(KMSP) - This year, voters will pick a new governor for Minnesota and decide not one, but two U.S. Senate seats.
The election cycle began Tuesday as Democrats and Republicans gathered at their annual precinct caucuses to vote in a preference or "straw" poll for governor, with U.S. Rep. Tim Walz jumping out to an early lead in the DFL race and Jeff Johnson taking home more than three times the votes of his nearest Republican competitor.
STRAW POLL RESULTS
Tim Walz - 30.91%
Rebecca Otto - 20.11%
Erin Murphy: 13.16%
Uncommitted - 12.87%
Chris Coleman: 11.74%
Tina Liebling - 6.14%
Paul Thissen - 4.72%
Other - 0.35%
Jeff Johnson: 45.42%
Keith Downey: 14.57%
Phillip Parrish: 11.98%
Mary Giuliani Stephens 11.89%
Lance Johnson: 0.48%
The exercise was not a binding poll, but represents a beauty contest of sorts to show who has the most strength early on in the race for governor. Six DFL candidates held spots on the party's ballot, while six Republicans represented on the GOP in Tuesday's poll.
Participation was strong out at the DFL Senate District 64 caucus at Highland Park Junior High School in St. Paul.
The caucuses were really neighbors meeting with neighbors, talking about political issues that are important to them.
Even though this is technically an off-election year nationally, in Minnesota it is not.
And caucus-goers said they sensed higher enthusiasm this year, which is why they came out.
“I don’t think of it as an off year,” Julie Scultz said. “There’s the governor’s race, we’ve got the senate race - it’s not an off year. And we learned in the last election that everything matters, it matters what everybody does.”
Jane Miller added that this year, “people are engaged. I think people are committed, and I think they really want to see a lot of change take place.”
Meanwhile, GOP precincts from Senate District 48 caucused at Eden Prairie High School.
While turnout was smaller than that of the DFL, their small groups were very engaged in discussing the different candidates for governor, senate and other congressional seats.
We heard a lot of support for Keith Downey, a lawmaker from Edina who's the former leader of the party. We also chatted with many first-time caucus goers who said they're curious about the process and ventured out in the cold to make their voices heard.
“If you really want a particular person in office then it’s good to go to the caucus and figure out who you really want there,” Maria Helseth said.
“Caucuses are really important because it’s the basic level where average everyday citizens can get involved. I myself turned out to my first ever caucus on March 1st of 2016 and had never been before, and then a little over a year later was elected as the new chairwoman for the Republican Party of Minnesota,” Jennifer Carnahan said.
We asked her about the logistics of holding these caucuses in the evening during the work week when a lot of people have children and other activities to go to, and she said they've tried having caucuses on the weekends to accommodate people, but that didn't work well, so it's tricky trying to find the best time.
Statement from GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan
"Caucus night in Minnesota represents the first opportunity for the general public to get involved in the 2018 election process. Tonight's process gave the Gubernatorial candidates an early gauge on public opinion; we look forward to strong Republican performance in November and are excited to Turn Minnesota Red."