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Minnesota, Wisconsin gubernatorial races to sharpen after primary

By David Bailey

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Republican voters in Minnesota on Tuesday will select one of five candidates to challenge Democratic Governor Mark Dayton in what one analyst called the "anything can happen" primary.

Also on Tuesday, Wisconsin Democrats are expected to chose Mary Burke in the primary to face Republican Governor Scott Walker in November.

The victor in the Minnesota primary, being contested by current and former state lawmakers and businessmen, will face an incumbent governor with more campaign money than any of them and a lead in polls. Even so, Dayton may be vulnerable after pressing for a state income tax increase, pundits say.

"No one really has a good idea who is going to win and how that will come about," said Steven Schier, a professor of political science at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. "This is truly up in the air."

Minnesota Republicans have endorsed Jeff Johnson, a former state lawmaker and a current commissioner in Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis. Former state House Speaker Kurt Zellers, former state Representative Marty Seifert, businessman Scott Honour and retired executive Merrill Anderson are also on the ballot.

As of July 21, Dayton had about $847,000 cash available, while Honour had $542,000, Zellers more than $145,000, Johnson about $123,000 and Seifert $71,000.

"They are largely unknown, they are largely underfunded and were already running behind in the polls," Schier said. "Other than that they are in great shape."

Johnson has focused on his party's endorsement, Seifert on rural voters, Zellers on his tenure as a legislative leader and Honour his status as a self-funding outsider, Schier said.

Mike McFadden, an investment banker endorsed by Minnesota Republicans, is favored to win the U.S. Senate primary and face Senator Al Franken, who narrowly won election in 2008.

McFadden has targeted the Democratic incumbent, not fellow Republicans, and is expected to tie Franken to President Barack Obama's popularity ratings and policies in the general election campaign.

As of July 23, Franken had a wide lead in available cash at about $4.3 million, while McFadden had about $1.4 million.

Wisconsin Democrats rallied early on around Burke, a former executive at Trek Bicycle, a company founded by her father. She is expected to defeat state Representative Brett Hulsey in the gubernatorial primary.

Governor Walker and Burke have been statistically even in recent polls.

"This race is anyone's race and will be about whom turns out to vote," said Tim Dale, a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political scientist.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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