By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer
NORTH MANKATO — Local Democratic leaders hope the Jan. 29 primary election in the House District 19A special election will be little more than a formality — with three non-endorsed candidates rallying around the winner of today’s DFL endorsing convention and all but ensuring that the party’s choice advances to the Feb. 12 special election.
That dream of unity appeared to be crashing when Democratic candidate Karl Johnson began airing radio ads on two Mankato stations Thursday and Friday.
Johnson’s ads on KTOE and KATO urge voters to support him in the Jan. 29 primary election. And letters to the editor of The Free Press are also encouraging Johnson supporters to turn out for the primary.
“On Jan. 29, vote for Karl Johnson — a strong voice for southern Minnesota,” one ad urges. The second ad suggests that the real decision on who should succeed Rep. Terry Morrow, the St. Peter Democrat who resigned to take a job in Chicago, will come “on Jan. 29.” The ad also appears to draw a distinction with Clark Johnson, a Minnesota State University professor and Democratic candidate: “Vote for Karl, with a ‘K.’”
But Johnson, a rural North Mankato farmer who has been active in DFL politics for years, said Friday he’s likely to suspend his campaign if another Democrat is endorsed today by party activists — provided the other three candidates make the same pledge.
“If all four of us do, I expect I will, too,” he said Friday afternoon.
As for the ads encouraging voters to support him Jan. 29 — when only he and fellow Democrats Robin Courrier, Clark Johnson and Tim Strand will be on the ballot — Johnson said he didn’t want Republican Allen Quist to have a monopoly on reaching out to voters.
“Allen Quist is getting his name out there, and I thought I should, too,” Johnson said.
He indicated he still believes that it’s preferable for all Democrats to rally around an endorsed candidate, if activists meeting today at North Mankato Fire Station No. 2 can reach consensus on a candidate.
“I think we’re going to have to try to unite,” Johnson said.
The Democratic candidates initially indicated without equivocation that they would abide by the party endorsement, but that was before local DFL leaders were caught off guard by the compressed special election schedule announced by Gov. Mark Dayton on Jan. 8. Party officials still hadn’t set a date for their endorsing convention and needed to wait at least 10 days due to party rules requiring that much notification to delegates.
The result? The candidate filing period, which ended Tuesday, would be past before the convention was held. That meant non-endorsed candidates couldn’t follow the traditional practice of withdrawing their name from the ballot in deference to the endorsed candidate chosen by party activists.
“I’m of the opinion that we put ourselves in a difficult position,” Karl Johnson said.
By contrast, the Republican endorsing convention was held Jan. 10, so the three candidates could delay filing for the seat until after Republican delegates stated their preference. When Quist won the endorsement, he filed and the losing candidates didn’t — meaning Quist is the only Republican candidate and no primary election is needed.
Independence Party nominee Tim Gieseke is the only IP candidate, so he — like Quist — can focus on the big prize on Feb. 12 while Democrats spend nearly all of January attempting to settle on their choice.
Quist gets Bachmann backing
Quist said after his endorsement that the biggest disadvantage of a contested primary is that donors are reluctant to give to any of the candidates until a nominee is elected by primary voters.
Quist’s head start on fundraising got a boost from Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, a Quist friend who has been a prolific fundraiser in her own re-election campaigns. Bachmann sent a letter to supporters urging them to send a check to Quist’s campaign.
Bachmann made reference to Quist’s decision to shift quickly from a run for federal office to a campaign for a statehouse seat. (He lost to Democratic Congressman Tim Walz on Nov. 6).
“It’s not every day we get a second chance to vote a conservative into office. But that’s exactly the chance we’ll have on February 12th in Minnesota,” Bachmann wrote, according to a copy of the letter posted on the liberal-leaning website Bluestem Prairie.
Calling Quist “my dear friend,” Bachmann said he would fight plans by the Democratic-dominated state government to boost taxes and implement provisions of the federal health care reform.
“... Allen Quist needs your help today to win this race,” Bachmann wrote. “... Will you help him today, right away, with $10, $20, $35 or a $50 donation to prepare him for victory?”