Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson holds a news conference on Sept. 19. Tom Scheck/MPR News

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson announced a major shakeup in his campaign today.

Johnson said he’s replacing his campaign manager Scot Crockett with David Gaither, the former chief of staff to Gov. Tim Pawlenty

Crockett helped Johnson win the GOP endorsement and Aug. 12 primary election.

Johnson said Crockett is moving back to Virginia “to be with his young family” but will continue to advise the campaign.

“David Gaither’s skills and experience will be invaluable to my campaign as we make the final push to victory in the next six weeks,” Johnson said. “I am grateful to Scot Crockett for his service these past several weeks far from his young family in Virginia, and I am pleased that he will continue to provide advice leading up to November 4.”

It isn’t clear whether Crockett was fired or resigned. Johnson’s campaign spokesman could not be reached to comment said the statement “speaks for itself.” UPDATE: Johnson campaign spokesman Jeff Bakken says it was “Crockett’s decision to step down.”

Gaither is a former state senator who was Pawlenty’s chief of staff in 2005 and 2006. Gaither  tried to win back his senate seat in 2012 but was defeated by Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL- Minnetonka.

Johnson’s campaign said Gaither will take an unpaid leave of absence from his job as executive director of the Minneapolis-based International Education Center.

The latest Star Tribune/Minnesota poll showed Johnson trailing DFL Gov. Mark Dayton by 12 percentage points. Business groups have also been reluctant to spend on Johnson’s behalf.

Johnson has to file his latest fundraising totals early next week. He declined to tell reporters how much he’s raised but said the campaign is  meeting its “internal goals.”

Johnson said he expects to start running TV ads by the end of the month.

Gov. Mark Dayton has reserved $1.3 million in ad time on Twin Cities TV stations while Johnson has yet to reserve any time.

PoliGraph: MisleadingThe battle for control of the U.S. House is playing out in Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District, where groups backing Republicans and Democrats have dueling ads up this week.

After the National Republican Congressional Committee dropped six figures on an ad targeting incumbent DFL Rep. Collin Peterson earlier this month, its foe the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fired back with an ad blasting Peterson’s Republican opponent, state Sen. Torrey Westrom of Elbow Lake.

“Westrom led the charge to shutdown Minnesota’s government. Why? Because he wouldn’t let go of tax breaks for millionaires. Westrom’s shutdown cost Minnesota almost $60 million. Almost 20,000 Minnesotans were out of the work. And the whole time, Torrey Westrom kept his taxpayer funded paycheck.”

This ad leans toward misleading for leaving out some important facts.

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The Evidence

The 2011 government shutdown happened because Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican controlled Legislature could not agree on a budget to close the state’s $5 billion deficit. Dayton wanted to raise taxes on Minnesota’s top earners (which he did in the last legislative session), but Republicans objected.

It’s easy to argue both sides of this issue: Republicans say Dayton forced a shutdown by sticking to his plan to raise taxes and refusing to accept the budget they passed. Democrats say the Republican budget cut too much.

At the time, Westrom was serving in the Minnesota House and was a member of his party’s leadership team as Speaker Pro Tempore.

While Westrom wasn’t the only GOP legislator standing their ground on the Republican budget as the ad implies, he did back his party’s actions before and during the shutdown. On July 1, 2011, he wrote to the Alexandria Echo Press to defend the Republican budget that Dayton rejected.

“The Legislature passed a balanced budget in May that increased current spending by $2 billion, with a total of $34 billion, a 6 percent increase in spending this year,” Westrom wrote. “A 6 percent increase should be enough; we cannot spend more than we have in the checkbook.”

It’s true that the shutdown cost the state about $60 million. But the ad leaves out the fact that those costs were offset by about $65 million the state saved when it laid off nearly 20,000 government employees during the shutdown.

Like most of his House colleagues, Westrom accepted pay during the shutdown as well.

The Verdict

The DCCC ad leans toward misleading for two reasons.

First, it somewhat overstates Westrom’s role in the government shutdown. It goes a bit too far by saying “Westrom led the charge to shutdown Minnesota’s government,” though Westrom was a member of leadership at the time and backed his party.

And while it’s true the shutdown cost about $65 million, the ad leaves out the critical fact that the state recouped those costs – and then some.

Mike McFadden in July talking energy prices at the Northfield Ballroom lunch counter. Mark Zdechlik/ MPR News
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GOP Senate hopeful Mike McFadden is traveling the state protesting DFL Sen. Al Franken’s decision to limit face-to-face meetings with him to three between now and Nov. 4.

McFadden says Franken has an obligation to debate more and has challenged the incumbent over it in recent TV ads.

“There were 12 invitations. We said, let’s do six,” said McFadden. “I’m going to continue to show up at these different debates and he can show up as he pleases. I hope he’s there. I encourage him to be there, once again, I think Minnesota deserves it.”

Six years ago when Franken was running against Republican Sen. Norm Coleman they debated five times in addition to taking part in a Farmfest forum.

Franken did share the stage with McFadden at Farmfest early last month, along with other candidates who lost their primary campaigns and won’t be on the November ballot.

“We’ve already debated,” Franken said in August at the Minnesota State Fair. “We did it at Farmfest and we’re going to do three more debates, and so we’re going to have four debates. And I think that’s a good number.”

Sen. Al Franken answered reporter questions while campaigning at the State Fair. Mark Zdechlik/MPR News

McFadden has campaigned gainst Franken for more than a year, but the latest poll published by the Star Tribune this week suggests Franken has a double-digit lead in the race.

Because McFadden is trailing, he needs as many debates as he can get while Franken does not, said University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs.

“What Franken would like to do is to run out the clock in this campaign,” Jacobs said. “He’s ahead. Few people know who McFadden is, so the strategy is to limit the number of debates.”

McFadden continues to press the issue.

Franken, he said, “doesn’t want Minnesota to know that he’s voted 97 percent for President Obama … I believe that Minnesotans deserve to hear my positions and my views and Sen. Franken’s so that they can make an informed decision when they cast that ballot.”

The first of the three Franken-McFadden debates will take place Oct. 1 in Duluth.