Walz beats Johnson in Minnesota governor's race

Walz and Flanagan celebrate.
DFL gubernatorial candidate Tim Walz and his running mate, state Rep. Peggy Flanagan, celebrate as the race is called for Walz over Jeff Johnson Tuesday in St. Paul.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated: Nov. 7, 1:05 a.m. | Posted: Nov. 6, 7 p.m.

DFLer Tim Walz will be Minnesota's next governor.

Walz, a U.S. House member from southern Minnesota, jumped out to an early election night lead over Republican Jeff Johnson and never looked back.

In his acceptance speech, Walz said he would make jobs, access to health care and education funding his top priorities. But he said all Minnesotans would have a seat at the table as he tackles those issues.

"I know that there are many Minnesotans out there who might have had a different vision of Minnesota, and I have a message for those voters tonight — I will be your governor just as much as I will be for the people in this room," Walz told the DFL election night gathering in St. Paul.

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Jeff Johnson gives his concession speech.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson gives his concession speech at the Doubletree Hotel.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

Walz said the state faces challenges, but can build on its successes.

"We have that opportunity to build on the things that this state has done, to create a way of life second to none, to build a politics of cooperation and collaboration that will be a model for this country," he said. "And as you've heard me say this whole campaign, this is not a state that fears the future, this is a state that creates the future."

Johnson called Walz to concede the race.

"A lot of you just put your heart and soul into this race," Johnson told supporters at the GOP's election night gathering in Bloomington. "I don't believe the outcome doesn't mean that God doesn't answer the prayers. It's just that he has something else in mind."

During their campaigns for governor, Walz and Johnson offered starkly different visions for Minnesota on everything from health care to taxes to cooperation with federal immigration enforcement.

Walz gives Democrats a crucial seat at the table when new political district maps are drawn after the 2020 census, an exercise crucial to elections for the decade to follow. Both chambers of the Minnesota Legislature are on the ballot in two years.

Two historical trends were in conflict in this election. No Democrat has succeeded a two-term DFL incumbent governor in state history, but no Republican has won a statewide race in a dozen years.

DFL gubernatorial candidate Tim Walz' campaign staff celebrate.
DFL gubernatorial candidate Tim Walz' campaign staff celebrate in their work room as the race is called for Walz.
Evan Frost | MPR News

One streak was certain to break. Walz prevailed.

Walz, 54, is a six-term U.S. House member and former teacher from southern Minnesota. He maneuvered through a field of big-name Democratic candidates to reach November's ballot.

He ran on a "One Minnesota" theme that he said would focus on common goals rather than feed into geographic divides that have colored the state's policy debates for years.

Walz promoted a plan to open the MinnesotaCare insurance program to anyone who wants to pay its premiums, not just the low-income people who now qualify. He pledged to raise the minimum wage, boost spending on schools and increase transportation spending, perhaps through a gas tax hike.

Johnson, 51, is a Hennepin County commissioner vowed to "Overthrow the Status Quo" as governor, upending the way agencies operate and slimming the two-year state budget. He said he would pursue health insurance changes that give buyers a bigger range of options while shuttering the state-run MNsure exchange.

Johnson, a former state legislator, scored an upset August primary win over ex-Gov. Tim Pawlenty to gain his second consecutive Republican nomination.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who beat Johnson in 2014, didn't run for a third term. He leaves office in January.