MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Democrat Mark Dayton won a second term Tuesday as governor in the capstone race of his lengthy political career, defeating a Republican challenger who portrayed Dayton as having been around too long.

GOP candidate Jeff Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner, also said the incumbent bunged several issues while in office. But voters didn’t listen, and Dayton rolled to victory with more than 50 percent of the vote in a five-way race — the first winning governor to top that mark since Republican Arne Carlson in 1994.

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It’s the first time Dayton has won re-election to a political office, as he walked away from the U.S. Senate and state auditor’s post after single terms. Dayton is the first Democrat to win re-election to the post since 1986.

The governor campaigned on Minnesota’s improving economy, healthy state budget and new investments in education. He says he’ll focus a second term on building consensus around a transportation funding plan and making child-care tax credits available to more families.

“Let’s begin again to build a better Minnesota beginning tomorrow,” Dayton told cheering supporters at a victory party. He said political opponents need to put the campaign behind and pull together.

“We’re all Minnesotans. Our futures and our fortunes are intertwined,” said Dayton, who at 67 is the state’s oldest governor.

Dayton made a strong showing among young voters, those who earn less than $100,000 a year and union households, according to preliminary results of an exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and television networks. He also got the lion’s share of the vote from people who thought Minnesota’s economy was in good shape and weren’t too worried about the national economy. His strongest support came from the Twin Cities and northern Minnesota.

The preliminary exit poll of 1,607 Minnesota voters was conducted by Edison Research in a random sample of 25 polling places statewide.
Johnson fared best among voters who disapproved of same-sex marriage, identified as conservative and those who were very worried about the U.S. economy.

After voting for Dayton in 2010, St. Paul resident Sandra Martinez did so again. The 57-year-old caterer praised his moves to legalize gay marriage and boost the minimum wage, and said Dayton comes across as more humble than most politicians.

“He’s not ‘Me, me, me. I, I, I did this, I did that’ overly like the other guys are,” Martinez said.

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This campaign was markedly different from Dayton’s bid four years ago, which was so close it spilled into a recount. He and Johnson spent far less, as did outside groups. Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet was far less visible than previous third-party hopefuls and polled in the single digits.

His time as governor started rough, with a big budget deficit and a standoff with majority Republicans that led to a nearly three-week government shutdown his first year. But when Democrats took over the House and Senate in 2012, they pushed through Dayton’s tax-the-rich plan to help fund all-day kindergarten statewide, freeze public college tuition and beef up economic development programs.

Meanwhile, Johnson, 47, had a tough path to his party’s nomination. He spent almost a year chasing the endorsement of GOP delegates at the state convention, and still had to defeat better-known and better-funded Republicans in the August primary.

The road was no easier against Dayton, whose long career in politics gives him name recognition among voters. Polls taken late in the race found many respondents didn’t know who Johnson was.

Johnson conceded he was challenging a “decent guy” in Dayton, even while portraying him as incompetent on several fronts. Johnson said voters should boot the governor over his handling of a $1 billion Vikings stadium deal that put taxpayers on the hook for about half the cost and the MNSure rollout. Johnson said he would rein in state spending and cut taxes, but seldom spelled out where he would extract budget savings.

In a concession speech, Johnson said he gave the campaign all he had.

“I wished Gov. Dayton success because I want Minnesota to succeed and I love this place and I want it to be better than it is,” Johnson said. “That fight is not going to end tonight.”

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