner said of his rivals. “My obligation is to put out proposals that are legitimate, that are viable, that are valid and that create the basis for good governance in the next four years.”