Horner backs Johnson for governor

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Horner backs Johnson
2010 Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner, left, endorsed Republican Jeff Johnson's campaign for governor. Tom Scheck/MPR Photo.

The 2010 Independence Party candidate for governor is coming home to his original party roots and endorsing Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson for governor.

Tom Horner, a long-time Republican Party insider who left the party to run under the IP banner four years ago, made the announcement at a news conference with Johnson this morning.

“I strongly believe that creating a Minnesota in which all people have the opportunity to succeed will take new leadership and a new vision,” Horner said. “Jeff Johnson is the person to provide that leadership.”

Horner won 12 percent of the vote in 2010, when Democrat Mark Dayton defeated Republican Tom Emmer by fewer than 10,000 votes.

Horner and some of the Republicans who backed him were criticized by then-Republican Party Chair Tony Sutton for leaving the party and not backing Emmer’s campaign. He called them "quislings," a term for traitor that goes back to a Norwegian official who collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. The comment created a wide rift within the party.

Johnson said he’s pleased with Horner’s endorsement and thinks the party is unifying behind his campaign. He said he’s putting the past disagreement behind him.

“Our party shouldn’t have done that,” Johnson said of Sutton’s comments. “I can’t win this race unless I get all of the Republicans on board and more than half of the independents and hopefully a handful of Democrats as well. I’m not going to look back four years. I’m going to look ahead to the next four years. I really believe that any wounds that were in place at that time have healed.”

Horner’s decision to back Johnson over IP candidate Hannah Nicollet is another blow to the third party, which has been struggling to gain footing this year. Nicollet failed to raise enough money to receive public financing for her campaign. Party leaders have also distanced themselves from Steve Carlson, the candidate who defeated IP endorsed Kevin Terrell for the U.S Senate nomination.

Nicollet dismissed Horner’s move, saying she never met him and that he hasn’t been actively involved with the IP this year. She also called him a conventional politician who isn’t happy with the stand the IP is taking on issues such as the legalization of marijuana.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye,” Nicollet said. “ Maybe he’s just looking for someone who is more conventional."

Horner is a public relations executive who was an aide to Republican U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger in the 1970s and 80s. He also served as a Republican commentator on Minnesota Public Radio News prior to his run for governor in 2010. Horner wouldn’t say whether he considered himself a member of the Republican Party or a member of the Independence Party.

“I’m Tom Horner,” he said. “When you look at my career what you find is I’m a person who more times than not has endorsed the candidate, not the party.”

Horner said his last involvement with the IP was earlier this year.

It isn’t clear how much Horner’s endorsement will help Johnson. Horner acknowledged that not everyone who voted for him will back Johnson’s campaign.

As for Dayton, he downplayed Horner’s endorsement.

“Commissioner Johnson has the Republican Party endorsement,” Dayton said. “He also said he’s proudly a member of the tea party, and so now he’s joining the Independence Party. I guess he’s trying to broaden his appeal.”

Dayton said voters will judge Johnson and Dayton on their own records and not on the endorsements of past candidates.

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