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Republican candidate for Minnesota governor Jeff Johnson greets supporters while awaiting election returns at Digby's restaurant in Plymouth, Minn., on Tuesday, August 12, 2014. (Pioneer Press: John Autey)

Johnson wins four-way GOP governor primary

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ST. PAUL -- A Republican who grew up in greater Minnesota and now is a Hennepin County commissioner won the governor nomination Tuesday in his party's primary election.

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Jeff Johnson told supporters after winning that he has a tough race ahead of him because Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton will be a good opponent.

"I have a vision for a state where politicians understand that people work really hard for their paychecks, and politicians spend their money as carefully and wisely as if it were coming out of their own pockets," Johnson said in his victory speech in Plymouth.

He said the fall election is the third step in his campaign, after winning the party endorsement and the primary.

"Now it is time we finished the job," he said about the general election campaign.

Unofficial returns late Tuesday showed Johnson with 30 percent of the vote with 84 percent of the precincts reporting. Kurt Zellers was second with 24 percent. Scott Honour and Marty Seifert were virtually tied for third with 21 percent.

Seifert told about 40 supporters gathered in Mankato that he congratulates Johnson.

"We want to lend him our full and unconditional support as we work to defeat Mark Dayton. All along that's what our goal has been to make positive change in the state of Minnesota," Seifert said.

Honour also pledged to support Johnson: "We must now unite as a party to ensure that our state achieves its full potential, rather than settle for mediocrity and business as usual."

The four GOP governor candidates plan a news conference together this morning to show Republican unity.

Dayton said he called Johnson to congratulate him Tuesday night.

"I look forward to engaging in a constructive discussion about the issues important to Minnesotans over the next 12 weeks," Dayton said.

Johnson, 47, is a lawyer, Detroit Lakes native and former state representative. He lost a 2006 race for state attorney general.

He and the other three major candidates engaged in a few debates near the end of the campaign, and while some sparks flew, they generally reserved their criticism for Dayton.

Little-known candidate Merrill Anderson also was on the GOP governor ballot and received little support.

The other statewide race to earn the public's attention was for state auditor, where incumbent Rebecca Otto beat longtime Minnesota politician Matt Entenza.

Entenza livened up a usually boring auditor's contest by filing election paperwork 15 minutes before the deadline in June.

He conceded Tuesday night and said he endorses Otto in the general election.

"We had obviously hoped for a better result, but a dramatically low turnout made it difficult to overcome the advantages of an incumbent candidate," Entenza said.

Otto touted honors she has received as auditor and said Entenza was promising to change policy when the auditor is only supposed to check the books of local governments.

The two ran television commercials, a rarity for an auditor primary.

Dayton faced token primary opposition from perennial candidates Leslie Davis and Bill Dahn.

Democratic-endorsed secretary of state candidate Steve Simon held a solid lead over two frequent candidates who did little campaigning, Dick Franson and Gregg Iverson. Unknowns David Singleton and Bob Helland were close Tuesday night in the Independence Party race.

For attorney general, Republican-endorsed state Sen. Scott Newman beat perennial candidate Sharon Anderson.

State Reps. Phyllis Kahn, D-Minneapolis, and Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, defeated challengers in the two state House highlighted races.

Joseph Ryan Denton contributed to this story.

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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.
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