Flanked by his former rivals, Republican candidate for governor Jeff Johnson said the morning after winning the GOP primary that he was ready to unite the party and raise the campaign funds he’ll need to mount a credible challenge to Gov. Mark Dayton.
In short remarks, his former rivals -- Rep. Kurt Zellers, former lawmaker Marty Seifert, and business executive Scott Honour -- all said they would support Johnson in the general election.
"We have to be united as a Republican party," Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner said.
Johnson drew 30 percent of the vote in a primary that drew less than 10 percent of eligible voters to the polls. The GOP nominee told reporters Wednesday that the primary's low turn-out wouldn't dampen Republican's enthusiasm for the fall election.
"Republicans aren't accustomed to primaries," he said. "We haven't had one for twenty-something years...[but] all of us can attest to this, there was a lot of excitement."
Going forward, he said he would he would focus on contrasting his style of governing with that of DFL incumbent Dayton. He said that as governor, he would focus on making government work more efficiently with less money. He said that in the weeks ahead, he would seek to contrast his ideas and style of governing with those of DFL incumbent Dayton.
He said if he were elected governor, he would halt construction on a $90-million Senate office building, criticizing it as a symbol of excessive state spending. Johnson also said he opposed automatic increases to the state's minimum wage.
Photo by Star Tribune photographer Glen Stubbe.
GOP candidate for Governor Jeff Johnson was pleased as he looked at race results showing him with a solid lead Tuesday night / Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune
Republican-endorsed candidate for governor Jeff Johnson won the GOP primary and will face DFL Gov. Mark Dayton in the fall.
With about 75 percent of the vote counted, he had about 30 percent of the vote. His nearest rival, former House Speaker Kurt Zellers, had about 24 percent. Former Rep. Marty Seifert and businessman Scott Honour each had about 20 percent.
Before 11 p.m. both the Associated Press and the Star Tribune declared him the winner.
Shortly thereafter, he gave a victory speech at his Plymouth victory party.
"Mark Dayton is a fairly popular incumbent and a lot of people are going to say it's going to be really hard to beat him but we can do that," said Johnson, stressing that they could do it by being united, raising a lot of money, and putting forth a vision that appeals to Republicans and non-Republicans alike.
"I have a vision of a state where politicians understand that taxpayers work really, really had for our money and we treat it just as carefully as those coming out of our pockets, which ain't happening in St. Paul," he said.
Dayton said he called Johnson Tuesday night to congralate him.
"I look forward to engaging in a constructive discussion about the issues important to Minnesotans over the next twelve weeks," he said in a statement.
Earlier Johnson had already made plans for the future.
"It'll be a whole new phase tomorrow," said Johnson. "I think I can present a very positive alternative vision to Gov. Dayton regarding what my priorities can be - how we can do better with respect to jobs."
He said he's not worried about Republican voters staying divided after the four-way race.
"Will there be a handful of people that we'll have to work on? Yes, but overall I feel very good about that."
On Wednesday, the Republican Party plans to hold a news conference with all four GOP candidates for governor as a show of party unity.
The race lacked much bite among the four Republican candidates and well under spent the DFL primary for governor back in 2010.
In defeat, Zellers said: "I love Minnesota. The only party I'm sad about is: I won't be able to sell Minnesota tot he rest of the country."
To run for governor, Zellers decided not to run for re-election to the House.
Maya Rao contributed to this report.
The deputy chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party, Chris Fields, sparked a Twitter feud after he defended his comments using Robin Williams' death to plug the GOP-endorsed candidate for governor, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson.
In a reply to a tweet sent Monday night by a DFL staff member who remembered Williams, Fields said: "how very 80's. Want an economy like we had in 80's under Reagan...Vote @Jeff4Gov tomorrow in the primary".
Fields then engaged in a Twitter feud with other users of the social media site who criticized Fields for stumping for votes. The GOP deputy chair defended his original remarks, criticized political correctness and said DFL policies "hurt real [people]."
