Minnesota’s current Governor is Republican Tim Pawlenty. After eight years in office, Pawlenty is not running for a third term this year.
While Minnesota has voted Democrat consistently at every Presidential election since 1972, and has leaned Democratic in Senatorial and House elections, the Governor’s office has been dominated by Republicans.
Republicans held gubernatorial office in Minnesota continuously from 1860 to 1899. Two short periods of Democratic rule in the early 20th century did not last, and the Republicans remained dominant. The Republicans lost office in 1930 not to the Democrats, but to the Farmer-Labor Party, which held the Governor’s office for two terms in the 1930s. The Farmer-Labor Party merged with the Democrats in the 1940s.
The DFL won back power at the 1954 election. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party held power for all but ten years until the 1990 election, when power was lost to Republican candidate Arne Carlson. Carlson was re-elected in 1994, and did not run for a third term in 1998.
The 1998 election was contested by Republican Norm Coleman, DFL candidate Hubert Humphrey III, and Jesse Ventura, running for Ross Perot’s Reform Party. Ventura was a former professional wrestler who had served as Mayor of Minnesota’s sixth-biggest city in the early 1990s. In a three-horse race, Ventura defeated Coleman 36-34%.
Ventura served as Governor for one term, with a variety of policy positions from across the political spectrum. Ventura retired at the 2002 election, and that election was won comfortably by Tim Pawlenty, who was re-elected in 2006.
State representative Tom Emmer won the Republican primary largely unopposed after his main rivals withdrew, due to him winning the support of delegates at the state convention.
The Democratic primary was won by former Senator Mark Dayton. Dayton had won a Senate seat in 2000, but retired at the 2006 election, to be succeeded by Amy Klobuchar. In the August 2010 primary, Dayton narrowly defeated Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who had won the support of the DFL state convention in April.
Polling has shown Dayton leading over Emmer in most polls, although recent polls have him only narrowly in front, with both major candidate polling under 40%. Minnesota has a long history of third party candidates performing strongly, and Tom Horner, who is running for Ventura’s Independence Party, has been polling over 10% in recent polls. The Independence Party candidate polled over 15% in the 2008 Senate race, when the Democrat defeated the Republican by only 312 votes out of over 1.8 million.
The race appears to be narrowing. In polls in late July and early August, Dayton led by around 10%. But the last two polls have Dayton leading by only 2% in one poll, and tied with Emmer in the other.