DFL sprints to cash advantage in MN governor’s race

Democrats running for governor vastly outperformed their Republican counterparts in campaign fundraising last year, leaving them more flush as they entered the election year.

Campaign finance reports made public Thursday are an early gauge of where the campaigns stand against rivals in their own party as well as how they stack up with potential fall challengers. Taken together, the DFL candidates scooped up $2.8 million in 2017. That compares with about $600,000 for the Republicans, including two who have ended their bids.

There is a big caveat to these figures. Not all the candidates have been in the race the same amount of time. In the short term, however, it could have a bearing on who party activists believe is the most viable candidate on their side as next Tuesday's caucuses approach.

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz turned in the best figures in either party, raising more than $1.1 million and coming into the year with $488,000 at his disposal.

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Behind Walz was former St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who raised $600,000 last year and had about half that remaining in his account.

State Auditor Rebecca Otto took in $320,000 and after expenses had $181,000 remaining. State Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul, a former House majority leader, raised $377,000 and had $147,000 at her disposal.

State Rep. Paul Thissen of Minneapolis, a past House speaker, raised $300,000 and had about $108,000 remaining. But part of that was a $49,000 personal loan, which along with a loan from a 2010 governor bid left him with $71,000 in debt on his report.

State Rep. Tina Liebling of Rochester raised $100,000 but drawing down all but $20,000 of that by the reporting period ended.

On the Republican side, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson raised more than $260,000 and had $180,000 available at the start of 2018. His closest competitor was Keith Downey, the former GOP state chair, who collected about $130,000 in cash and other assistance from donors. After expenses, Downey had nearly $53,000.

The last Republican to get in, Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens, scooped up $71,000 after entering in the fall and had about $40,000 left when this year began.

Outside groups are also expected to spend heavily on Minnesota's race because there is no incumbent on the ballot, with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton bowing out after two terms.

The Democratic Governors Association, for instance, had $2.4 million parked in a Minnesota account, according to its report. The Northstar Leadership Fund, which had been active for Republicans in past election years, is sitting on $646,000 with almost all of that in one donation from a state business group.

And some spending in the race doesn't have to be disclosed as often depending on how the groups are structured and whether they file with the state or the Internal Revenue Service.

Meanwhile, House members and their challengers were also hunting down donations last year.

Several candidates had impressive hauls.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman, raised about $90,000 for another possible run in his safe district, and Ways and Means Chairman Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, raised $73,000 toward what could be a hard-fought 2018 campaign if he seeks two more years. Two DFL challengers in north suburban districts -- Burt Johnson and Zach Stephenson -- handily outraised Republican incumbents in what their party hopes will be a sign of good fall fortune.

But like the governor's race, outside spending will loom large. Many House races topped $500,000 last year when spending by the parties, candidates and independent groups were added together.