Election Preview: Minnesota 2018 Gubernatorial Race

Primary Election: August 14th, 2018
General Election: November 6th, 2018

Incumbent Governor Mark Dayton–a member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farm-Labor party–declined to run for a third term, thus creating a competitive election in a state Hillary Clinton carried by 1.5 percent in 2016. Dayton was first elected Governor in 2010 by a .4 percent margin; he successfully ran for reelection in 2014 with nearly 50% of the vote. Without Dayton, six Democratic–Farmer–Labor candidates have announced their bids for the nomination: U.S. Congressman Tim Walz, State Auditor Rebecca Otto, State Representatives Erin Murphy, Tina Liebling, Paul Thissen and former Mayor of St. Paul Chris Coleman. State Attorney General Lori Swanson could join the race but has not announced her intentions to run for governor or reelection for her current office.

A January poll from the Minnesota Star Tribune showed Walz leading the pack of candidates with 21 percent, followed by Swanson with 16 percent and Coleman at 12 percent. However, roughly one-third of respondents were undecided. Walz, elected to the 1st Congressional District since 2006, also leads all DFL candidates in fundraising, taking in over $1.1 million, with Coleman trailing with a reported $800,000.

 

Minnesota_ Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson
Commissioner Jeff Johnson

For the GOP, Dayton’s retirement has sparked an equally crowded primary despite Republicans not winning a statewide race since former Governor Tim Pawlenty’ reelection in 2006. State Representative Matt Dean, former State GOP Chair Keith Downey, Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson have emerged as the four major contenders out of the ten declared. Although a laundry list of potential candidates has also arisen, including Pawlenty and State House Speaker Kurt Daudt. The Star Tribune poll found Daudt in second with 14 percent of registered Republicans despite no declaration of his candidacy and publicly evading the question. He trails Commissioner Johnson who received the support of 21 percent of respondents. More than half of GOP voters contacted said they were undecided.

University of Virginia’s Center for Politics’ Crystal Ball and Inside Elections both predict a “likely DFL victory,” while the Cook Political Report has the race as a “toss-up.” In addition to the gubernatorial race, The former Mankato high school coach and history and social studies teacher has been serving as a Democrat in the 1st Congressional District since 2006 and is making his first bid for statewide office. Minnesota votes on both U.S. Senate seats (one is a special election due to Al Franken’s resignation), all state row offices, congressional seats and the entire State House are on the ballot this year.

Stephen O’Brion contributed to this report.

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