Johnson gets help from Christie

Published 9:49 am Tuesday, October 14, 2014

COLUMBIA HEIGHTS — The chief of the Republican Governors Association said Monday that Minnesota’s race hasn’t fallen off his map and a stop he made for GOP nominee Jeff Johnson is proof he thinks Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is beatable.

Jeff Johnson

Jeff Johnson

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the group’s chairman, spent several hours raising money with Johnson and touring a charter school with a strong track record. Christie is the highest-profile surrogate who has joined Johnson since he became his party’s nominee in August.

“I’m going to be in 18 different states in the month of October,” Christie told reporters. “I’m not going anywhere where I don’t think our candidate can win.”

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Dayton has led Johnson in all polling but Minnesota is accustomed to fast-closing races. There are three head-to-head debates to go, including one Tuesday in Duluth.

Neither the RGA nor its Democratic counterpart has devoted much attention or money to Minnesota’s campaign. Citing laws that prohibit groups and candidates from coordinating activities, Christie declined to say if the GOP group would plow money into Minnesota.

In 2010, the Republican Governors Association committed more than $425,000 to Minnesota’s race. This year it hasn’t disclosed any spending. Likewise, the Democratic Governors Association’s $500,000 Minnesota infusion four years ago has been slashed to $50,000 this year.

At Global Academy, Christie and Johnson popped into three classrooms to greet students and learn more about a model that has students beating the odds. The children speak 10 different languages and there is a heavy concentration of those with a Somali background. Minnesota Senate candidate Mike McFadden joined his fellow Republicans on the tour.

Johnson said he’s impressed by the charter school’s progress in defying the achievement gap between white and ethnically diverse students that has plagued Minnesota schools as a whole.

“While politicians love to talk about it, they love to wring their hands about it and they love to spend money on it, it’s not getting any better in Minnesota,” Johnson said. “When I’m governor, I will take this head on.”

Charter schools receive public money but operate under different rules than traditional public schools. Johnson said he would push “parent-trigger” legislation to give parents the authority to replace top administrators at struggling community schools or convert them into charters like Global Academy. Charter schools receive public money but operate under fewer restrictions than traditional public schools.

As they made their way through an eighth-grade classroom, students got a chance to put their visitors on the spot. One asked Christie point-blank if he’d run for president.

“I’m thinking about it, we’ll see,” he responded, telling them to watch for a decision early next year.