Walz and Johnson keep fundraising pace in race for governor

Tim Walz and Jeff Johnson are neck-and-neck in fundraising since winning the DFL and Republican nominations for governor in the August primary election.

The latest round of campaign finance reports, posted online Wednesday morning, show both Johnson, a Republican Hennepin County commissioner, and Walz, a Democratic congressman from southern Minnesota, raising $1.3 million since the last reporting deadline in late July.

And both have $1 million left to spend with less than two months until the Nov. 6 election.

The numbers are consistent for Walz, who has raised more than $3.7 million since the beginning of the year and prevailed in a three-way DFL primary in August. “Minnesotans from all walks of life are showing up and joining our movement to unite our state,” Walz said in a statement.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

The figures show an uptick in donations for Johnson since the primary. Between January and July, Johnson managed to raise only about $300,000 in the race, with former Gov. Tim Pawlenty as the heavy favorite to win the Republican primary.

But Johnson handily defeated Pawlenty by nearly 10 percentage points, and donations have started to flow in his direction. He’s already spending some of that money, releasing his first television ad of the general election campaign this week, hitting Walz for positions such as supporting single-payer healthcare and sanctuary cities. Walz also released an ad this week talking about his background as a teacher and a veteran.

"This strong report, along with being able to be on television and radio statewide the last six weeks, has given us both the momentum and the critical resources to get our message out,” Johnson said in a statement.

Both candidates’ fundraising totals are bolstered by the state, which cut each of them a check for agreeing to abide by spending limits. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is not seeking a third term, leaving the governor’s office wide open.

Walz is also getting help from the state DFL Party, which spent $141,000 for a television ad on his behalf last week. The party has nearly $1 million still on hand in its state account. The Republican Party of Minnesota has $171,000 cash in the bank it its state account to support Johnson.

In the open race for attorney general, Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison has a slight edge over his opponent, former Republican state Rep. Doug Wardlow. Ellison still has $335,247 left to spend in the race to Wardlow’s $239,259.

That race is a toss up, according to two recent polls. Ellison is grappling with recent allegations of domestic abuse from his ex-girlfriend, Karen Monahan, giving Republicans their first real shot at taking the office in 47 years.

Lower down the ballot in Minnesota, Democrats in the state House are attempting to pick up 11 seats they need to reclaim the majority. And they’re currently sitting on more money than House Republicans -- $1.64 million to $1.3 million -- with six weeks left in the campaign.

In a statement, DFL House Minority Leader said small-dollar donations are up 60 percent since the last election, and she notes that Democrats have flipped 44 state legislative seats across the country since President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

And the control of the Senate is also unexpectedly up for grabs this fall, two years ahead of the chamber’s next full election. That’s after Republican state Sen. Michelle Fischbach resigned from her seat to run for lieutenant governor, leaving the chamber tied 33-33.

Democrats have already spent $125,000 supporting their candidate, Joe Perske, for the conservative-leaning Senate seat, while Senate Republicans have spent $64,000 backing state Rep. Jeff Howe in his attempt to move to the upper chamber. That doesn’t include spending from groups outside of the parties.

But in the wake of Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed unlimited spending in campaigns, candidates make up just a small fraction of the overall spending.

Outside expenditure groups, which are not affiliated in any way with the campaign, are already raising and spending millions in Minnesota.

Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a Democratic-aligned group targeting the governor’s race, has already raised and spent roughly $6.4 million but has little cash in the bank. The group is hammering Johnson in ads on television and online, accusing him of taking health care away from people who need it.

On the Republican side, a cadre of groups are pulling in major dollars as well, including Pro Jobs Majority, aligned with the state’s chamber of commerce, which has raised $1.2 million this cycle and has nearly $600,000 left to spend. 

Another business-friendly group, Coalition of Minnesota Businesses, is sitting on nearly $800,000.

Reporter Brian Bakst contributed to this story.