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Continued: Dayton builds re-election machine in face-off with county commissioner Jeff Johnson

“We gotta raise a lot of money in the next 12 weeks,” Johnson said after the primary. Dayton’s campaign will also try to accelerate its fundraising.

Both candidates have agreed to state-enforced contribution and spending limits that will allow them each to raise a total of about $4 million, and in exchange receive a public subsidy for their campaign. For Dayton, that’s a big contrast to 2010, when he poured $3.7 million of his personal wealth into the race.

To reach the $4 million limit, Johnson would have to raise about $250,000 weekly between now and the election. Campaign manager Scot Crockett said the actual fundraising goal is a bit more modest.

“This is going to probably be somewhere north of $2 million for us, how high I’m not sure yet,” said Crockett, a veteran operative with a long resume in Minnesota and national Republican politics. From 2012 to 2013, Crockett was executive director of Tea Party Patriots, one of the most prominent national groups associated with that movement.

But as November approaches, Johnson will be competing for campaign funds with state House Republicans, who are making a major push to recapture the majority from the DFL, and with other conservative candidates and causes.

Spending in the governor’s race is also likely to be eclipsed by the U.S. Senate battle between incumbent DFL Sen. Al Franken and Republican challenger Mike McFadden, meaning the candidates for governor will have to push to be noticed amid a likely flood of Senate ads on TV, radio and online.

The Minnesota Republican Party, still emerging from several years of scandal and financial troubles, has a lot riding on Johnson’s candidacy. As the endorsed GOP candidate in the primary, Johnson’s win gives the party bragging rights — but the real test comes in the fall matchup.

After a few days of fundraising, Johnson will make frequent public appearances that could include a news conference this week and possibly several public forum-style events, Peppin said.

Republicans also have opened more than a dozen field offices statewide to boost local organizing. Party Chairman Keith Downey said he believes the party is poised for a revival, and that a major emphasis has been improving its get-out-the-vote effort after realizing Democrats have outmatched them on that front in recent election cycles.

“The state party is focused on the ground game this year, which is something we believe we have upgraded,” Downey said.

Outside groups an unknown

A major unknown in the still-forming race is spending by third-party groups on behalf of one candidate or the other. Dayton and the DFL have a strong ally in the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, which is funded by major DFL donors and union allies, and which has spent more than $10 million since 2007.

Last week, the group quickly launched a TV ad blasting Johnson on the grounds that tax cuts he supported as a member of the state House a decade ago could instead have been spent boosting education programs.

These independent groups are able to spend money on candidates with fewer limits than the campaigns themselves, but by law are prohibited from coordinating messages or tactics with the campaigns.

For Republicans, veteran operative Ben Golnik has been running the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, which in the last year has prodded at Dayton’s budgeting policies as harmful to private enterprise in the state.

“I think we’ve established ourselves as the lead group holding Dayton accountable,” Golnik said, noting that his group’s camera-toting trackers have already filmed more than 100 hours of Dayton speaking in public. Some of those clips could slip into TV commercials or other advertising.

“Our donors are certainly interested in keeping the heat on Dayton,” Golnik said. A roster of well-known GOP contributors have helped fund the group, including McFadden and Scott Honour, one of the Republicans Johnson defeated last Tuesday.

Still, Downey said he believed DFL-aligned independent groups were likely to outspend those allied with Republicans. That’s been the case in recent history.

  • A first rerun

    Gov. Mark Dayton has never before run for re-election.

    • Elected state auditor in 1990, served one term.

    • Elected U.S. senator in 2000, served one term.

    • Elected Minnesota governor in 2010, running for second term.

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