Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens on Wednesday named Republican state Rep. Jeff Backer of Browns Valley as her running mate in the Minnesota governor’s race, saying that his advocacy for farmers, support for gun rights and rural hospitals, and opposition to abortion would resonate with voters across the state.
Giuliani Stephens is the first GOP candidate to select a running mate and only the second candidate to fill out his or her ticket. DFL U.S. Rep. Tim Walz selected state Rep. Peggy Flanagan of St. Louis Park last fall.
In a news conference Wednesday, Giuliani Stephens said she believes Backer, a former City Council member and mayor who has spent his entire life in western Minnesota, is the right partner to help her “underdog” campaign take on more prominent names in the open race for the governor’s seat this year.
“With my selection of Jeff as lieutenant governor, I am confident that there will be no other team that is more in touch with the day-to-day challenges facing hardworking Minnesota families than the Stephens-Backer ticket,” she said.
Backer, 51, is a second-term lawmaker who serves as vice chairman of the House Agriculture Policy Committee. With his twin brother, he runs Backer Wencel Inc., a company that coordinates marketing and sales for online retailers, offers private mortgage loans and does human-resources recruitment for medical professionals, according to the business’ website. He represents District 12A along the North and South Dakota border in west-central Minnesota.
Backer said he shares the values of people in greater Minnesota, pointing to his small-business experience and dissatisfaction with the policy decisions of Gov. Mark Dayton, who Backer said “has a war against [agriculture], and we have to stop it.”
“I bring that common sense,” he said. “I’m pro-family, pro-gun, and have the support of our constituents in those arenas.”
Backer said voters would be impressed with Giuliani Stephens, whom he compared to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — “tough as nails, but charming and ladylike,” he said.
“That’s exactly how Mary will govern,” Backer said. “No yelling or pounding on the table, but a backbone of steel.”
Both candidates said their experience in local government stands in sharp contrast to the national political work of some of their opponents. Backer singled out Walz, seen by many as the DFL front-runner, and former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, whom he labeled as “the D.C. twin Tims.” Backer said he expects the ticket could pick up the support of enough GOP delegates to top another competitor, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, for the party endorsement at the state Republican convention in June.
Campaign finance data released last month showed Pawlenty and Johnson have raised more money than Giuliani Stephens. The former governor had brought in more than $1 million as he tries to restart his political career, while Johnson had raised just over $373,000 since the start of the year. Giuliani Stephens’ campaign, meanwhile, had brought in about $122,000.
On the DFL side, Walz leads in fundraising with $1.6 million. The two other DFLers still in the race, state Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul and State Auditor Rebecca Otto, each raised close to $500,000.
Giuliani Stephens said recent elections have shown that those numbers don’t necessarily predict success on Election Day.
“It’s not about the money,” she said. “It’s about the message. It’s about the vision.”