The Jeff Johnson campaign for governor thought it had something worth bragging about: “More legislators support Johnson than the other GOP gubernatorial candidates,” was the headline in a recent news release announcing that 44 state senators and state representatives, current and former, have endorsed his candidacy.
But wait. Johnson’s Republican primary competitor, former state Rep. Marty Seifert announced Wednesday that he had procured some new legislative endorsements of his own, bringing his list of legislative supporters to 21.
Meanwhile, former Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers has picked up 16 legislative endorsements, all of them current and former Minnesota House members.
Not unexpectedly, Scott Honour — the one primary candidate without a legislative background — lists no legislative endorsements on his website, though his running mate, Karin Housley, is a State Senator. “As an outsider and a business leader, Scott has not sought the endorsement of political insiders,” said Valentina Weis, Honour’s deputy campaign manager. “Quite the opposite. All across the country we are seeing business leaders elected to serve because people want results, not just empty political promises.”
All of which brings up a question: Do endorsements even matter these days?
Former governor Arne Carlson would say so. In 1994, as incumbent governor, Carlson was denied the Republican endorsement, largely for the sin of being too moderate for party activists. So for his primary contest with Allen Quist, Carlson’s campaign amassed the support of virtually every Republican legislator — a way of shoring up his credentials with primary voters. [Full disclosure for those readers that don’t already know this: I was the Carlson campaign communications director at the time.]
“Campaigns put a lot of effort in getting to the primary voter,” Carlson said. “The endorsement of other Republicans gives them a credence, so it has considerable value.”
Former speaker of the house Steve Sviggum helped Carlson round up those GOP legislators. Now he’s doing the same thing for Jeff Johnson, as chair of the Johnson campaign.
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Unlike endorsements from trade or issue groups, Sviggum said, legislative endorsements, “speak volumes, because they’re from people that you work with, people that you served with, people that know you pretty well.”
That was the case with Carlson, Sviggum added. “We had worked with him and we trusted him,” he said. “He empowered our agenda and we upheld his vetoes.”
Carlson won that primary with more than 60 percent of the vote, an unlikely outcome for any of the candidates this year.
But that’s all the more reason why candidates are touting endorsements so aggressively this time around. “I consider these four very good people,” said Sviggum. “I recruited three of them and I door knocked for three of them. I think these endorsements mean more than in a two-way race.”