Walz, Johnson hit campaign trail fast

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota’s newly minted candidates for governor wasted little time in setting course for November, as Democratic Rep. Tim Walz and Republican County Commissioner Jeff Johnson traded niceties and a few jabs on Wednesday shortly after capturing their parties’ nominations.

In dueling press conferences to celebrate their Tuesday night primary victories, Walz and Johnson each called for a policy-focused campaign in the high-stakes race. The election to replace outgoing Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton could extend Democrats’ hold on the office as a check on Republican legislative majorities — or give Republican complete control of state government.

The pivot to general election politics started fast. Johnson quickly derided Walz as a liberal politician who would raise gasoline taxes expand government’s reach into health care with a public option — both parts of his platform. Walz questioned Johnson’s ability to win while embracing President Donald Trump in a potentially bruising midterm election for Republicans.

Walz had a name recognition boost from six terms as congressman in southern Minnesota. He defeated state Rep. Erin Murphy and Attorney General Lori Swanson to capture the Democratic nomination.

But for Walz and Democrats, Johnson’s victory over former Gov. Tim Pawlenty forced a course correction. Democrats had spent months laying the groundwork for a fall race against Pawlenty, with liberal outside political groups like Alliance for a Better Minnesota spending almost $2 million in negative attack ads against Pawlenty over the spring and summer.

Walz said it didn’t faze him.

“You could pretty much plug and play anyone in the Republican Party. It doesn’t make all that much difference to us,” he said.

But Johnson was buoyed by a Wednesday morning endorsement-by-tweet from the president. For his part, Johnson said he expected the barrage Pawlenty faced to shift his way.

“Those negative attacks against me will start tomorrow morning,” he said after declaring victory Tuesday night. “They wasted a whole lot of money.”

Walz and Johnson were set to hit the debate circuit straight away, with a Friday evening debate televised statewide by Twin Cities Public Television.

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