Minnesota Gubernatorial Field Begins to Shape Up

Nathan Amundson

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With the entry of former Governor Tim Pawlenty into the field, the 2018 Minnesota Gubernatorial elections are looking interesting. Members of both parties are trying to build themselves up as the true voice of the people of Minnesota. With the retirement of DFL incumbent Mark Dayton, the seat is more likely to be a tossup above and beyond Minnesota’s usual swing nature. This piece will highlight the top two contenders from each of the main political parties.

Republican Party of Minnesota:

Tim Pawlenty: Former Governor Tim Pawlenty has recently joined the gubernatorial race on the Republican side. Since leaving the office in 2011, he has worked as a lobbyist for major banks across the country and he has close ties to Wall Street and the party establishment. This gives him an advantage, particularly in fundraising, but his perceived ties to the establishment will hurt him among the Republican party’s pro-Trump populist base. Though Minnesota’s conservatives are a little less pro-Trump than the rest of the nation, Pawlenty is untested in the waters of the post-Trump Republican coalition.

Pawlenty has not sought elective office since 2006, where he survived (albeit barely) the massive Democratic Wave that year. He declined to seek a third term in 2010, where DFLer Mark Dayton picked up the governorship at the same time the Republicans picked up both houses of the Minnesota Legislature, making the Minnesota seat one of five nationwide to flip from Red to Blue.

Jeff Johnson: Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson has previously run for Governor of Minnesota, facing off against Mark Dayton in the 2014 general election, eventually losing by 5.6 percentage points. One of two Republicans on the commission, Johnson helps to influence policy decisions in the extremely liberal home of Minneapolis. 

Johnson suffers a few disadvantages, however. He has previously lost an election for the state’s highest office, while Pawlenty has won, twice. Additionally, though a prior candidate, Johnson lacks Pawlenty’s fundraising connections and infrastructure. Although party activists have come around to supporting Johnson as the consensus candidate, Pawlenty’s late entry has caused many to question their choice. 

Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party of Minnesota:

Tim Walz: Congressman Tim Walz of Minnesota’s first congressional district declared that he would seek the DFL nomination for the gubernatorial election rather than seek reelection to his congressional seat. He is considered the leading candidate for the DFL nomination, winning the straw polls in every Congressional District except CD-8. He is winning the opinion polls statewide, albeit with a plurality. 

If Walz wins the nod to represent the DFL it will be interesting to have an outstate Democrat running against a Twin Cties Republican (both Johnson and Pawlenty reside in Hennepin County). However, it is unlikely that there will be a lot of crossover, as Walz is a liberal Democrat and both Pawlenty and Johnson are center-right Republicans.

Rebecca Otto: Rebecca Otto is the incumbent Auditor of the State of Minnesota. She is not seeking a third four-year-term in the position. Otto picked up her seat by the largest margin of victory over an incumbent in 112 years when she found that her predecessor had made several million dollars worth of budget errors. 

Otto is more or less running on a standard progressive DFL platform, but an issue she has brought great attention to is her support of a carbon tax and dividend system to help mitigate the effects of climate change. 

More than likely, at least two of these people will face off in the general election to be our next governor, but who will win?