ST. PAUL -- When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker brings his presidential campaign to Minnesota on Tuesday, he’ll be stepping into friendly territory. A list of prominent Minnesota Republicans and wealthy donors have signed up with the presidential hopeful, more elite support here than any other GOP presidential candidate.
“I don’t think anyone should be surprised by that. We know him well,” said Jeff Johnson, the Hennepin County commissioner and former gubernatorial candidate who says he likes Walker but is backing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. “Many of us campaigned actively for him during his recall election.”
Minnesota’s presidential caucus isn’t until March, but high-profile leaders in both major parties are lining up to support the more than 20 candidates seeking the nation’s highest office. Of these candidates, Walker and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton have the most support in Minnesota.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, the highest-ranking Republican official in the state, is chairing Walker’s state campaign, while several other current and former legislative leaders are also on board. So is Chris Tiedeman, who represents Minnesota in the Republican National Committee and thus gets a key vote for president at next year’s national convention.
“He’s been such a great leader even in the face of much adversity,” said Daudt, who said Walker is probably the current favorite to win Minnesota’s caucus next year but isn’t “taking that for granted.”
Of all the presidential candidates, the only one with more early support from Minnesota leaders is Clinton, who’s backed by Gov. Mark Dayton, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Al Franken, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party chair Ken Martin.
“I’ve been a supporter of hers for many years,” Martin said last month. He’s one of Clinton’s “Hillblazers” and has raised more than $100,000 for the former secretary of state’s campaign. “It should be no surprise to anyone that I’ve been helping raise money for her in the state.”
For now, Martin’s Republican counterpart Keith Downey is remaining neutral in the GOP race.
Due to fundraisers such as Martin, Clinton has raised $559,000 from Minnesotans, almost 10 times more than any other candidate.
Despite the lead for Walker and Clinton, plenty of the 20-plus major-party candidates can find cause for support in the Minnesota electorate.
The most recent public poll of Minnesota voters, released earlier this month by Public Policy Polling, found 19 percent of Republicans backing Walker - a percentage point ahead of businessman Donald Trump.
Trump, who has been leading national polls, can’t match Walker in the endorsement front. His most prominent Minnesota supporter isn’t a Republican - it’s former Gov. Jesse Ventura, the third-party politician and commentator who said “I hope Trump wins” last week.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush came in third place in the PPP poll but hasn’t announced any major Minnesota endorsements.
Showing quiet strength in Minnesota is neurosurgeon Ben Carson. He was the only other Republican candidate to reach double digits in the PPP poll, and also raised more money than any other Republican from Minnesota donors through the end of June. Walker didn’t enter the race until July and so did not have campaign donations. A super PAC supporting Walker, however, has raised millions, including from Minnesotans.
Rubio, at 5 percent in the PPP poll, has support from Johnson, who believes Rubio “can communicate our message better than anyone else running.”
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham got 0 percent in the PPP poll but has one Minnesota Republican heavyweight in his corner: former Sen. Norm Coleman, who’s running a pro-Graham super PAC.
Despite the large and contentious field, many Minnesota Republicans said they liked a lot of the candidates.
Minnesota media mogol and major campaign donor Stanley Hubbard has given at least $50,000 to Walker but also had kind words for candidates John Kasich, Carly Fiorina and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Johnson also said he likes several other candidates beyond his top choice, Rubio.
“We’ve got several really strong candidates, so I’m excited about the field,” Johnson said.
The most controversial Republican candidate here is arguably Trump, who was a percentage point behind Walker in the PPP poll but also had nearly one-third of Republican voters disapprove of him, behind only Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
“He takes a little bit different approach to gaining attention,” said Daudt, who termed Trump’s style a “shock-jock strategy.”
On the Democratic side, Clinton has a huge lead in endorsements over her closest rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. The most prominent Minnesota politician to publicly endorse Sanders is state Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis.
“I like his consistency on peace and economic justice,” said Clark, who singled out Sanders’ proposals to “address wealth disparities.”
Sanders also got an endorsement from Ventura and attracted thousands of people to a Minneapolis speech in late May.
PPP found Clinton leading Sanders 50-32 among Democratic voters, with additional candidates Lincoln Chafee, Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb all below 5 percent.
The PPP poll was conducted from July 30 to Aug. 3. Its margin of error was +/- 4.9 percent for its 426 Democratic voters and +/- 5.2 percent for its 353 Republican voters.
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report.
Minnesota Republican voter support for GOP presidential candidates in July 30-Aug. 2 Public Policy Polling poll:
- Scott Walker: 19 percent
- Donald Trump: 18 percent
- Jeb Bush: 15 percent
- Ben Carson: 11 percent
- Ted Cruz: 7 percent
- Mike Huckabee: 6 percent
- Rand Paul: 5 percent
- Marco Rubio: 5 percent
- Chris Christie: 4 percent
- Carly Fiorina: 3 percent
- John Kasich: 3 percent
- Bobby Jindal: 1 percent
- John Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum: 0 percent
- Undecided: 1 percent
- Margin of error: +/- 5.2 percent
- Minnesota Democratic voter support for Democratic candidates in July 30-Aug. 2 Public Policy Polling poll:
- Hillary Clinton: 50 percent
- Bernie Sanders: 32 percent
- Martin O’Malley: 4 percent
- Lincoln Chafee: 3 percent
- Jim Webb: 2 percent
- Undecided: 10 percent
(Margin of error: +/- 4.9 percent)