In their first joint forum outing, the Republicans who would be Minnesota's next governor were in accord on most issues.
State government needs to be reworked, they said on Thursday night. Health exchanges are bad, they agreed. Single-party Democratic rule is disastrous, they agreed. And all four men on stage concurred that any of them would make a better governor than incumbent DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who is running for re-election.
But in vying to replace Dayton, the candidates – state Sen. Dave Thompson, state Rep. Kurt Zellers, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson and businessman Scott Honour – began to sketch out some the profile differences they hope will win Minnesotans' support.
Here are their still-developing roles they are starting to take on:
The liberty-lover, with message experience
Thompson came into state Senate in the Republican wave election in 2010 and proudly waved the conservative flag ever since.
Before the Thursday crowd, the former talk radio host said he knows how to deliver a message and that he was a, "civil libertarian before being a civil libertarian was cool."
Thompson, of Lakeville, also had a chance on Thursday to display some of his conservative geek credentials. Asked about pension problems, the candidates largely agreed that the state should move from a defined benefit system to a defined contribution system. But Thompson was able to talk about being on the state’s pension commission and a proposal he and a colleague are developing to change the pension system without excessive cost.
His messages worked well for the crowd, which gave him hoots and applause repeatedly, but are untested before a politically mixed crowd.
The regular guy who has been in the trenches
Zellers, of Maple Grove, spent two years as Minnesota House Speaker before Democrats took over the House last year and said having led the House during the 2011 budget showdown that lead to shutdown, he has proven his mettle.
Zellers claimed that he is “somebody who has gone in there and stood toe to toe with this guy (Dayton) and won. I have. I'll do the same thing as governor. I will absolutely fight for jobs and a competitive economy,” he said. “That's the one qualification I have that, unfortunately, my colleagues do not.”
But he also touted his regular guy qualifications. Among the advisors he consulted before the forum? "Three guys at a hockey game, just before I got here," he said.
The businessman, without political baggage
Scott Honour, a former California-based venture capitalist, promoted his success as his key credential.
“I’m a businessman, I’m not a politician,” he said, displaying a potentially winning attribute and an explanation for why he appeared less versed than his competitors at the issues that have set the Capitol awhirl.
Honour, of Orono, said he could use his business background in a way Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney failed to do last year.
“He didn’t tell his personal story and he didn’t embrace his success. I will do that,” said Honour, who was Romney’s Minnesota finance committee chair.
The nice guy, with a conservative mission
Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson opened by suggesting to the Republican crowd that he could best win Republican, independent or even some Democratic support compared to his competitors.
"Which one of these guys is going to be trusted enough and liked enough by my neighbors that they'll actually be able to say 'No' to all those tempting DFL promises and say 'Yes,' to some of our Republican realities?" Johnson, of Plymouth, asked the audience.
A former state representative with a quick smile, he said he has proven he can pick off enough Democrats on specific issues to move the issues forward.
"I've learned how to cobble together three of my colleagues by figuring out, you know what, we agree on this little thing so I can get it done. I've also learned, when I can't do that, you go to staff and get it done and never tell anybody," he said.