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Governor race activity picks up as GOP convention nears

Minnesota Republican governor candidate Jeff Johnson introduces Bill Kuisle as his running mate Wednesday. With Kuisle are his wife, Lisa, and children Jennifer and Issac. Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Republican convention is a week and a half away, so governor candidates are doing everything they can to get delegate support.

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For Jeff Johnson, that means picking a popular southeast Minnesota politician to be his running mate. For Kurt Zellers, that means he will announce his running mate today. For Marty Seifert, that means he must decide whether to run in the primary election.

On Wednesday, Johnson announced former state Rep. Bill Kuisle as his lieutenant governor candidate. Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner and former state representative, said Kuisle fills some gaps in his background.

“It is a good contrast with an all-Minneapolis ticket of Dayton and Smith,” Johnson said about Gov. Mark Dayton and running mate Tina Smith.

Kuisle, 56, accompanied to the announcement by his wife and two children, said getting him to sign on as a lieutenant governor candidate “took a lot of arm twisting by Jeff and others,” but in the end accepted it because it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. He said he remains good friends with Zellers and Seifert from when the three of them, and Johnson, served together in the House.

Kuisle, who served in the House 1997 to 2004, brings with him legislative expertise in transportation (he was a House transportation chairman) and taxes. Johnson said Kuisle also should help his campaign in the agriculture arena since he works a farm near Rochester.

He should also bolster Johnson’s efforts in the southeast. Johnson said that he himself has some strength in northwestern Minnesota (he is a Detroit Lakes native), but is weaker in Kuisle’s part of the state.

The timing is important to Johnson, who has promised to abide by the convention delegates’ decision during the party convention May 30-31 in Rochester, so he will not have a second chance like candidates who plan to run in the Aug. 12 primary election. Johnson will only run in the primary if he wins the convention vote.

The endorsement fight appears to be among Johnson, state Sen. Dave Thompson of Lakeville and former state Rep. Seifert of Marshall. Two other candidates already have said they plan to compete in the primary: businessman Scott Honour of Orono and Zellers of Maple Grove.

Zellers, a Devils Lake, N.D., native and University of North Dakota graduate, plans to announce his running mate today in Moorhead.

Johnson’s is the only all-male ticket so far. Thompson and Seifert both chose legislative women as running mates, as has Democrat Dayton.

Seifert told reporters Wednesday that he will probably decide whether to take his campaign to the primary as preparations wrap up for the convention, which will endorse a governor candidate May 31.

“We’re open-minded to abide by endorsement, but at these conventions a lot of strange things happen,” Seifert said.

Seifert said he is concerned that delegates from northern Minnesota who support him may not show up because of the costs of up to a $1,000.

Bill Salisbury of the St. Paul Pioneer Press contributed to this story. The Pioneer Press and Forum News Service are media partners.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.