Prominent Republicans are lining up to support their chosen candidate for governor, citing either personal allegiance or party discipline as their motivation. For party backers, there’s just one problem: They’re not all lining up behind the same one.
A series of announcements in recent days have found GOP legislators past and present choosing sides between the three best-known Republican contenders, each of whom has served in the House during the last decade. The fourth candidate, former businessman Scott Honour, has apparently eschewed that process altogether, claiming he is not interested in the endorsement of elected officials.
The party’s endorsed candidate, Hennepin County Board Commissioner Jeff Johnson, produced the single most extensive list seen to date, with 44 current or former GOP lawmakers supporting his campaign. Perhaps most important, Johnson’s supporters include the current leadership of the Republican minority caucuses in both legislative chambers.
But Marty Seifert, who has so far announced his endorsement by 21 sitting or ex-legislators, said he is just getting started, and has a number of other announcements in the works.
“When all is said and done, I expect to have more endorsements than all of the other candidates — maybe all of them put together,” Seifert said.
Capitalizing on coverage
The value of a legislative endorsement depends on how the campaign puts that news to use, according to blogger and former campaign operative Michael Brodkorb.
That message is not lost on Seifert, who has strategically timed and staged his announcements to capitalize on media coverage. Seifert said his appearances with area legislators has resulted in radio coverage in Alexandria, as well as front-page newspaper stories in New Ulm and Fairmont.
“Particularly in rural areas, I think it’s important to see that local lawmaker supporting someone,” Seifert said. “A lot of people aren’t sure who to support, and that means a lot to those voters.”
Seifert appeared most recently alongside Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, who said he hoped his endorsement might deliver some of the state’s sportsmen or National Rifle Association members, given Cornish’s reputation as the “gun guy” at the Capitol. Cornish explained that he wanted to back a rural candidate who understood agricultural issues, and the issues facing the state’s small towns.
“[Seifert] is aware of problems with [Minnesota Pollution Control Agency] and state agencies, in terms of environmental regulations,” Cornish said. “He’s aware of the lack of funding, on rural versus metro areas. We’re pretty much lock-step on rural issues.”
Brodkorb observed that there is a significant difference between a legislator’s simply agreeing to be marked-down on a press release and volunteering to help a candidate win the Aug. 12 primary election.
“The question ultimately is, are legislators signing so their name appears on a list, or are they actually being put to work?” Brodkorb said.
For that reason, Brodkorb was impressed by the list of endorsees released by the Johnson campaign, pointing out that his supporters include veteran politicos from key GOP areas. Several of Johnson’s backers represent the 6thCongressional District, the most reliable conservative stronghold in the state, or the 8th CD, where Republican activists are enthusiastic about supporting first-time candidate Stewart Mills in his bid to unseat DFL U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan.
Johnson is especially in need of campaign activities by surrogates in the near-term, while he recovers from surgery for a perforated stomach. On Thursday, campaign advisor Gregg Peppin said Johnson expected to be out of the hospital within one or two days.
Johnson won the nod of Senate Minority Leader David Hann and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt. The House GOP leader’s support of Johnson might come as a surprise to some insiders. Seifert has functioned as something of a political mentor to Daudt, who worked as Seifert’s campaign manager during his initial gubernatorial bid in 2010. Reached on Thursday, Daudt said his endorsement was a matter of party loyalty.
“I had told everyone, even before the convention, that I was going to broadly sort of stay out of this, and support endorsed candidates as a team player,” Daudt said. He added: “I have been upfront about this: If any one of the candidates calls me up and asks for advice, I will give them the best advice I have.”
Going it alone
Honour seems by far the least likely candidate to seek Daudt’s counsel. Honour has not sought legislative backing, with the sole exception of his running mate, first-term Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Marys Point.
Honour, a former investment banker has developed a central campaign theme as a political outsider. The approach is not manufacture, to hear Republicans tell it; multiple legislators contacted for this story said they did not know Honour at all, and one struggled even to recall the name of the “fourth candidate.”
Honour continued that messaging earlier this week, greeting news of his opponents’ endorsements by tweeting, “BREAKING: Career politicians support other career politicians.”
Jennifer DeJournett, president of Voices of Conservative Women, said Honour’s stance could put him at a slight disadvantage if he emerges successful from the primary vote. (Though Voices of Conservative Women is not endorsing a gubernatorial candidate, DeJournett is personally aligned with Johnson’s campaign.)
“If he wins, I think [Honour] is going to have to spend some time courting, to win some people back,” DeJournett said.
Well-behaved, so far
If the Johnson campaign has the edge measured by legislative leadership, Kurt Zellers’ list has an advantage in seniority. Zellers, the former speaker of the House, put out a list of 16 current and former members of the lower chamber who are in his camp. Among them are Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, who is leaving the Legislature after eight terms in office, and Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, now serving his 11th term.
Davids would be happy to work with any of the Republican contenders, but said his endorsement can be traced back to their partnership during the 2011-12 legislative biennium, when he held the gavel in the taxes committee under Zellers’ leadership. Davids was at Zellers’ side during extensive budget negotiations with Gov. Mark Dayton, which ultimately led to a temporary state government shutdown.
“I basically sat in awe of [Zellers’] reasoning, and his quick thinking on his feet,” Davids said. “He is always cool, calm and collected — I’ve spent a lot of time with him, and I’ve never seen him lose his cool.”
Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, helped to round-up some legislators who are now in Zellers’ corner, and said no one he had spoken with had a concern about going against Johnson, the party endorsee. The endorsement means very little this year, according to Hoppe — “look at some of the other people that were endorsed,” he said — and should be cause for a rethinking of the entire process.
“Not only did no one really have a concern with [the endorsement],” Hoppe said, “but I talk to people every day who say, ‘I’m officially supporting the endorsed candidate, but no one’s going to know who I actually wind up voting for.’”
DeJournett said she was pleased that the campaigns had been “well-behaved” so far, and were running respectful operations without trashing each other.
“Everyone is focused on that one end goal, and that’s why campaigns have been successful in advocating for themselves,” DeJournett said. She added, counting down from Thursday to the date of the primary: “In 19 days, this too shall pass.”