I had heard Wednesday evening that two of the Minnesota GOP gubernatorial candidates would be holding a joint press conference the following morning. I speculated that one of the two would drop out of the race for governor and then vie for the Republican nomination in one of the other statewide races.
I was half right.
The Republican race for Minnesota governor took a significant turn Thursday morning as state Rep. Matt Dean dropped out and threw his support behind Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson.
Dean, a Republican from Dellwood and former majority leader of the House, didn’t give specifics on why he was dropping out, although he acknowledged “resources” (campaign funds) and the logistics of amassing support before the Feb. 6 precinct caucuses were factors. Dean said he supports Johnson because “he’s got the chops to win” and praised him for presenting a “positive message.”
Johnson, a former state representative from Plymouth, lost the 2014 election to Gov. Mark Dayton, said Dean’s support will be a boost to his effort as candidates attempt to shore up support from party loyalists. “This changes the endorsement battle,” he said in thanking Dean.
I admit I was mildly surprised by this, particularly in light of Dean performing so well in multiple straw polls among MN GOP delegates. But in a crowded Republican field (five candidates before Dean moved on), it looked to be a challenging task for Dean to amass the adequate financial resources to carry him to an endorsement win and possibly a primary challenge. In a race like this, name recognition is extremely important outside the grassroots, so the advantage there already allied with Johnson (the GOP gubernatorial candidate in 2014) and former Republican Party of Minnesota chair Keith Downey.
Dean and Downey butted heads early on is this race over the issue of the state's health insurance problems. It became more contentious when the two traded barbs via subsequent fundraising emails, so it's no surprise that Dean would throw his support behind Johnson. This coalition is even more timely in light of revelations that a staffer on Downey's campaign created a Facebook page (using a fabricated name) in order to attack Johnson. The unnamed staffer, who at this time is still being retained by the Downey campaign, even disgustingly referred to Johnson as a "pedophile."
There's still a little more than four months to go until the MN GOP convention in early June. A lot can happen in that time but it seems clear that, at this point, Johnson has emerged as the front runner for the Republican nomination.