Why GOP candidates for governor care so much about legislative endorsements

Photos of Johnson, Zellers and Honour by Brian Halliday
Jeff Johnson, Marty Seifert, Kurt Zellers and Scott Honour

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.”

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 07/24/2014 - 09:55 am.

    Endorsements from political figures would only be valuable if the GOP electorate actually valued experienced politicians and government. Since they GOP Modus Operandi involves eschewing government, politicians, and government employees in general, it stands to reason that such endorsements will become increasingly fruitless.

  2. Submitted by jody rooney on 07/24/2014 - 10:31 am.

    But why would any one endorse Zellers

    He and Matt Dean engineered one of the poorest strategies ever, putting gay marriage on the ballot.

    Hopefully the voters in Dean’s district will remember that he may be of the party they prefer but he is horribly ineffective as either a strategist or a legislator. The party made a significant mistake when they endorsed him over Carol McFarlane when their districts were combined. She actually worked and worked hard in the legislature writing good legislation for all the people in her district.

    How many times do these folks get to seriously screw up.

  3. Submitted by David Broden on 07/24/2014 - 11:42 am.

    Political and/or Community Leader Endorsements???

    The value of endorsements for political candidates is always viewed as significant by candidates and by those endorsing the candidate– the real question to ask is does endorsement catch the attention of voters or is the endorsement only a way for the candidate to gain internal support if the candidate is elected?? Certainly the value of endorsement has evolved and changed and varies with each election- and particularly what the issues are and how the candidate sees the endorsement supporting the campaign agenda. As an former and yet knowledgeable political wonk the value of endorsement by other politicians can be important but much more beneficial to the candidate is endorsement by key known and respected community leaders. Finding and obtaining the community leader endorsement is a challenge but any candidate with potential to win must have this list. In past years it was easy to identify 10-20 key leaders who from across the state who represent and have a vision and approach for their region of the state,the entire state or for other factors. In the past this list was used regularly by both parties– today this list is not easy to define or identify and yet these are the people who must are key to shaping the future of the state. As we move thru the 2014 campaigns I will look for community leader endorsements and view these as more significant than more poltical names.

    Dave Broden

  4. Submitted by THOMAS REYNOLDS on 07/24/2014 - 12:37 pm.


    The endorsement process is always very important in gathering support from a broad spectrum of voters. The endorsement gives voters an idea of what the person will or will not support if elected. The process is especially important in a Primary Race, but also does help sway undecided voters in the general election.

  5. Submitted by jason myron on 07/24/2014 - 06:11 pm.

    It’s ironic

    that most of these GOP candidates wouldn’t want to be caught dead next to someone like Arne Carlson. He’s the embodiment of everything their party is missing right now.

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