By Don Davis
It is one thing for defeated politicians to back their conqueror, but quite another for rank-and-file supporters to do the same.
As Jeff Johnson was edging his way toward victory in Tuesday’s Republican governor primary election, backers of other candidates were saying they could accept any of the four main hopefuls. And they said that the just-completed primary race, testy toward the end, may have been a good thing.
“I think it will be better for the party because we had a better real talk of who we think will be the best candidate …” Andy Gladitsch, a political science major at Gustavus Adolphus College said at candidate Marty Seifert’s post-election gathering in Mankato. “I think it will make the party stronger.”
Republicans appeared ready to back any of the four candidates because they see an opening in the campaign against Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.
“He (Dayton) lacks communications skills,” said Trina Denay of North Mankato, also at Seifert’s gathering. “He’s not a very good public speaker.”
She said that for the GOP candidate to win, “it means talking to the people, listening to people and not just ‘this is what I do.’ “
The other three major GOP candidates joined Johnson in a Capitol-area news conference Wednesday to say they will support the winner.
“This state deserves to have leaders to take it to its full potential,” Scott Honour said, adding that Johnson is the person to do it.
Honour and Johnson had the most testy exchanges in a rare four-way Republican governor primary election race.
The other two major candidates, Kurt Zellers and Marty Seifert, joined Honour in offering full support for Johnson, a 47-year-old lawyer and Hennepin County commissioner. He is a Detroit Lakes native, graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead and worked for Cargill. He also served in the Minnesota Legislature before losing the state attorney general’s race to Democrat Lori Swanson in 2006.
Johnson won the party nomination in Tuesday’s primary with 30 percent of the vote.
He is a known as a nice guy, something he plans to embrace.
“Being perceived as a nice guy is a good thing in elections in Minnesota,” Johnson said in response to a reporter’s question, but hastily added that he will contrast his positions with those of Dayton.
Johnson predicted that Democrats will spread stories about him wanting “to drown kittens in the river for fun.”
Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party agreed that Johnson is a nice guy, but called him a Tea Party extremist. He said that the Republican nomination of Johnson means that party “wants to move us backwards” to the days “when people had to work two or three jobs and still live in poverty.”
Johnson, on the other hand, said that while Dayton proclaims the state economy is strong, many Minnesotans “are scared to death” of the economy. He said 49 percent of Minnesotans are underemployed, working lesser jobs than they want.
He said that the key to improving the economy is to “grow business in this state.”
“We are celebrating people who are successful,” Johnson said. “We never, ever give up on people who are poor.”
Johnson credited his win on obtaining the Republican state convention’s endorsement and the feeling that he is electable.
Endorsed candidates generally won Tuesday, although Jim Hagedorn upset Republican-endorsed Aaron Miller 54 percent to 46 percent in southern Minnesota’s U.S. House district. Hagedorn will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz in the Nov. 4 election.
Republican Chairman Keith Downey credited Hagedorn’s name for the win. His father was a southern Minnesota politician.
In the Independence Party primary vote, Steve Carlson took 34 percent of the vote, upsetting party-endorsed Kevin Terrell, who had 22 percent.
Another endorsed candidate made it look easy. Auditor Rebecca Otto moved on to the general election, emerging from the Democratic primary by getting 81 percent of the vote. That came after challenger Matt Entenza spent more than $600,000 to oust Otto.
Martin had nothing good to say about the Entenza effort, declaring that the former DFL House leader’s days as a politician are over.
The secretary of state’s office estimated that 286,292 Minnesotans voted in the primary, a near record low and a fraction of the 3 million who normally vote in the general election.
Martin said that it is not good for democracy when just hard-core partisan voters go to the polls. He said that he will continue to lobby lawmakers to move the primary to June, when he thinks more Minnesotans would vote.
Joseph Ryan Denton contributed to this story.