ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Candidates for Minnesota's highest offices foraged Thursday for fall votes at the biggest gathering of summer, a state fair that will be chock full of people the political hopefuls will be seeking to win over during the next 12 days.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and his Republican challenger Jeff Johnson as well as Democratic Sen. Al Franken and GOP rival Mike McFadden carved out time on the opening day to shake hands and pose for photos, and all said they would be back repeatedly because a captive audience that size was too important to ignore.
"I'd have to go all over the state for weeks or even months to see as many people as walk right up to me here and have something to say or something to talk about. You can't beat that," Dayton said before greeting a receiving line of constituents at the DFL Party booth either there to give him a pat on the back or a piece of their mind.
One man complained to the governor that a new top income tax bracket was too steep, but most of the rest offered words of encouragement.
Robin Anderson, a hospital worker from St. Louis Park who was recently laid off, said Dayton got her vote in 2010 and would again this year because she trusts his leadership. "He seems like he's doing what he said he was going to do," she said.
Among those approaching Dayton was Mike Hansberry, a research scientist from Edina who told the governor he was a Republican impressed by the job he's done even if they don't see eye to eye on everything.
"He doesn't seem to get rattled," Hansberry said afterward. "Part of it is his style. The other part is I get the sense he is trying to get as many different points of view as possible to make a good decision for the state. That fundamentally is what impresses me."
Still, Hansberry said his vote is up for grabs.
Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner, said the fair provides a perfect opportunity to address one of his biggest weaknesses: He's unknown to many voters.
His home base at the fair is a booth where voters can leave a note about what they'd do if they had the job. The booth is festooned with his name and campaign logo, but purposely devoid of any party identification because Johnson said broadcasting affiliations can cause people to shy away.
As Johnson spoke with reporters, Corcoran pipefitter Matt Faue stopped by to press Johnson on whether he would work with labor unions "instead of being like Scott Walker," referring to Wisconsin's Republican governor who antagonized many union members in his state.
"Trust me, I'm not a diehard liberal but I have to vote to keep my job which keeps me on the Democratic side," Faue told Johnson.
Johnson replied that he grew up in a union household and worked on union-related cases as an employment lawyer. "What we ought to be talking about is how to grow the economy so everyone can get a better job," Johnson said.
Faue said he felt like he got "a political answer. He talked in a big circle."
Even with its 320 acres, the fairgrounds aren't always big enough to give the candidates their own space. Franken and McFadden crossed paths as they shook hands with the early crowd at the main gate. McFadden used the chance meeting to personally challenge the freshman Democrat to six debates before Election Day — "so the people of Minnesota can hear us in a respectful fashion," McFadden said.
Franken said he'll appear at three debates with McFadden over the next three months after one joint appearance already. "Four debates is a good number. It will be enough for people. Remember, at a certain point you have so many debates that people stop paying attention to them," the senator said.
Neither the Senate nor governor's race candidates are scheduled to hold a debate at the Minnesota State Fair.