ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A scramble began Monday among four Republicans angling to be Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's fall opponent as the GOP headed for its first competitive gubernatorial primary in two decades.
Party leaders are hopeful the 10-week race doesn't turn nasty and hobble the eventual nominee. What the voter pool looks like come August is anyone's guess. How to connect with those likely to turn out is a tricky proposition.
Potential voters shouldn't necessarily expect a flood of television ads during re-runs of their favorite programs. Lower summer viewership means campaigns must pinpoint their audiences, putting a premium placing ads on programs that attract conservative eyeballs and sporting events that people tend to watch live. Radio will be key to reaching people in their cars headed to the lake cabin, as will messages that pop up when people surf the Internet. Handshakes with cafe diners and rallies will be a staple.
Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson embarked on a party-sponsored fly-around after nabbing the Republican endorsement at last weekend's state convention. But three candidates want to overtake him in the Aug. 12 election: businessman Scott Honour, former Rep. Marty Seifert and former House Speaker Kurt Zellers.
As the endorsed candidate, Johnson has the party apparatus and voter lists at his disposal. The endorsement should help him replenish his campaign fund after sinking a considerable amount into winning the nod. He said he figures a successful primary campaign could consume $1 million, but he won't use those resources to run negative ads against the other Republicans.
"I'm running against Mark Dayton," Johnson said. "My job is to convince Republicans in the state that I'm the one who can beat Mark Dayton and I'm not going to do that by tearing them down."
Seifert, who filed Monday, said he's not interested in throwing sharp elbows at his GOP rivals, either. But he already is at work drawing distinctions, playing up his status as an outstate candidate and labeling himself the "anti-establishment candidate" despite a 15-year House career in which he ascended to minority leader.
"The other folks are good people. They are cut from the same cloth. I believe they live 15 minutes from each other," Seifert said, adding, "I live in rural Minnesota. That's a distinguishment."
Honour, a first-time candidate, predicted voters will gravitate to a candidate who hasn't moved from one political perch to the next. Having made a fortune running investment companies, Honour has tapped personal resources already and could dig deeper as the race wears on.
Of his opponents, Honour said: "They're all good guys, but they are political insiders. They have been part of the leadership that has continued to spend more money. We're the campaign and team that is going to take a fresh approach."
Zellers has been emphasizing experience and says he successfully took on Dayton already, refusing to budge on tax increases when Republicans led the House early in the governor's term.
The contest is shaping up as more wide open than last major Republican statewide primary. In 1994, GOP Gov. Arne Carlson comfortably dispatched with party-endorsed candidate Allen Quist, who challenged the moderate incumbent from the right. About 483,000 Republicans voted in that September primary.
As Dayton and his Democratic allies await the outcome, they are banking on the Republican competitors staking out positions they can exploit come fall. Johnson found himself clarifying a remark he made last month to a Tea Party group about a plan to "go all Scott Walker on Minnesota," a reference to Wisconsin's provocative leader.
At Monday's event, Johnson expressed fondness for Walker's overhaul of public employee labor laws but added that they would be unlikely to pass in Minnesota given a Democratic-led state Senate. "His style is a little different than mine so I probably wouldn't approach things in the same way," Johnson said.
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