By Don Davis
Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson and state Sen. Julianne Ortman easily won straw polls for Minnesota governor and U.S. Senate during Saturday’s Republican State Central Committee meeting in Blaine.
Johnson, a Detroit Lakes native and former state representative, finished the nonbinding poll with 35 percent, ahead of state Sen. Dave Thompson of Lakeville in second with 27 percent. They are among Republicans looking to beat Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton next year.
Ortman, a Chanhassen resident, took 37 percent of the votes, with Twin Cities businessman Mike McFadden getting 22 percent in their attempts to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken.
The straw poll was the first sign about how strong candidates could be within the GOP.
Johnson said that “naturally I’m pleased” after results from the 409 Republican activists were counted.
“After seeing the damage that a single legislative session of one-party DFL rule can do, Republicans understand the need to endorse and unite behind a candidate who holds conservative values and is electable,” Johnson said.
Johnson just resigned as Republican national committeeman, representing Minnesota at the party’s national level. Delegates elected longtime GOP activist Chris Tiedeman to replace him.
After three terms in the Legislature, Johnson unsuccessfully ran for attorney general. Later, he became county commissioner, representing western Hennepin County in an otherwise heavily Democratic county.
No. 3 in the straw poll was former state Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall with 18 percent. Others ran a write-in campaign for Seifert, who said he will decide by Thanksgiving whether he will run.
Fourth was state Rep. Kurt Zellers, a North Dakota native and Maple Grove resident, who collected 8 percent. Hibbing teacher Rob Farnsworth got 6 percent, with businessman Scott Honour of Orono rounding out the field with 4 percent.
Ortman, who has served in the state Senate since 2003, was tax chairwoman when Republicans controlled the chamber. She is a former Carver County commissioner and has been Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office financial manager. This is her first run for statewide office in a race that national pundits say leans toward Franken.
After Ortman and McFadden, a Sunfish resident, the next three candidates in the U.S. Senate straw poll were bunched together, with Harold Shudlick, a former Army chaplain who ran for Senate twice before, getting 12 percent; St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg of Duluth, 12 percent; and state Sen. Jim Abeler of Anoka, 11 percent. Montie Moreno, a bison farmer and former hair salon owner from Marine on St. Croix, won 3 percent of the vote.