The DFL candidates for governor are crushing their GOP rivals in the money chase, raising concerns among Republicans that their shot at full control of state government is slipping away.
The three major Republican candidates for governor raised a combined $464,000 in 2017, according to campaign finance reports released Thursday. Jeff Johnson, the party’s 2014 candidate for governor now seeking another shot, led the way with $260,000 raised and a cash balance at the end of the year of about $180,000.
But U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, a DFLer from southern Minnesota’s First Congressional District, raised $1.1 million in his bid to be the next governor. Former St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and state Rep. Erin Murphy together raised another $937,000.
Which means the top three DFLers outraised their GOP counterparts more than four-to-one.
Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, responded bluntly on Twitter: “Fundraising for GOP governor looks horrible,” he said, excepting Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens, who raised $70,000 after getting in the race late in the year.
Garofalo, a senior Republican in the Minnesota House, said unless Stephens continues to raise money at a quick pace, or a new candidate appears, “We lose. It’s that simple.”
Whether all this money will translate into votes remains to be seen, but DFL donors are clearly eager to write checks in the face of Donald Trump’s presidency and the prospect of Republican control of state government, with the potential to fundamentally alter Minnesota politics and government for the next decade.
The governor’s race is entering a crucial phase. Minnesotans will get their first chance to indicate a candidate of their choice in a nonbinding straw poll that each party will hold at precinct caucuses next Tuesday.
Together with the fundraising numbers, political insiders expect the straw poll results to begin winnowing the fields.
Second-term DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is not running again, creating a wide-open race in a volatile political year.
Some Republican fundraisers say they are sitting on the sidelines at the moment, waiting for the GOP field to expand. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty has sent signals he is still considering a comeback bid, and he has the potential to help Republicans regain ground in fundraising.
It’s not all bad news for Republicans, however.
Minnesota House Republicans continue to be a fundraising powerhouse as they look to defend their majority. Speaker Kurt Daudt helped raise $1.14 million and ended the year with nearly $700,000 in cash.
Big donors included Davisco Foods’ Mitchell Davis, who gave $25,000; the Faegre, Baker, Daniels lobbying firm gave $20,000; Dr. Robert Haselow gave $20,000; Minnesota Business Partnership political action committee gave $25,000; and Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux gave $30,000.
Hard-hat unions like the carpenters and operating engineers also gave major contributions.
The House DFL, which needs to flip 11 seats to take the majority it lost in 2014, raised $861,000 and wound up 2017 with $447,000 in the bank. Their big donors included public unions like AFSCME and the teachers union Education Minnesota, which gave $50,000. Alida Messinger, Rockefeller heiress and ex-wife of Dayton, gave $50,000. By comparison, the last time the Republicans were in the minority, in 2013, then-Minority Leader Daudt raised about $1 million.
What’s not clear yet is the role of outside groups backed by business, unions and wealthy individuals, which are sure to spend heavily in the upcoming elections on all races.
Some of the groups, including the DFL-aligned Alliance for a Better Minnesota and the Republican-oriented Minnesota Jobs Coalition, raise and spend very little until the heat of the campaign, when they will dump hundreds of thousands of dollars into mail and TV.
Still, several showed big cash heading into the early part of the campaign. The Democratic Governors Association has $2.4 million ready; Minnesota Realtors has $1 million; Education Minnesota has $757,000; and Northstar Leadership Fund, which is the political arm of the state’s Fortune 500 companies, brought in $646,000.
Jennifer Carnahan, the chairwoman of the Minnesota Republican Party, helped raise $1.94 million in her first year on the job, and the party has $215,000 in cash.
“Minnesota Republicans are energized to win,” she said.
But the DFL continues to be a fundraising juggernaut under Chairman Ken Martin. The DFL Party enters the year with $598,000 in federal and state funds, after raising more than $2 million for its state fund and $2.9 million through its federal account.
The state’s biggest political donors are a returning class of unions, business groups and wealthy individuals who try to use resources to tilt Minnesota their way, as the Legislature has seesawed back and forth between DFL and GOP control during the past decade.
Big public-sector unions like AFSCME, the teachers union and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, who are the state government’s management class, are all in the top 10 donors. The Minnesota Business Partnership, comprising the state’s largest companies like Target and General Mills, gave $500,000 to political causes through its political action committee. Realtors gave $569,000.
Messinger and Wendy Kelman Neu, owner of a family recycling company, each gave $250,000.
Small donors played a role, too. Walz raised 21 percent of his money from contributors who gave less than $200. State Auditor Rebecca Otto, who is trying to appeal to the DFL’s progressive base, raised 39 percent of her $249,000 in contributions from smaller donors. Nearly one-third of Murphy’s money came from these givers.
On the Republican side, more than one-fourth of Johnson’s money came from smaller donors.
The campaign reports also show the power of incumbency: Although state senators — currently in the middle of four-year terms — are not on the ballot in November, Republicans in the upper chamber still raised $930,000 and finished the year with $878,000.
They will take a sizable haul into 2020, though a special election to replace former DFL Sen. Dan Schoen comes first, on Feb. 12.