Fields has since deleted most, but not all of his tweets, and Johnson, in a Twitter post, said the tweets "last night mixing Robin Williams' death [with] politics were inappropriate [and] wrong. America will dearly miss him."
In a statement released by the Minnesota GOP, Fields apologized for his tweets. "My comments were insensitive and inappropiate, and they clearly do not reflect the views of the Republican Party of Minnesota. I am sincerely sorry for my actions."
Fields comments' come at an inopportune time for the state's Republicans. The party is hoping its slew of candidates, including Johnson, can beat DFL candidiates and incumbents in the gubernatorial, legislative and U.S. Congressional races this fall. Voters on Tuesday are heading to polls in a primary election to determine which of four GOP gubernatorial hopefuls will face DFL Gov. Mark Dayton in November.
Updated Aug. 12 at 2:15 p.m. to include Fields' statement.
Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday he's ready for the fall campaign to get started, as Republicans picked a candidate who will try to unseat the DFL incumbent.
"Minnesota's in a lot better shape now than it was four years ago, and I'd like to see us continue that progress," Dayton said, after voting in the DFL primary at Summit Church in St. Paul, down the street from the Governor's Residence.
Dayton won a hard-fought DFL primary four years ago, and this year faces only token opposition in his party's gubernatorial primary. Turnout was low at the St. Paul precinct: election judge Sam Carlisle said the site was open 30 minutes before the first voter appeared. Dayton, who arrived at 12:30 p.m., was only the 89th person to show up to vote.
He joked with election workers, telling them he got over the shame of voting for himself when he was in fourth grade.
Republicans are choosing from four main contenders in the race to challenge Dayton. They are businessman Scott Honour, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, state Rep. Kurt Zellers and former state Rep. Marty Seifert.
The GOP gubernatorial primary remained close up to the end, and expectations of low turnout made the outcome unpredictable. Polls close at 8 p.m.
Dayton declined to express a preference among the four candidates, but he rejected a central argument of all of them: that DFL control of the governor's office and Legislature have made taxes higher for Minnesotans.
"If you’re making less than $250,000 a year, your taxes have probably gone down," Dayton said. "So I think it’s very misleading to say I’ve raised taxes when I’ve lowered them for most people."
Dayton and the GOP nominee are expected to meet at six debates between Labor Day and Election Day.
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glenn Howatt
In the lackluster Republican primary this year, the four GOP gubernatorial candidates' spending is down, way down, compared to the three DFL gubernatorial candidates who vied in a 2010 primary.
The four -- Rep. Kurt Zellers, businessman Scott Honour, former Rep. Marty Seifert and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson -- have raised 64 percent less than the three DFLers did four years ago, according to a Star Tribune analysis.
The Republican quartet has spent 71 percent less than DFLers Mark Dayton, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and former Rep. Matt Entenza did in 2010.
Republican candidates and their campaigns have said that many would-be Republican donors are waiting to see who emerges from Tuesday's primary before donating.
Unlike this year, the DFL race featured two candidates who were willing to spend vast amounts of their personal wealth to win the primary.
By this point four years ago, Dayton, who won the primary, had sunk more than $3.3 million into his campaign. Entenza, who is now running for state auditor, had invested almost $3.6 million into his gubernatorial run.
This year only Honour has spent much of his own cash into his race. He has invested more than $901,000 of his own money into his campaign. That's only a fraction of what the two well heeled Democrats spent on their campaigns by this point.
But even the lone non-millionaire in that DFL race, Kelliher, had raised more than three of the non-millionaires in the Republican race.
By this point in 2010, Kelliher had raised $1.2 million for her campaign.
Only Honour has exceeded that amount this year. He has raised almost $1.8 million.
The other three Republican candidates -- Zellers, Seifert and Johnson -- have raised half or less as much as Kelliher had by this point four years ago.
Dig into the numbers below: