Mark Dayton and Tom Emmer enter recount territory

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Dayton, left, jumps out to an early lead.
Maybe you were expecting to wake up and see that either Mark Dayton or Tom Emmer was your new governor? Sorry. It looks like 2008 deja vu all over again. The governor's race entered automatic recount territory in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.

Al Franken must be rolling his eyes in disbelief. And Mark Ritchie must be reaching for some aspirin.

An hour after the polls closed, the future looked bright for Dayton, while Independence Party candidate Tom Horner trailed far behind. We followed the race through the Secretary of State's returns. Here's how they shook out (numbers are rounded):

  • 9 p.m. -- Dayton 53 percent, Emmer 34 percent
  • 10 p.m. -- Dayton 48 percent, Emmer 38 percent
  • 11 p.m. -- Dayton 47 percent, Emmer 39 percent
  • Midnight -- Dayton 44 percent, Emmer 41 percent
  • 1 a.m. -- Dayton 44 percent, Emmer 42 percent
  • 2 a.m. -- Dayton 43 percent, Emmer 42 percent

That midnight squeeze came courtesy of a glitch in Hennepin County, where the Secretary of State's said that at least 880,000 votes were cast - almost twice the correct amount.

By about 2:30 a.m., with 95 percent of all precincts reporting, Dayton was clinging to a less than 1 percent lead over Emmer, the DFL was clearing its post-election party in Minneapolis.

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Where things stood at 2:30 a.m.
By 3 a.m. we entered recount territory: Something like 9,500 separated Dayton from Emmer.

Horner? He saw no real gains at all as the night went along, confirming that he was no Jesse Ventura. Despite all those endorsements from former GOP big wigs, he conceded defeat before midnight.

It's been a long haul since the August primaries. In debate after debate -- more than 20 in the end -- Dayton and Emmer hacked away at each other's prescriptions for growing the state's economy and balancing the state budget. Emmer offered a rosy prescription: Broad cuts in taxes and state programs. Dayton called for raising taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans to help balance the books, a state-level stimulus package to boost infrastructure and a series of more carefully targeted tax incentives to help the economy.

While the debates generally stuck to public policy, the airwaves and the Internet turned into toxic waste dumps of personal attacks.

Emmer tried to portray himself as the skinflint hockey dad leader of a Brady Bunch family in the far western Minneapolis suburbs. But Democrats played up his two drunken driving arrests. His son, Tripp, was cited for underage drinking (and visited a strip club) while on the campaign payroll, and was embarrassed by some lewd Facebook oversharing. And late in the campaign, we learned that Emmer's Delano home was financed in some pretty creative ways.

Dayton had his own personal issues to contend with, but he dealt with them openly -- the depression, the alcoholism. He continually had to knock down criticism of his sketchy U.S. Senate career. And Republicans tried to gain some traction on the guy just a few weeks ago by spreading the unproven rumor that he had once assaulted a campaign staffer and then paid her off to keep quiet.

Finally, on Tuesday, the endless commercials were silenced and we all went off to vote, thinking we'd have a winner by the time we woke up on Wednesday.

Right now -- 3 a.m. -- the end is not in sight.

Meanwhile, a word about opinion polls ...


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