Democrat Walz And GOP Nominee Jeff Johnson Named Front Runners For Governor’s Seat
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota voters crowned Democratic Rep. Tim Walz and 2014 GOP nominee Jeff Johnson as their parties’ front-runners for governor yesterday, at preference polls at the precinct caucuses.
Those caucuses marked the first step in each party’s march toward the nominating conventions in June, an early chance for Democratic and Republican voters to get involved in selecting delegates and crafting new platforms.
Johnson and Walz will get a boost from their commanding finishes in the polls, and poor performances could drive other candidates out of the race. But the results are rarely indicative of who will capture each party’s nomination, and large amounts of undecided voters show plenty of room for change — especially among an unsettled Republican field.
Johnson won more than 45 percent of caucus votes, according to the Republican Party’s unofficial results — triple his nearest competitor, former GOP Party Chairman Keith Downey. Walz, seeking the Democratic nomination for governor after six terms in Congress, was leading five Democratic challengers by at least 10 percentage points with roughly 75 percent of votes tallied.
Party chairs hoped a wealth of top-dollar elections — from the race to replace Gov. Mark Dayton to an unexpected special election for former Sen. Al Franken’s seat to four or more competitive congressional campaigns — would energize voters and power heavy turnout at the caucus sites.
But turnout took a dive among Republican voters, dropping to below 11,000 after more than 14,000 GOP voters attended caucuses in the last gubernatorial election in 2014. And after Johnson, the second-most popular choice was “uncommitted.”
It reinforces that while Republican and Democratic candidates alike are jostling for a lane to their party’s nomination, the results of Tuesday’s straw poll aren’t carved in stone. Former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert won the polls in both 2010 and 2014 but lost the GOP endorsement both years. Dayton didn’t even put his name on the ballot ahead of his first election in 2010.
Voters are beginning to organize for two U.S. Senate races, congressional campaigns and a battle for control of the state House, but the preference polls on Tuesday were only taken for the governor’s race.