Republican candidates for Minnesota governor in 2018 are sounding at lot like President Trump these days.
As they reach out to party activists in the early stages of the campaign, GOP hopefuls are portraying themselves as outsiders, talking tough and pledging to "drain the swamp" in St. Paul.
"We've got to go out and we've got to fight for the people of this state," said former Minnesota Republican Party chair Keith Downey during a recent candidate event in Hinckley. "We've got to show them that we are truly on their side, that we care about them and that we're going to fight those entrenched interests and all the cronyism and all the insider status down in St. Paul."
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Downey had a ringside seat last year when the Trump wave helped flip the state Senate to GOP control and came within 2 percentage points of turning red the reliably blue Minnesota.
Now as a candidate for governor, he is trying to capture that energy and make a similar connection with Trump voters with a populist message that emphasizes jobs, tax cuts and a new direction for state government.
Other GOP gubernatorial candidates are doing the same.
Four candidates attended the Pine County Republican Party event, where they received polite applause from the attentive group. Two other candidates were invited but couldn't make it.
Pine County, like most rural parts of the state, went big for Trump in 2016. So, it wasn't shocking to hear the candidates embrace many of the president's favorite issues.
"We've got to get on top of election fraud," said Phillip Parrish, a naval reserve officer from Kenyon who has made previous bids for governor and U.S. Senate. He did not offer any evidence of the voter fraud he claims exists.
Parrish also said he wants to put the brakes on refugee resettlement.
"It's got to end. It's not a conspiracy theory to tell you that we have people overseas holding classes on how to exploit the local communities," he said.
Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, who's making a second run for governor, said he plans to invest aggressively in roads and ban so-called sanctuary cities. Johnson is also pledging to reduce regulations and give power back to the people.
"We're going to change the attitude in government, and particularly in the government agencies ... from controlling and punishing to serving the people who actually pay our salaries," Johnson said. "If there's a government employee who can't get on board, then they're not going to survive the Johnson administration."
In another Trump-like remark, state Rep. Matt Dean of Dellwood criticized a New York Times columnist. He also pledged big changes in health care. Dean wants to return Minnesota to a pre-Obamacare system, and he's ready to do it with or without the federal approval.
"The state of Minnesota is going to do it our way again, and we're going to tell the federal government if you don't like it, too bad," Dean said.
Nine Republicans are declared candidates for governor, and more could still join the race.
State Republican Party chair Jennifer Carnahan likes how the field is shaping up. She's confident that the party will have a strong nominee who can win next year. As far as Trump comparisons, Carnahan sees it as a matter of substance rather than style.
"I don't know if I would apply so much the themes that the candidates were talking about as necessarily harvesting the Trump energy or strategy," she said, "as it is the things Trump campaigned on and ran on last year are things that do directly affect people, not only in the country but in Minnesota."
Trump has strong support among Republicans, but his broader polls numbers are poor.
Those low poll numbers could be a big drag on Republicans next year and a boost for his side, said Minnesota DFL chair Ken Martin. The DFL has six declared candidates in the race. But after the stinging results of 2016, Martin isn't taking anything for granted.
"I'm not sure what the calculus is right now and how any of the Republican candidates think that they're going to be able to win," Martin said. "But any of them could win, in my opinion, and the way they win is by the Democrats doing their job for them and beating each other."