The DFL party publicly united behind gubernatorial nominee Mark Dayton Wednesday afternoon in a sweaty event aimed at solidifying support to challenge Republican Tom Emmer in the general election.
Dayton defeated DFL-endorsed candidate Margaret Anderson Kelliher and former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza after a fierce three-way primary decided early Wednesday morning.
Kelliher didn’t immediately concede after the results posted in Dayton’s favor.
“We’re not making any decisions, we have some numbers to come in yet and we’re optimistic about that,” Kelliher said just before 1 a.m. Wednesday. “This is grassroots democracy; this is what we’re fighting for.”
In the end, Dayton’s 41.32 percent of the vote narrowly topped Kelliher’s 39.77 percent.
Kelliher eventually conceded mid-day Wednesday, later than the Dayton campaign had hoped.
The DFL originally scheduled a “unity event” for 11 a.m. Wednesday, but Kelliher still hadn’t publicly conceded as the hour rolled past. She had planned a press conference for 3 p.m. that eventually became a forum to stand behind Dayton.
“Unity doesn’t necessarily come easily to the Democrats, and it doesn’t necessarily come naturally,” party chair Brian Melendez said.
Despite his claims, DFL leadership from across the state attended the event, including U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison and State Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller. More than 400 screaming supporters filled a chamber at the Capitol as well.
Klobuchar and Franken praised Dayton’s time in the U.S. Senate and said they looked forward to having a partner in the governor’s office.
“Minnesota, the choice is clear today, and that choice is Mark Dayton,” Kelliher said, addressing the audience.
Kelliher received deafening cheers from supporters in the room, whom she was unable to quiet down for some time.
“I don’t have a gavel,” she said. “I can’t get you people to be quiet.”
Support for Kelliher in the Twin Cities translated to an early lead as primary results came min Tuesday night, but late-returns, including St. Louis County, ended up tipping the results in Dayton’s favor past midnight.
At the conference, Dayton credited some of his success, particularly in Duluth, to his running mate, Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon.
More than 441,000 Minnesotans voted in the DFL primary, far surpassing experts’ estimates.
Overall primary turnout was higher than any in the past decade. More than 31,000 absentee ballots were cast.
Official election results will be certified Aug. 17.