The Minnesota Republican Party state convention in Duluth endorsed Jeff Johnson for governor Saturday, the same endorsement Johnson won four years ago.
Johnson’s deep roots in the party resulted in a third ballot victory by acclamation after challengers — Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens and former teacher Phillip Parrish — dropped out of balloting. “It’s Jeff Johnson’s time,” said Giuliani Stephens, who made the motion to endorse Johnson by acclamation.
In his victory speech, Johnson acknowledged the primary fight he faces against former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who bypassed the endorsement process. “This endorsement still means something. So now it is time to defend this endorsement and that starts tomorrow,” he said. ‘We could whine or cry about it, but instead, I would just rather go win it.”
Johnson also nodded to Pawlenty’s fundraising prowess. The former governor has nearly one million dollars in his campaign account and Johnson has less than half of that. “We are going to get outspent. We are going to rely on you,” he said, asking delegates to “throw a twenty dollar bill into a hat.”
Johnson also tried to turn that disadvantage into a talking point. “This [primary election] is about the heart and soul of the Republican party,” he said at a post-endorsement news conference. “Are we a party of the political class, the wealthiest donors, the lobbyists? Or are we a party of the grassroots Republicans?”
Although almost all delegates stood in support of Johnson, state Rep. Jon Koznick of Lakeville, a delegate and Pawlenty supporter, said Pawlenty had broader delegate support than the endorsement vote indicated. “There are other people here that may want to vote for Pawlenty, but since he’s not here, they’ll pick another candidate,” Koznick said. “His base of strength is even higher here.”
GOP endorsed attorney general candidate Doug Wardlow may have been the big winner of the day. Incumbent DFL Attorney General Lori Swanson failed to receive her party’s endorsement, and as soon as the news of Swanson filtered into the Duluth convention hall, Wardlow’s campaign started scooping up donations. “For the attorney general’s race, we are one hundred percent, lockstep unified and the message is, ‘We need an attorney general to push the rule of law above politics,’” Wardl0w said. “[Swanson’s] been dropping the ball, derelict in her duties, and playing politics.”
The convention endorsed two other statewide candidates: Pam Myhra for state auditor and John Howe for secretary of state.
Both Pawlenty and Johnson said they were ready to hit the campaign trail. Pawlenty will fly around the state on Monday. As his news conference closed, Johnson said he too would be on a statewide tour. “We’ll be driving around the state in our 2011 Jeep,” he said.