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Tallying endorsements ahead of primary

While the Minnesota Gun Owners PAC favors virtually every gubernatorial candidate outside of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, the organization did endorse fellow DFLer Lori Swanson in her bid for re-election as attorney general. (AP photo)

While the Minnesota Gun Owners PAC favors virtually every gubernatorial candidate outside of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, the organization did endorse fellow DFLer Lori Swanson in her bid for re-election as attorney general. (AP photo)

Midway through an uncertain election year, candidates for office are usually grateful for any chance at distinction — especially if the campaign doesn’t have to pay for it. A new batch of endorsements for candidates in congressional, statewide and legislative office has emerged in recent days as candidates and voters prepare for the Aug. 12 primary.

How much these endorsements mean to the average voter is a matter of some debate, but that has not stopped some candidates from immediately incorporating a positive rating into their campaign messaging.

Among the groups staking their position on contested races are a number of single-issue organizations dedicated to the Second Amendment. Earlier this week, the Minnesota Gun Owners Political Action Committee chose to back incumbent DFL Attorney General Lori Swanson.

Also staking out their positions are anti-tax groups, which similarly favor conservative candidates over their liberal opposition. On Thursday, the Taxpayers League of Minnesota published a scorecard for primary election candidates, rating the entrants on their career record of legislative votes.

Endorsed Republican candidate Jeff Johnson scored highest on that chart, earning a 95 percent mark for votes cast during his three-term tenure in the House, which ended in 2007. The high score was converted into grist for the campaign within hours, as the Republican Party of Minnesota issued a press release drawing attention to Johnson’s record.

The endorsee’s two most prominent competitors were not far off his figure. Kurt Zellers received an 88 percent rating, and Marty Seifert scored 85; as a political rookie, Scott Honour has no legislative record to examine, but his running mate, first-term Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Marys Point, notched an 85 percent.

Zellers, along with Americans for Tax Reform, has sought to weaken Johnson’s support by needling him on the tax issue. The former GOP House leader has used the admission that Johnson would be “open” to expanding the state sales tax in fundraising appeals, and is touting his status as the only signee of the national anti-tax group’s pledge to “oppose and veto any and all efforts to raise taxes.”

Americans for Tax Reform, the advocacy group headed by Grover Norquist, has also questioned Johnson’s unwillingness to sign its pledge, publishing a statement that took Johnson to task for his refusal.

“Taking Jeff Johnson at his word isn’t something voters are likely going to do in this political environment,” read the statement.

On Friday morning, Zellers’ campaign announced the debut of a video ad, with Zellers proclaiming himself “the only candidate in the race who has the guts” to put his opposition to taxes in writing. The message told supporters that the campaign intends to put the ad on television in the pre-primary crunch, but was about $7,500 short of the necessary funds.

For his part, former legislator Ted Lillie, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, said candidates should be judged by their actions in office more than on their pre-election pronouncements. The state group has a pledge of its own, though so far none of the four GOP candidates has signed it.

“I think a score on how you actually have voted is a higher representation of candidates’ commitment to protecting taxpayers,” Lillie said.

Gun-lobby firepower

In its own assessment of the governor’s field, the Minnesota Gun Owners PAC favors virtually every candidate outside of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. The organization endorsed each of the four Republicans seeking the party nomination, as well as Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet, while faulting Dayton for vetoing “pro-gun rights legislation” during his first term.

In its endorsement of Swanson, the incumbent as praised as “a steadfast supporter of the constitutional rights of Minnesota’s gun owners” by PAC chairman Mark Okern.

Swanson’s re-election is being challenged by Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchison) and Andy Dawkins, a former DFL legislator who has switched to the Green Party. Dawkins has criticized Swanson for her perceived reticence to take on controversial gun cases, saying she is setting the stage for a future bid for the governor’s office.

As for legislative races, the Minnesota Gun Owners PAC picked 87 candidates in state House races to support, selecting a high percentage of Republicans and only a handful of Democrats.

Those endorsements followed on the heels of legislative grades issued by the Minnesota Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance (GOCRA), an unaffiliated but sympathetic outfit, which released its annual report on sitting and potential legislators.

The GOCRA grades are still something of a work in progress, as a large number of legislators’ challengers have yet to return the group’s questionnaire. The results as they currently stand still include some noteworthy findings, especially in swing districts now represented by Democrats. Reps. Zachary Dorholt, DFL-St. Cloud, and Shannon Savick, DFL-Wells, both received an ‘F’ grade, while their respective Republican opponents, former legislator Jim Knoblach and Peggy Bennett, were rated with ‘A’ and an ‘A-‘ grades, respectively.

In Savick’s case, the first-term incumbent’s low marks were based partly on her having co-authored gun control legislation in 2013, and voting in favor of mandatory background checks for sales at gun shows.

In House District 49A, the suburban swing district now represented by 10-term Rep. Ron Erhardt, DFL-Edina, neither he nor GOP challenger Dario Anselmo returned the group’s survey, though GOCRA claims the incumbent opted out of the questionnaire more forcefully. According to GOCRA’s account, the famously sharp-tongued Erhardt met a representative of that group’s phone call saying, “No more surveys! You come near me, I’ll blow your head off!” The reported incident has since received attention on conservative political blogs.

The National Rifle Association typically steers clear of legislative and state-level politics, but did make one potentially valuable endorsement in a congressional primary contest. Late last month, 6th Congressional District frontrunner Tom Emmer announced he had the NRA’s support as a “solidly pro-gun candidate” with an ‘A’ grade based on his positions.

Said Emmer: “Second Amendment Rights are part of our way of life in Minnesota, and I’ll continue to work to protect them in Congress.”

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