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On the campaign trail: Jeff Johnson banking on his official seal of approval

MinnPost file photo by Brian Halliday
Johnson invested his campaign funds heavily in securing the GOP endorsement last month, spending more than $100,000 on delegate outreach and such campaign paraphernalia as T-shirts and balloons.

Editor’s note: One of a series of occasional reports on the campaigns of the four Republican gubernatorial candidates.

“We’ll have some gas in the tank.”

That’s Jeff Johnson’s take on the finances of his campaign for governor.  The Republican endorsed candidate to challenge Mark Dayton trails his three GOP challengers for the nomination in fundraising.

But, as the endorsee, Johnson and only Johnson has access to the state Republican party’s voter lists, donor lists, and get-out-the-vote mechanism. Access to those tools and the imprimatur of endorsement form the basis of his campaign strategy.

“We have to have re-energize and secure the Republican base,” he said. “We can’t be divided going into the fall.” 

Johnson invested his campaign funds heavily in securing the GOP endorsement last month, spending more than $100,000 on delegate outreach and such campaign paraphernalia as T-shirts and balloons. He’s not apologizing.

These Republicans [delegates] were chosen by other Republicans to represent them,” he said. “They did vet us up close.”

He warns that Republicans may stay home for the general election in November if a non-endorsed candidate should win the August 12 primary. “Certainly there will be some disinterest among activists if the non-endorsed candidate wins, and even some anger,” he said.

But while as Johnson is appealing to the most loyal and active Republican voters, he also touts his credentials as a candidate who can win independent votes in November.

“To beat Mark Dayton, we need someone who can get half of the non-Republican votes,” he said. “I’m the only one that can show I’ve been able to do that in large numbers in Hennepin County. It’s a voter rich area that we used to depend upon heavily and we haven’t done well there in the last two cycles.”

Johnson actually isn’t spending a lot of time in Hennepin County, where he is well-known. In southern, western and northwestern Minnesota, his name i.d. is low.

“Some know me and some don’t,” he said. “But when I talk to non-Republicans in greater Minnesota there’s a real interest in hearing my case against Dayton. They like him so you have to make your case.”  

So, Johnson talks to voters about the business climate and competitiveness with surrounding states. He says he would improve conditions with “tax reform — low, broad and simple as opposed to high, narrow and complex.”

He says he’s talking about the education achievement gap between white and non-white students, a gap he says he’d close by “giving parents more control and more choice.”

And Johnson is using the fighting government waste theme that he promoted as county commissioner. In a state budget, “we’d start with an audit of human services – they are the easiest programs to measure,” he said.   

But policy discussions can be overshadowed by the practical.

“I need to spend time raising money so we can get on television before the primary election,” Johnson said.  When the MinnPost interview was over, he said, he’d be back on the phone making fundraising calls.

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