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Low turnout, small margin predicted in GOP primary for governor

Less spending by candidates compared to 2010 DFL race likely to mean fewer voters on August 12. 

In next week’s primary election for the Republican nomination for governor, the results will be close, the participation minimal.

That’s the prediction David Sturrock, chair of the political science department at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.

“I thought at first a voter turnout of 300,000 but now, best guess is a turnout of 250,000 to 275,000,” said Sturrock, who has made voter turnout a niche topic in his classes and who was a Republican congressional candidate himself in 2004. If those figures hold, that would represent less than 9 percent of registered voters in Minnesota. 

It comes down to money, Sturrock said, using the 2010 DFL primary for governor as a baseline. That year, more than $10 million in total was spent in the three-way race for the DFL nomination, with 446,000 voters going to the polls.

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“This time, the four Republican candidates [Jeff Johnson, Marty Seifert, Kurt Zellers, and Scott Honour] will spend a couple million dollars among them, maybe,” Sturrock said. 

So, which candidate has the advantage in a low turnout election?

“Lower turnout is best for the endorsed candidate, but there is a plausible path to victory for all four candidates,” said Sturrock who noted that each candidate has his own strategy to shave a winning margin.

As the endorsed candidate, the Hennepin County commissioner Johnson has access to the Republic party’s voter lists, its volunteer operations, and its get-out-the-vote call centers.

Scott Honour’s independent financing of his campaign — he’s contributed $900,000 of his own money so far – can buy him the same infrastructure, plus substantial exposure with radio and TV ads.

Seifert, the candidate with lowest amount of cash, has put in what Sturrock calls “windshield time,” visiting rural counties that have a history of higher voter turnout and areas with hot local contests. Seifert spent Sunday at the Derby Days parade in Shakopee, where two GOP candidates are competing for the nomination for state representative.

Zellers’ appeal to voters, according to Sturrock, is “an interesting message: ‘I’ve stood up against Mark Dayton and I’ve won.’”  Zellers also has raised enough money to communicate that message online and on television.

As for the spread of victory, “I don’t think we’ll see a very big spread, ten to 15 points between high to low and a very close spread between the top two candidates.”

Very close, he said, but adding, “hopefully not so close as to prompt a recount.”