By Adelle Whitefoot
After seven hours and three rounds of voting, the Minnesota Republican Party endorsed Jeff Johnson as its candidate for governor Saturday at the state convention in Duluth.
Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner, received the endorsement after challengers Mary Giuliani Stephens and Phillip Parrish dropped out of the running after three rounds of voting. In the second round of voting, Johnson received 50.3 percent of the vote, Giuliani Stephens received 25.6 percent and Parrish tallied 16.3 percent. About 4.2 percent of the delegates voted for no endorsement.
It was decided by GOP chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan that the third-round votes would not be released because Giuliani Stephens and Parrish dropped out before the results were finalized.
Each candidate was met with loud, thunderous applause and standing ovations as they took the stage one last time. In his final remarks, Parrish told the delegates not to let the convention end without an endorsement. Giuliani Stephens put her full support behind Johnson and even made the motion to endorse him as the GOP candidate.
Johnson is focused on primary, Pawlenty
Three weeks ago, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced he would not seek the party’s endorsement and was going to force a primary Aug. 14. Johnson said he is focused in now on the primary and defeating Pawlenty.
“The strategy going into the primary is to raise money to get our message out. He’s going to outspend me, I know that. He’s got the big donors on his side early. They will begrudgingly be with me later, so we will have the money if we need it in September or October,” Johnson said during a press conference. “But he has the money now and I will need enough to get a simple message out — which is, who is this party? Are we still a party of the grassroots or are we not?”
So far, Pawlenty has not engaged or acknowledged Johnson. Still, Johnson hopes to engage Pawlenty through debates.
“We are going to ask for every possible debate we can get,” he said. “I hope he will actually show up at some Republican stuff going forward. I can’t control what he decides to do. All I know is, if he wants to win in November or if I want to win in November, we can’t ignore the grassroots of this party.”
Johnson said he believes he is strong enough to beat Pawlenty because he’s the grassroots candidate and Pawlenty is not.
“I also believe that this is about the heart and soul of the Republican Party and who actually controls the Minnesota GOP going forward. Are we a party of the political class, the wealthiest donors, the lobbyists or are we a party of the grassroot Republicans, the people on the ground pounding in the lawn signs and knocking on the doors and walking in the parades?” Johnson said. “I believe we are still a party of the grassroots, unlike the DFL, and this primary will decide whether that’s the case or not because we represent the grassroots and Tim Pawlenty does not.”
‘Just a normal guy’
Johnson’s supporters were thrilled to see their candidate receive the endorsement at the convention Saturday at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. Joseph Ditto, of Shakopee, Minn., listed several reasons why he supports Johnson.
“Jeff is a genuine, honest guy who shares our conservative values and is the best to represent us,” Ditto said. “I support him because of his values, honesty and straightforwardness. Jeff’s been at this a long time and we’ve grown to trust him.”
Bill Johnson, of Jordan, Minn., supported Jeff Johnson in previous elections and is eager to support him again in this race.
“He’s a real person and I think he relates to just about everybody,” Bill Johnson said. “He’s not a very big politics guy and he’s more approachable, and for that reason I support him.”
Kari Moreau, of Golden Valley, Minn., said Jeff Johnson relates well to the voters and is true to his beliefs.
“All the effort and work we put in paid off,” Moreau said. “I support him because he’s just a normal guy. He’s going to stand behind his principles and save us all some money.”
Moreau said she believes Johnson can defeat Pawlenty come August.
“I have no doubt about that,” she said.