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Jeff Johnson, Minnesota Republican candidate for governor. Forum News Service file photo

Governor race could be 'Minnesota nice'

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Governor race could be 'Minnesota nice'
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ST. PAUL – Election campaigns often do not follow the “Minnesota nice” philosophy, but political insiders wonder if that might be different this year after Jeff Johnson won the Republican nomination to run against Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.


Johnson, the GOP-endorsed candidate who defeated three rivals in Tuesday’s primary election, will try to deny Dayton a second term. But he will, probably, do it nicely with a smile on his face.

The Hennepin County commissioner and former legislator from Plymouth is an affable guy who shuns angry attacks on political opponents. That description also fits Dayton.

Asked at a news conference if he’s too nice to win, Johnson replied, “Overall, I think I am a nice guy.

“Some people assume Republicans are kind of nasty,” Johnson said. “We are not. But being able to show that to people is important.”

He quickly added, however, that “I’m going to contrast where I stand with Mark Dayton.”

The contrast won’t be hard to draw. Johnson is as staunchly conservative as Dayton is liberal. But their personalities are comparably civil.

The GOP primary was a relatively low-key contest, in part because of the tone Johnson set and since the party’s convention endorsed him, he widely was seen as the frontrunner.

Johnson has a history of trying to bring factions together, the most notable coming at the 2012 Republican state convention in St. Cloud. Ron Paul supporters dominated the convention, pushing traditional Republican activists to the side.

That is when Johnson, then the Republican national committeeman, went in front of the convention as peacemaker.

Johnson, a Detroit Lakes native, called tension in the convention “the elephant in the room.”

“The chatter is” that Paul backers do not care about the party, Johnson said, and would not support GOP candidates.

“Make sure that doesn’t happen,” Johnson said. “If we are all part of the Republican Party, then we all need to vote for Republicans.”

“Ron Paul haters,” Johnson said, “my advice to you is: Get over it.”

Johnson’s speech eased tensions.

Dayton has become a harsh critic of many things Republican as he nears the end of his four-year term, a feeling mostly fueled by tough battles with Republicans over the 2011 budget and a resulting state government shutdown.

Still, Dayton often is seen with Republicans, and does not lump everyone with those he fought three years ago.

In his first news conference as governor, Dayton took the unheard-of step of inviting opponents to the microphone to rebut.

Dozens of people opposed to his plan of getting the state more deeply involved in the federal Medicaid program jammed into the governor’s reception room.

“It is the people’s room,” Dayton said. “This is where democracy occurs.”

He asked three protesters to rebut things he and other supporters said about the need to expand Medicaid. That somewhat quieted the protesters.

Dayton’s 2010 Republican opponent, Tom Emmer, and Dayton showed sharp policy differences, but both said they came away from the campaign liking each other.

If the 2014 candidates sound too sweet for your political tastes, don’t worry. The contest will not be all sugar and no spice.

State DFL Chairman Ken Martin called Johnson a “proud member of the Tea Party” who favors tax cuts for the wealthy and government service cuts for everyone else.

Shortly after Martin took his shots, a spokeswoman for the Republican Governors Association fired off a news release accusing Dayton of embracing “every component of Obamacare,” wasting millions on Minnesota’s health exchange, raising taxes and forcing a government shutdown.

The exchange suggested political parties and outside groups likely will play “bad cops” to the candidates’ “good cops.”