Johnson, Murphy win Minnesota governor endorsements

Published 2:32 pm Sunday, June 3, 2018

ROCHESTER — Republican activists endorsed Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson for a second run at governor Saturday and Democrats backed longtime state Rep. Erin Murphy for the same race, but both still face certain primary challenges that could mean neither is on the ballot in November.

Johnson easily beat two rivals to clinch his party’s endorsement in Duluth. But former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a late entry in the race seeking a return to politics, skipped the convention altogether and will compete with Johnson in an Aug. 14 primary.

A Democratic primary could be even more crowded for Murphy, who outlasted U.S. Rep. Tim Walz over six rounds of voting to secure the blessing from Democratic activists gathered in Rochester. Moments after withdrawing from the endorsement, Walz told supporters he would continue to a primary. And three-term Attorney General Lori Swanson is considering a late entry in the race after losing her party’s endorsement for another run at her current job, a spokesman said.

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Together, the parties’ endorsements were a rebuke of the more mainstream candidates on each side in favor of those more in-step with fervent party activists. But it’s not the final word — both parties have a history of bucking the endorsing conventions.

Outgoing Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton didn’t compete for the party nod in 2010 yet went on to win two terms. Former two-term GOP Gov. Arne Carlson never won his party’s endorsement.

An endorsement can be a help in the drive toward the November election. Murphy and Johnson will get the backing of their respective political parties in expected August primaries, including some much-needed financial help.

Murphy overcame heavy favorite Walz by piling up critical endorsements from unions such as AFSCME Council 5 and the Service Employees International Union while positioning herself as the more liberal and energizing choice. State Auditor Rebecca Otto was also running but dropped out early.

Walz had positioned himself as the best candidate to take on Pawlenty in November.

Once it was likely neither would get the convention’s support, Walz and Otto united to try to block anyone getting the endorsement. Walz walked around the convention floor urging delegates to vote for no endorsement, while Otto also instructed her supporters to do the same after dropping out of the voting.

Johnson’s endorsement win is a second chance. He won the party’s blessing and the primary in 2014 but eventually lost to Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

Johnson now faces a costly primary against Pawlenty, the two-term governor and one-time presidential hopeful who entered the race for his old job in April. Pawlenty raised more than $1 million in his first weeks in the race, and Johnson acknowledged he would be outspent ahead of an Aug. 14 primary.

Johnson took a jab at Pawlenty’s previous work as a lobbyist for banks in Washington after the endorsement.

“Are we a party of the political class, the wealthiest donors, the lobbyists, or are we a party of grassroots Republicans_the people on the ground who are pounding in the lawn signs and knocking on the doors?” Johnson asked.

Swanson’s withdrawal from the endorsement fight for a fourth term as Attorney General was the surprise of the day, handing the endorsement to a little-known challenger and leaving her future up in the air.

Spokesman Ben Wogsland said Swanson would consider all her options — including a possible primary against Democratic attorney Matt Pelikan or a last-minute run for governor. Swanson had been considering a run for the governor’s office earlier this year before opting to run for her job again.