MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Republicans pinned their hopes on Jeff Johnson and Mike McFadden to win the state’s top two offices this November from Democratic incumbents, as GOP voters Tuesday fell in line with the endorsements of party activists at the state party convention in the governor and U.S. Senate races.
Johnson’s race was the marquee event of the evening, with the former state lawmaker and current Hennepin County commissioner eventually defeating three major rivals. He immediately vowed to block Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s bid for a second term, calling himself “the conservative in the race who can bring in independent votes in large numbers.”
His victory rounded out a validation for the Republican Party and its endorsement process. Businessman McFadden swept to an easy victory over state Rep. Jim Abeler, setting up a big-dollar fall matchup with Democratic Sen. Al Franken.
Elsewhere in Minnesota, two state House incumbents beat back upstart challengers, including a Somali-born activist who had hoped to become Minnesota’s first Somali-American legislator. State Auditor Rebecca Otto thumped former lawmaker Matt Entenza. And Tom Emmer, who lost the governor’s race four years ago by a few thousand votes, cruised to victory in the GOP primary for the 6th District seat being vacated by Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Turnout was projected as low as 10 percent of eligible voters. The lack of buzz over the election was evident at Edina Community Lutheran Church, where fewer than 120 people had voted by late afternoon. Several Republican voters said they had no clear preference among the governor hopefuls, who differed only slightly on policy and didn’t air a single attack ad against each other.
“That’s a problem. They’re all very similar,” said Pat Montez, who declined to say who she voted for.
Johnson was joined by two politicians and a businessman in vying for the nomination. It took Tuesday’s primary to reveal Johnson as voters’ favorite.
Johnson won the party’s endorsement this spring, but it didn’t clear the field — unusual for the party. Businessman Scott Honour, former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert and former House Speaker Kurt Zellers all went to the primary.
With similar messages from the candidates — cut government spending, lower taxes and reduce regulations — the race was more about style and background. Honour touted his status as an outsider. Zellers argued he had a history of standing up to Dayton. Seifert played up his rural pedigree.
McFadden, an investment banker, campaigned as though he locked down the nomination long ago, focusing exclusively on Franken and largely ignoring competition from within the GOP.
Abeler worked for the upset, but had only a fraction of the millions McFadden raised for his campaign. Three other Republicans appeared on the ballot. McFadden, a first-time candidate, dispatched his most serious Republican rivals by winning endorsement at the party’s state convention.
Independence Party voters chose Steve Carlson from five candidates.
The impending departure of Bachmann in Minnesota’s solidly conservative 6th District made for a high-stakes Republican primary, but Emmer easily won the nomination.
Emmer, a former lawmaker, had the party endorsement and a big cash advantage over Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah. For Emmer, the race offered a chance to reboot a political career sidetracked by his close loss to Mark Dayton in the 2010 governor’s race.
In southern Minnesota, Jim Hagedorn upset endorsed candidate Aaron Miller for the GOP nod in the 1st District, setting up a challenge to four-term Democratic Rep. Tim Walz this fall. Their primary was spiced by Hagedorn’s entry on the grounds that Miller, the endorsed candidate, wasn’t campaigning hard enough. Miller rejected the charge.
No Minnesota House members faced primary challenges.
Otto’s job was on the line in a Democratic primary against Entenza, a former House Minority Leader and 2010 gubernatorial candidate.
The two-term incumbent was heavily outspent by Entenza, who poured significant personal money into his campaign. Otto had the Democratic apparatus on her side, but Entenza had some notable supporters promoting him.
Entenza conceded the race after early returns showed Otto had an insurmountable lead.
Rep. Phyllis Kahn, Minnesota’s longest-serving female elected official, confronted a significant challenge from fellow Democrat Mohamud Noor, who was trying to become the first Somali-American to win a Minnesota statehouse seat. But Kahn eventually prevailed with some 54 percent of the vote.
Kahn was first elected in 1972, six years before Noor was born. A primary win is akin to a ticket to the Legislature in heavily Democratic Minneapolis.
In suburban Eden Prairie, Deputy House Minority Leader Jenifer Loon faced down a challenge from Sheila Kihne prompted by Loon’s vote in support of gay marriage. Loon won comfortably.
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