Dayton was elected to the Senate in 2000, defeating incumbent Republican Sen. Rod Grams by 49%-43%. Over the course of his term, however, he became widely perceived as unpopular and ineffective. In February 2005 he announced his retirement. In an unusual move for politicians who retire as a result of bad poll numbers, Dayton actually admitted it: "Everything I've worked for and everything I believe in depends upon this Senate seat remaining in the Democratic caucus in 2007. I do not believe that I am the best candidate to lead the DFL Party to victory next year."
Since then, however, Dayton has worked to repair his image. One unusual step he took was to discuss his struggles with depression and alcoholism with the media.
Emmer, meanwhile, has struggled with various stories. Last month, he called for changes to the state's minimum wage laws for waiters, complaining that they were allegedly making over $100,000 in tips and hurting their employers. This was then followed by some comical attempts at damage control that probably did more damage than control, such as Emmer waiting tables and holding a disastrous town hall with servers that ended with a bag of pennies being thrown open on his table by a heckler. He has also faced attacks for his DWI history, and the CEO of the Target Corporation has now apologized for supporting a pro-Emmer business group, due to an outcry from liberal consumers over Emmer's religious-right positions.
Going into the general election, the TPM Poll Average shows Dayton leading Emmer and Independence Party nominee Tom Horner, by a margin of 42.9%-32.4%-10.2%, thanks in part to Emmer's much-reported gaffes and right-wing positions. Minnesota has not elected a Democratic governor since 1986, despite the state's usual Dem leanings, but this year could potentially be different.
So this race ought to be fun. Minnesota is a wonderful state, full of polite and friendly people -- and really crazy politics.