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Johnson: ‘I am not a tea party extremist’

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson is responding to his Democratic critics’ assertions that he is beholden to the tea party movement.

The day after Johnson won the Aug. 12 primary to take on incumbent Gov. Mark Dayton, state DFL  Party Chair Ken Martin called the Republican nominee a “tea party extremist,” who supports positions that are “outside of the mainstream.”

That same week, the DFL-aligned group Alliance for a Better Minnesota started airing a TV ad that called Johnson a “tea party Republican” pushing a “tea party agenda.”

“I am not a tea party extremist,” Johnson said in an interview this week. “I expect they’ll be calling me all kinds of names before Election Day. We knew that would be coming.”

Still, Johnson has sought the support of tea party members. He has appeared at several tea party events, including one last spring where he said he planned to “go all Scott Walker on Minnesota." Johnson said he’s been courting all Republicans, including those who belong to the tea party.

“I am one who believes that I need every faction of the Republican Party as a starting point to win,” he said. “Then on top of that, I’ve got to go out and get more than half the independents in this state, and some conservative, common sense Democrats as well.”

The DFL’s Martin said he thinks Johnson is trying to re-invent himself two months before the election.

“On more than one occasion, Jeff Johnson attended tea party rallies and told them that he was a proud member of the tea party, and that he would support their policies and their positions on certain issues if he were governor,” Martin said. “He can’t now this close to an election try to say that was not the case, and what he meant was something else.”

Johnson explained that he likes the tea party’s views on upholding the constitution and limiting the size and reach of government. But he said his non-combative style is probably a turnoff to some tea party members.

“I’m not a big bomb thrower,” Johnson said.