Momentum changes in governor race

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson feels a bit like Rocky Balboa, he took a beating from nearly $2 million in TV attack ads so far this campaign season, but he stayed in the ring and now things are starting to turn his way.

Governor hopeful Jeff Johnson stops by Detroit Lakes to talk about his run for Minnesota’s top spot.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson feels a bit like Rocky Balboa, he took a beating from nearly $2 million in TV attack ads so far this campaign season, but he stayed in the ring and now things are starting to turn his way.

The campaign “has actually been going very well - the last couple of weeks feels like a change in momentum,” the Hennepin County commissioner said during a stop at DL Newspapers on Tuesday.

“People have started paying attention, which they hadn’t before.”

Perhaps because of primary election fatigue after five Republican candidates slugged it out, “this race seemed to get less attention than other statewide races,” he said.

After the first debate involving Johnson, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet, “people started to pay attention and get engaged,” Johnson said. “If people pay attention, I’ll probably win. If they don’t, I’ll probably lose.”


He was looking forward to the only prime time debate on the schedule for the governor’s race, in Fargo-Moorhead Tuesday evening.

Although a recent Rasmussen poll had him trailing Dayton by around 10 percent, Johnson considers that good news.

“We have absorbed close to $2 million in negative ads, and we’ve stayed close,” he said. “Now our message will get out, aggressive all the way.”

The Johnson campaign actually outraised the Dayton campaign in the last campaign finance report, but Dayton still has nearly twice as much cash on hand.

 Johnson has more than $866,000 in his campaign coffers, after raising more than $1 million since the last report was filed in late July. Johnson says more than $400,000 in donations has come since the start of September.

Dayton also raised a little over $1 million since July 22 and has nearly $1.7 million in the bank, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Each candidate took in money from a state public subsidy that’s provided to candidates who agree to abide by spending limits.

Dayton’s subsidy amounted to $534,000, while Johnson received nearly $400,000.


“I’ll be able to stay on TV solid the whole way through, as long as I keep raising money,” Johnson said. “That is key for me - we have to get the message out,” and TV remains the best way to do that, while giving voters the chance to see and hear the candidate, he said.

The campaign also has an active presence on social media, and is making use of relatively inexpensive rural radio advertising.

Johnson said the outside groups that support Dayton, the DFL Party and Alliance for a Better Minnesota, continue to run false and misleading ads.

“They’re false and they have been found to be false,” Johnson said. “They try to tag me as a Tea Party Republican, they’re going to call me names. I never voted to cut education spending –an increase that’s not as big as they want is not the same as a cut. I don’t think education spending has been cut in 30 years in Minnesota,” he said.

Dayton should repudiate those false attack ads, he said. “If an outside group says something false about Mark Dayton, I’ll make it clear I don’t stand by that,” he said.

Johnson said there are three key points in his campaign.

One is greater Minnesota versus the Twin Cities metro area. The Dayton Administration has been very “metro-centric,” Johnson said. “He spent his whole life in the city, his running mate spent her whole life in the Twin Cities as well,” he said. “I spent half my life in rural Minnesota (he grew up and graduated from high school in Detroit Lakes) and my running mate spent his whole life in southern Minnesota. It gives you a different perspective.”

The focus has been too much on the metro area under Gov. Dayton, he added. The funding formulas for K-12 education and local government aid were revamped to help Minneapolis and St. Paul, and transportation plans focus too much on rail trains, trolleys and bike paths in the Twin Cities.


“It especially hurts rural Minnesota,” he said.

Two, he will focus much more energy on trying to make government more efficient and effective.

“Our goal is to audit programs, make them prove they do what they say they do, starting with Human Services, because that’s the easiest. Dayton thinks there isn’t inefficiency and waste in government, but there is, and people are tired of not seeing their tax dollars spent wisely.”

The third priority is jobs, he said.

“Minnesota has an extremely high under-employment rate of 53 percent,” he said. “That means half the people in the state are overqualified and underpaid,” at their current jobs, he said.

The state lags other Midwestern states in creating a favorable business climate with lower taxes and fewer regulations, he said.

“Businesses choosing to expand or start a business are going elsewhere in the Midwest; we’re starting to see that in Minnesota. We’ve left too many people behind. The private sector is creating too many part-time, low-wage jobs. We’re not where we want to be right now.”

Tweets by @DLNewspapers

What To Read Next
Get Local