As is the case with most states, Minnesota elects its governor for a four year term, on the election day that is halfway between presidential elections.
There is no incumbent in the race this year, not because of term limits, which Minnesota doesn't have, but because the Republican incumbent, Tim Pawlenty, declined to seek a third term. He is going through the usual coy ritual, but it's clear, even though he won't say so, that he has cleared his calendar in order to seek his party's 2012 presidential nomination.
There are many candidates, and potential candidates. In this post, I'll look at the Democrats (whose party is called Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) in that state).
The most recent DFL governor left office 20 years ago. In the meantime, Republicans have won four gubernatorial terms, with third-party Governor Jesse Ventura serving for four of those 20 years.
The highest-profile DFL candidate is former U.S. Senator Mark Dayton. Dayton, 62, heir to a retailing fortune, first ran for the Senate in 1982, unsuccessfully challenging Republican incumbent David Durenberger. He was elected to one term as state auditor, in 1990. His next challenge to an incumbent Republican senator was more successful; Dayton defeated Senator Rod Grams in 2000. Dayton did not run for reelection in 2006.
The DFL candidate who ranks highest in state government is Margaret Anderson Kelliher, speaker of the state House of Representatives. Kelliher, 41, has represented a Minneapolis district in the House since 1999, and has been speaker since 2007.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, 54, is another DFL gubernatorial candidate. Rybak was a journalist bef0re being elected mayor in 2001. No mayor of Minneapolis, the state's largest city, has gone on to become governor. However, one of Rybak's predecessors, Hubert Humphrey, was a longtime U.S. senator, and served one term as vice president.
Eight other DFL candidates are currently listed in Wikipedia's article on the campaign. Most of them are current or past state legislators.
The Pioneer Press, a St. Paul newspaper, calls Kelliher the front runner. It can be more difficult to read the tea leaves in Minnesota than in other states. That's because the key event is not the primary election (currently scheduled for September 14, but perhaps about to be rescheduled to an earlier date, to comply with federal law about the amount of time that needs to be allowed for military ballots to be returned), but rather the party's state convention, to be held April 23-25.
That convention will endorse a candidate for governor. That endorsement is not the legal step that gets a candidate onto the general election ballot. However, the expectation is that those who lose the endorsement vote will not challenge the endorsed candidate in the primary. Such challenges do occur, but the convention's choice usually becomes the nominee. Opinion polling for an endorsement contest is difficult, because the outcome depends on which party activists show up for the local caucuses and conventions that lead up to the state convention.