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Pawlenty rockets to fundraising lead in gov race

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty dwarfed all rivals in recent fundraising and has almost $1 million at the ready, making him the most flush of any candidate in either party.

Newly filed campaign fundraising reports cover the first three months of the year. Pawlenty didn't start raising money until mid-March. But he was able to crack the million-dollar barrier and has most of that in reserve. His report shows a bevy of $4,000 donations, the maximum allowed.

"We've received extraordinary support for our commitment to find a better way forward for middle income Minnesotans who are getting squeezed," Pawlenty said in a written statement.

It is about 10 times what his closest Republican rival collected over the same fundraising period.

Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson raised about $110,000, and including some carryover money from 2017, had $210,000 in the bank as of the end of March. Further back were Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens, former Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey and Naval reservist Phillip Parrish.

Johnson, who has been viewed as the favorite for party endorsement at a June convention, issued a campaign statement saying he was stronger positioned than four years ago. That's when he won the endorsement, a contested primary and came up shy as the Republican nominee against DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. Pawlenty is eyeing a primary race if Johnson is endorsed.

On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz remains the governor's race pace-setter. He raised more than a half million dollars, and counting money from last year, had $628,000 on hand as of April 1. Behind him was State Auditor Rebecca Otto, whose campaign had about $150,000 saved up after raising about that much and loaning herself an additional $20,000. In third was state Rep. Erin Murphy, who had about $73,000 in available cash after raising $121,000.

Walz declared himself "thrilled" by the outpouring of donations and said it shows he's building a winning coalition. Walz is the only one of the three remaining DFL candidates who hasn't committed to abiding by the DFL Party's state convention endorsement. That means he's willing to run in a primary without it.

In a statement, Murphy's campaign said she is building momentum and seeing fundraising spike in recent months.

Political parties and outside groups are likely to spend far more than any of the candidates in the months ahead because they face fewer restrictions.

The Democratic Governors Association has $3.1 million parked in a state account. The Republican Governors Association doesn't have a dedicated Minnesota account, but has in the past routed its money through groups active in state politics. So far, the money hasn't shown up in their accounts, but the RGA has said it is already reserving Minnesota advertising time.

Among political parties, the state DFL is in better shape than the Minnesota Republican Party. The Minnesota DFL reported raising $1 million in the first three months of 2018 and having $427,000 at the ready; the GOP had $134,000 in available cash. But both parties are also carrying debt.

The battle for control of the Minnesota House is also shaping up as an expensive one. The Minnesota House Republican Campaign Committee reported having about $930,000 in available money, which is nearly double the $488,000 for the House DFL.

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