Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson endorsed Marco Rubio for president on Wednesday and will be Minnesota state chairman for the Florida senator's presidential campaign.
Johnson was the Republican candidate for governor last year, but lost to Gov. Mark Dayton. The Plymouth resident is also a former member of the Republican National Committee.
Johnson told the Star Tribune that he likes several of the Republican contenders but that Rubio distinguished himself in the crowded field of 17 declared candidates.
"I think he's the best communicator," Johnson said. "That's important for us, that we have someone who can really connect with people."
Rubio launched his presidential campaign in April. A U.S. senator from Florida since 2011, he is the son of Cuban immigrants whose rapid political rise at a young age impressed many in the party. At 44, Rubio's relative youth as well as ethnic background has marked him for some Republicans as a candidate whose appeal could transcend established Republican constituencies.
"He's a traditional conservative, but he's still able to reach past traditional conservatives with his message," Johnson said. "We can't win unless we have a candidate who does that."
Minnesota's presidential caucus will be held next year on March 1, which will stand as the presidential race's "Super Tuesday" for the 2016 cycle. In all, a dozen states are holding a primaries or caucuses that day. Those follow four initial contests in February: the Iowa caucus, New Hampshire primary, South Carolina primary and Nevada caucus.
Many Minnesota Republicans are hoping Minnesota's inclusion in Super Tuesday will be a greater incentive for presidential contenders to visit and invest campaign resources in the state than in previous cycles. Besides Rubio, several other candidates have already started to line up Minnesota support.
Johnson said he would spend the coming months trying to convince other prominent Minnesota Republicans to endorse Rubio, and contacting local GOP activists urging them to support Rubio on caucus night.