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together. We have no other choice."The response was overwhelming. Donors pledged five- or six-figure contributions on the spot. The cash came in the nick of time. A popular state legislator named Tom Emmer had clinched the GOP endorsement and was looking at a summer of smooth sailing while four Democrats,
including Dayton, were fighting to win the DFL primary—and beating each other senseless in the process.But the Alliance for a Better Minnesota was laser-focused on the other side: It even prepared two different websites ripping each of the 2010 Republican gubernatorial hopefuls, so it could unveil its attack on the winner within hours of the GOP endorsement. Later that summer, the group unleashed a brutal ad, featuring the mother of a teenager killed by a drunk driver, going after Emmer for his DUI arrests. It was equally aggressive in targeting Emmer's funders. WhenTarget disclosed that it hadgiven $150,000to a pro-Emmer political action committee, ABM went after the company, which had positioned itself as LGBT-friendly, for supporting a candidate opposing same-sex marriage. ABM organized protests and bought Facebook ads that would be seen by some 25,000 people nationwide who listed Target as their employer in their profile. It became a national issue, forcing Target to apologize for its donationsand spooking corporate giving in Minnesota and, some say, nationwide.It was ironic in a way: Target, the company that grew out of Dayton-Hudson, was under attack by pro-Dayton liberal groups funded partly by Dayton's ex-wife. ABM ultimately spent $5.2 million on the campaign. In a banner year for Republicans nationwide, when the Minnesota GOP won control of the state House and Senate, Dayton squeaked out a 9,000-vote victorythat survived a monthlong recount. "Did you ever imagine," he joked to Messinger after the election, "you'd be spending these two years of your life doing all this to elect your ex-husband governor?"2011-12: The Ring of FireDayton had his work cut out for him. Only a few months into the 2011 legislative session, he and the Legislature's Republican leaders were deadlocked on the budget. A government shutdown loomed.Meanwhile, progressive groups were virtually shut out of the action. In 2010, the America Votes coalition had focused its firepower on the governor's race.
Now it needed to take back the majority—to compete in 20 or 30 districts across the state.That spring and summer, Kelly Beadle, a former ACORN organizer turned data wonk who had taken over America Votes earlier in 2011, convened the leaders of member groups for what she called a "good ol' fashioned messy brainstorm." What could they do to put Republican legislators on the defensive, so far out from Election Day? One idea they would end up putting to use was the "ring of fire," which sent teams of canvassers into specific legislators' neighborhoods to deliver negative flyers on the potential shutdown to friends and neighbors. Another tactic: inviting lawmakers to town halls hosted by America Votes members to discuss the budget impasse. When they failed to show, news cameras were on hand to film the empty seats. Grassroots organizers "were pissed," Beadle says.