After coming in a distant third in a statewide straw poll just a few months ago, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson has won his party’s backing to run against Gov. Mark Dayton in the general election. But he still faces a primary fight with three other Republican hopefuls.
“We are going to leave this convention ready to campaign so hard that Mark Dayton isn’t going to know what hit him until the middle of December,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s nomination wraps up a long weekend of voting by Republican delegates at their state convention.
But the primary campaign looms, with Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, Scott Honour and Marty Seifert all still running to try to win the party nomination for governor.
Johnson called on the delegates to unite despite the upcoming primary battle.
“I will work every single day to make you proud of this decision,” he said. “We are going to go out there and get the votes of every possible Minnesotan we can get.”
Johnson’s victory came not long after delegates started voting. He had an early lead and continued to surge throughout four rounds of balloting. He got an assist after the third round of voting when state Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, dropped out of the race and asked his delegates to support Johnson.
In his opening speech to delegates, Johnson stressed his experience winning elections in the Twin Cities area, a region of the state that’s traditionally a DFL stronghold.
“I’ve won multiple times – big – in Hennepin County, despite my conservative record,” Johnson said. “I have many independents and moderates who do not agree with me but trust me and vote for me anyway. And we can use that same formula to work all across the metro area.”
Being able to compete in the metro area and on the traditionally liberal Iron Range will be critical to Johnson’s campaign against Dayton, should he make it to the general election.
Johnson’s endorsement came with some intraparty drama.
On the third ballot, Seifert had about 27 percent of the vote. Instead of withdrawing as Thompson did, Seifert told the crowd he would be competing in the primary.
He also said his delegates were free to go home.
“Instead of dragging things out, taking your time, keeping you here, I am going to decide that my delegates can be released to go home and go get your sleep,” Seifert said.
Critics said the tactic was meant to shut down the convention without an endorsement.
“Out of respect for you, the delegates, I’m here to say, ‘that was uncalled for,'” said party chair Keith Downey minutes after Seifert made his speech.
Meanwhile, Dayton easily won his party’s endorsement for a second term in Duluth Saturday.
“It’s a great time to be a Democrat in Minnesota,” Dayton said. “It’s a great time to stand up proudly for all we accomplished and compare ourselves and our policies and our platform with those of the Republicans.”
Within minutes of the GOP endorsement, DFL Party chair Ken Martin was on defense, calling Johnson “another empty vessel representing a party with nothing to offer.”