Walz, Johnson celebrate gubernatorial primary victories, turn focus on each other

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The November ballot for Governor of Minnesota is set and so are the candidates on both sides of the aisle.

Jeff Johnson and the GOP

On the GOP side, Jeff Johnson stunned conventional wisdom by soundly defeating Tim Pawlenty.

He was elated, but he wasn’t surprised.

“And I can tell you the last two or three weeks we really felt this coming,” he said.

In a meeting with the media Wednesday morning, Johnson said his camp could sense that Pawlenty and political pundits overestimated the interest in having Pawlenty back for another term as Governor. Voters were not looking for a rerun.

“And no fault of Tim, they didn’t see him as that because he served for eight years starting 16 years ago and that’s a long time,” Johnson said.

Of Minnesota’s 87 counties, Johnson took 68 and Pawlenty won 19. In the counties that Pawlenty won, margins ranged from three votes to 600. Johnson’s margins, in many cases, were far larger.

Right away Wednesday, on Twitter, President Donald Trump endorsed the gubernatorial candidate.

“Good, yeah, I would have welcomed one before but this is great,” Johnson said.

He said he will not pivot away from Trump’s support and he said he knows that will turn some Republicans away. He said he believes that is a small minority to lose.

Both he and the party chair hope Trump comes back for another rally, since the one in Duluth in June drew 8,000.

“President Trump won 78 of our 87 counties. That’s significant. He came within 1.5 points. And that was with no effort in Minnesota.  There was no ground game in this state in 2016,” said Jennifer Carnahan, the chair of the Minnesota Republican Party.

“I really believe the majority, vast majority of Minnesotans are not going to pick Tim Walz or Jeff Johnson based on what they think about Donald Trump,” Johnson said. “They’re going to make that pick based on what they think of Tim Walz or Jeff Johnson.

Tim Walz and the DFL

Congressman Tim Walz beat out Attorney General Lori Swanson and DFL endorsed Representative Erin Murphy to get his name on the November ballot.

Now solely focused on his Republican candidate, he says it doesn't matter who is the GOP candidate. His message and goals for the future remain the same.

“This is a good day,” Walz said Wednesday. A really good day.

Walz and running mate Peggy Flanagan were all smiles at their first joint news conference as the DFL candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor. Walz and Flanagan say they are humbled, pointing out their ticket won in Hennepin and Ramsey county as well as greater Minnesota, especially the south.  

“If it’s the model to break it down to win this, If it’s the Donald Trump model, I say good luck to trying to win in greater Minnesota where people know I’ve written farm bills. With them and we’ve done things to together,” Walz said.

While their primary campaign was somewhat focused on former Governor Tim Pawlenty, the DFL duo must pivot to focus on Commissioner Johnson, who wasted no time in accusing Walz of planning to raise taxes, promoting single-payer healthcare and making Minnesota a sanctuary state.

When asked about his now opponent, Walz told the media what he thinks is the most pressing question.

“I think the question that I would respond and what we will ask on this campaign is what exactly are you going to cut? What are you going take away? And what are you saying that what you are saying makes a difference in people’s lives.”

Regardless which ticket wins come November, Minnesotans will elect the nation’s first indigenous woman as Lt. Governor in either Donna Bergstrom on the GOP side or Flanagan for the DFL.  

“As we see one of the first endorsements coming out today, coming out from President Trump, would call on Donna Bergstrom and ask her ‘How do you feel Donald Trump has treated Native American veterans, Native American women?’ I think there is a very clear contrast in how we view that kind of leadership,” said Flanagan.

President Trump obviously has been and will continue to be a factor in this campaign. In parts of Southern Minnesota where Walz won by 60-70 percent, President Trump won my similar margins in 2016.

As Walz points out, this is a different time and a very different race.