Backed by a blue "Emmer for Governor" sign, Republican nominee Tom Emmer danced on top of two chairs in a dark Irish pub in St. Paul, pulling loud cheers out of a rambunctious group of College Republicans from across Minnesota.
"Oh my goodness, we’re going to need a law, Tom might fall on his head. Put on elbow pads, knee pads, he might get hurt. Ouch!" Emmer said after the jig, mocking his opponents in the governor’s race for what he considers excessive lawmaking.
But Emmer’s message to the group of about 40 young supporters was serious. The event followed a gubernatorial debate on Saturday at Hamline University and marked the final leg of the campaign season.
He focused on the importance of creating jobs, while also taking shots at DFL candidate Mark Dayton and Independence Party nominee Tom Horner for their plans to raise taxes and increase the size of state government.
If either of his two opponents’ tax plans were enacted, employers would flock to other states because of the business climate, he said. Much of his speech to the students echoed what he’d said earlier that evening in the debate.
Emmer would cut government spending to cover the state’s projected $5.8 billion budget deficit while also enacting $626 million in tax breaks to spur business growth. Horner and Dayton would use differing combinations of tax increases and spending reductions to bridge the gap.
Despite proposing to cut about $400 million from higher education funding in the next budget biennium, Emmer said college students have been very supportive of his campaign.
"It’s not just going to be the state paying for everything and politicians making promises to everybody that they can’t keep," he said after the speech. "It’s got to be realistic."
Noting this election’s importance and the diverging paths each candidate would take, Emmer called for students’ continued support for his campaign. He urged the group to stuff envelopes with literature, man phone banks and "pound" lawn signs.
"Now is the time of greatest opportunity," Emmer said. "This is where you find out what you’re made of, this is where you actually grab a piece of the rope with everybody else and you pull with everything you’ve got for 24 days."
The visit served to "rally the troops" for the grueling, final pre-election stretch, Rich Marshall, a College Republican at Bemidji State University, said.
College Republicans flocked to St. Paul from Mankato, Marshall, Duluth and Moorhead to watch the debate and meet Emmer, he said.
Marshall, who volunteers routinely for the campaign, drove about four and a half hours from Bemidji to see Emmer and socialize with fellow CRs.
"It’s stuff like this that keeps you going," Marshall said. "I’ve driven all around the state to meet him."
From a campaign standpoint, it’s important to engage college students like any other voter group, campaign spokesman Chris Van Guilder, a former College Republican, said. But students also form the backbone of basic organizing.
"You know how hard they’re willing to work," he said. "They’ll go not only on their own university, but they’ll hit the pavement, door knock and they’re excited and energetic. Look at them, they’re all revved up and ready to go."
University of Minnesota College Republicans President Phil Troy said the group would be working every day until the Nov. 2 elections for candidates across the state.
Emmer praised the group’s political engagement and stressed that the long-term repercussions of the election will affect students far more than his generation.
"This election is yours," he said.