ST. PAUL, Minn. – The 2018 precinct caucus results in, and Republican Jeff Johnson and Democrat Tim Walz are leading the pack of gubernatorial hopefuls.
During Tuesday night’s caucuses, voters were able to voice their opinion on the current field of gubernatorial candidates in a straw poll. The poll, while nonbinding, gives an early indication of where voters will land in the upcoming election.
On the Republican side, Johnson, the Hennepin County Commissioner from Plymouth, walked away the clear winner with 45.4 percent of the vote. In a distant second place, 16 percent of voters said they were “undecided.”
In third place was former Republican Party chairman Keith Downey with 15 percent of the vote. Phillip Parrish earned 12 percent of the vote and Woodbury Mayor Mary Stephens followed closely with 11.9 percent.
“Tonight’s statewide Straw Poll results were awesome for the campaign,” Johnson wrote in a Facebook post. “Though just a snapshot in time, Republican voters across the state made their feelings extremely clear. By every indication we are uniting the party and winning over the large majority of Republican voters in Minnesota.”
While Johnson had a strong showing Tuesday night, the number of undecided voters indicates the race is far from over with many speculating former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty may throw his hat in the ring. Further fueling the speculation, Pawlenty announced yesterday that he will be leaving the Washington, D.C.-based Financial Services Roundtable next month. In a memo obtained by POLITICO, Pawlenty announced the decision to the association members saying “it is time to begin my next chapter.”
Turnout among Republican caucus-goers Tuesday night could be a point of concern for the party. Republican involvement in precinct caucuses has been steadily declining over the last two off-year elections, possibly indicating a lack of enthusiasm. In 2010, the last time there was an open governor’s race, over 19,000 Republicans showed up for the caucus. Participation dropped to over 14,000 in 2014, and fell even further this year with less than 11,000 Republicans in attendance Tuesday night.
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On the Democrat side, nearly 30,000 voters participated in Tuesday night’s caucus, a significant increase from 22,500 in 2010. Despite stronger turnouts, DFL voters are less united on a particular candidate. Among DFL voters, Walz, a U.S. congressman from Mankato, pulled ahead as the early favorite with about 31 percent of the vote. State Auditor Rebecca Otto took second place with 20 percent of the vote, and state Rep. Erin Murphy came in third with 13 percent of the vote.
Another 13 percent of DFL voters are still undecided, followed by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman with 12 percent of the vote. Finishing at the bottom with single-digits was State Rep. Tina Liebling and former House Speaker Paul Thissen.
While the caucus night straw poll is a good indicator of early favorites, they do not necessarily accurately predict who will be on the ballot in November. Republican and DFL party officials will endorse their candidates for governor at the upcoming party conventions in June, and the candidates will then have to endure the primaries on August 14.