DFL party chair Ken Martin was working hard to portray Jeff Johnson, the Republican nominee for governor, as “a Tea Party extremist,” an “affable” one, but an extremist nonetheless, one who would take the state backward.
Martin’s comments followed the Republican party’s “unity” news conference in which Johnson, flanked by the three men he beat in Tuesday’s primary, laid out his vision for defeating Gov. Mark Dayton in November.
“We have to be united as a Republican party” Johnson said, but added, “We need a vision that will bring in independents.”
The GOP primary candidates, Scott Honour, Kurt Zellers, and Marty Seifert, all pledged unequivocal support for Johnson’s candidacy.
Johnson made it clear his campaign will carry on with the themes of his primary campaign. On education reform he said, “A great education should be available to every kid in this state regardless of where that kids lives.” On reforming MinnesotaCare, he said that patients and doctors should make healthcare decisions “not insurance companies, certainly not the government.”
He said he wanted to rein in government’s “insatiable appetite for growth and abandon the principle that the poor are poor and the rich are rich and all we can do is redistribute the wealth.”
Johnson said that his recent hospital stay for stomach infection would have no effect on his general election campaign. When asked whether his mild-mannered presence could be a hindrance if the campaign gets feisty, he replied, “I am a nice guy.” He said he wanted to talk about a positive message that he described as a “big picture of balance and common sense reform.”
That is not what the DFL’s Martin wanted to talk about in the party’s response to Johnson’s victory lap. Martin delivered his criticism solo and dodged a question about when Dayton himself would emerge to join the fray. “The GOP, under Jeff Johnson’s leadership… wants to take us back to the days when people were kicked off their health insurance because of pre-existing conditions,” Martin said. “They want to take us back to the days of balancing budgets through gimmicks and smoke and mirrors, back to the days of shutdowns and borrowing from our school districts.”
As Martin referenced votes Johnson made as a state legislator and county commissioner, he signaled that while Dayton’s record was wide open for scrutiny, so was Johnson’s.
Indirectly, however, the Republicans and Democrats agreed on improving one outcome of Tuesday’s primary: low voter turnout. Just fewer than 10 percent of the state’s registered voters went to the polls.
While GOP party chair Keith Downey tried to put a positive spin on the turnout, citing improvement over 2010, he has been working with Martin to move the primary to a date in June. Dayton and Johnson also support a June primary. “Yesterday’s results in terms of turnout were not a good thing,” Martin said. “In terms of democracy, it’s not a good thing when you have just the hard core partisans who show up.”