After a shocking upset over former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Republican nominee Jeff Johnson is set to face off against Rep. Tim Walz in the Minnesota gubernatorial contest.
Pawlenty, the last Republican to occupy the Governor’s mansion, failed to secure the nomination from the state party, but vastly outspent the Hennepin County commissioner in his bid for his old job. Throughout the campaign, Pawlenty struggled to distance himself from his criticism of President Trump, previously calling him “unhinged and unfit.”
Although Johnson had issues of his own with Trump, he managed to position himself as the Trump-favorite along the campaign trail, earning the president’s “total endorsement” after his Tuesday night win.
“Jeff Johnson of Minnesota had a big night in winning the Republican nomination for Governor against a very strong and well known opponent. Thanks for all the support you showed me,” Trump tweeted. “You have my complete and total endorsement. You will win in November!”
Jeff Johnson of Minnesota had a big night in winning the Republican nomination for Governor against a very strong and well known opponent! Thanks for all of the support you showed me. You have my complete and total Endorsement. You will win in November!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 15, 2018
During his concession speech, Pawlenty even acknowledged that he doesn’t “fit well” in the GOP during the Trump era and said “the Republican Party has shifted.” Tuesday’s loss likely marks the end of Pawlenty’s political career, which started to dwindle after a short-lived 2012 presidential run.
Johnson, who is currently serving out his last term as Hennepin County commissioner, has experienced defeats of his own in the predominantly liberal state. In 2006, he left the Minnesota House of Representatives to launch a failed campaign for Minnesota attorney general, followed in 2014 by an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign against incumbent Gov. Mark Dayton.
In his second attempt for the governorship, Johnson will square off against Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party candidate Walz, who currently represent Minnesota’s First Congressional District. Walz’s district went to Trump by 15 points in the 2016 election.
The Minnesota Democrat won Tuesday’s primary in a three-way battle against State Rep. Erin Murphy and Attorney General Lori Swanson. Although Murphy ultimately failed to defeat Walz, she did manage to gain the DFL’s endorsement prior to Tuesday after criticizing Walz for his previous support of the NRA.
Both Johnson and Walz, however, immediately set their sights on the general election, with Walz going after his opponent for planning to cut government spending.
“What exactly are you going to cut? What are you going to do? What are you going to take away? And what is the vision that what you’re saying is going to make a difference in people’s lives?” Walz said Wednesday, claiming that his campaign will “make the difference.”
Walz, though equally surprised with his new opponent’s victory, immediately began comparing Johnson to Pawlenty.
“The message that was coming out of Jeff Johnson’s campaign and Tim Pawlenty’s campaign were very similar. They were trying to out-Donald Trump each other,” Walz said, according to Real Clear Politics.
Johnson calmly dismissed the early criticism, saying that he hopes the campaign won’t turn into a “mudslinging contest.”
“There are some people who will vote for me solely because I support the president and some who will not vote for me solely because I support the president. There is, frankly, not much I can do on either of those edges,” Johnson said, adding that he believes most Minnesotans are “in the middle.”
Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan doesn’t seem concerned about Johnson’s support of Trump, reminding voters that the president won 78 out of 87 counties in Minnesota.
“There are a lot of people out there who support the president and they just do it silently,” she said. “He came within one-and-a-half points and that was with no effort in Minnesota.”
According to an August 13 Emerson College poll conducted prior to Tuesday’s vote, Johnson trails Walz by 7 points. The two candidates will debate Friday night in a statewide televised event.