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Precinct caucuses start the sorting of candidates to become Minnesota governor

ST. PAUL—With Gov. Mark Dayton not seeking re-election this year, a wide-open race to succeed him will take center stage as precinct caucuses mark the official start of the campaign season across Minnesota on Tuesday night, Feb. 6.

Both the Democratic-Farmer-Labor and Republican parties will conduct non-binding straw polls for governor that will test the early grassroots support for announced candidates.

Caucus-goers also will start the processes for endorsing each party's candidates for two U.S. Senate seats, eight congressional seats, 134 seats in the Minnesota House of Representatives, plus state auditor, secretary of state and attorney general.

Here are the major party candidates for governor who will be on the straw ballots:

DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR PARTY

Chris Coleman: St. Paul's former three-term mayor stepped down from office last year after heading the city for 12 years. He first considered running for governor in 2010, the year Dayton was first elected, but decided against it. Coleman has said he is running in part on his record as mayor, which includes helping create thousands of jobs, sparking millions in investments in the city and enhancing St. Paul's image. A University of Minnesota Law School graduate, the former prosecutor and public defender bills himself as a political progressive with a track record of getting things done.

Tina Liebling: A seven-term state representative from Rochester, she is an attorney with a master's degree in public health who has chaired a legislative health and human services committee and been an outspoken advocate for universal, single-payer health care. Known at the Capitol as a policy wonk, she has taken left-of-center stands on issues ranging from increasing the minimum wage and providing Minnesota students two years of free education at public colleges to getting "big money" out of politics and legalizing recreational marijuana.

Erin Murphy: The former Minnesota House majority leader from St. Paul was the first person to announce her candidacy for governor in November 2016. A nurse and former executive director of the Minnesota Nurses Association, she was first elected to the House in 2006, chosen assistant minority leader in 2009 and became majority leader when DFLers took control of the House in 2012. After they lost control, she served as deputy minority leader. She is an outspoken advocate for universal pre-kindergarten for kids, single-payer health care, paid family and sick leave, making college more affordable and spending more on infrastructure and broadband.

Rebecca Otto: The state auditor from Marine on St. Croix has won three statewide elections plus a term as a state representative. Her office keeps a tight watch on local governments' budgets, and she serves on state boards that oversee some state finances. Although her office isn't a high-profile post, it was a springboard for Dayton and Republican Gov. Arne Carlson. Perhaps best known as a staunch environmental advocate, Otto has proposed detailed plans for a clean-energy economy, $15-an-hour minimum wage, two years of free college and universal single-payer health care.

Paul Thissen: A former House speaker from Minneapolis, he has served in the chamber for 16 years, earning a reputation as a sedate but smart and studious policy maker. An attorney, he trained at Harvard University and the University of Chicago Law School. In the House, he focused of expanding health care coverage for kids as chairman of a health committee, and was elected minority leader in 2010 and speaker in 2012. Under his leadership in 2013-14, lawmakers passed laws legalizing same-sex marriage, creating all-day kindergarten, freezing public college tuition for two years, requiring businesses to pay women at the same rate as men and raising the minimum wage.

Tim Walz: A retired command sergeant major in the Army National Guard, Walz was a Mankato school teacher and football coach when he was first elected to represent southern Minnesota's 1st Congressional District in 2006. He is serving his sixth term in the House. He is the only candidate from Greater Minnesota in the DFL race for governor. He has said he is running in part to bridge the divisions between outstate Minnesota and the metro area. In Congress, he has been a leader on farm and veterans' issues.

REPUBLICAN PARTY

Keith Downey: The former Minnesota Republican Party chairman and two-term House member is a systems management consultant from Edina. In the Legislature, he pushed to streamline, repeal and consolidate state programs. He was elected chairman of the state GOP in 2013 during a period of political and financial turmoil and led it through two two-year terms. He became controversial within the party by criticizing Republican lawmakers from not cutting "runaway spending" and returning state budget surpluses to taxpayers. As governor, he said his goal would be to reduce state spending by 15 percent.

Mary Giuliani Stephens: The Woodbury mayor is the only woman in the Republican field for governor so far. An attorney, she has served as the suburb's mayor since 2010 and was on the city council for four years before that. Giuliani Stephens described herself as a "bridge builder" who can work above partisan bickering. She also advocates shrinking state government, reducing taxes and making the state friendlier to business.

Jeff Johnson: A Hennepin County commissioner from Plymouth, Johnson is making his third bid for statewide office. He was the GOP-endorsed challenger to Dayton in 2014, losing by 5 percentage points, and he ran unsuccessfully for attorney general in 2006. Before that, he served two terms in the Minnesota House. This year, his campaign got a boost when state Rep. Matt Dean dropped out of the race and threw his support to Johnson. The only Republican on the Hennepin County Board, he has been a voice for limited government and less county spending. He has called for capping property taxes, setting term limits and returning state budget surpluses to taxpayers.

Phillip Parrish: A school teacher from Kenyon, Parrish is a 19-year military veteran who served deployments in Afghanistan and Europe. He ran for the Republican endorsement for U.S. Senate in 2014, and while he garnered surprising support as a fiery speaker, he did not win party backing and left the race.

Can't make up your mind? Caucus-goers will have the option of voting "uncommitted" on the DFL straw ballot or "undecided" in the Republican poll.

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