Tuesday’s primary election delivered high levels of energy and participation by Minnesotans of both political stripes – much more than is typical for a mid-term election in Minnesota.

The DFL and GOP internal battles for Governor drew over 900,000 Minnesotans to the primary election. This represents almost 28 percent of registered voters and nearly twice as many voters seen in a more traditional mid-term primary election.

GOP Candidate for Governor

The biggest surprise was Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson’s win over former Governor Pawlenty for the GOP nod for governor in November’s general election. Johnson was the GOP endorsed candidate, but faced a severe lack of funding compared to Pawlenty and most assumed Pawlenty would walk to a primary victory. Johnson’s win wasn’t terribly surprising, considering he had worked the GOP base for months, years in fact, and Pawlenty ran more of a fly-over campaign.

It’s amazing what can happen to your party and your base after a decade out of office and Pawlenty’s 43 percent showing to Johnson’s 52 percent is proof of that.

DFL Candidate for Governor

On the DFL side, there were big question marks about who Erin Murphy, Tim Walz or Lori Swanson would actually pull off the win.

Mid-summer polls showed Swanson in the lead with around 35 percent support, most likely due to statewide name recognition having won three elections to the Attorney General’s office. However, the same polls showed 30 percent of DFLers as undecided. The question was who would those undecided voters break for and could Walz and Murphy build an operation to get their names out fast enough.

Murphy came into the summer with an edge having gained the DFL party endorsement in early June. Congressman Walz had his big base of support in the first Congressional District (CD 1) to augment his bid for the DFL nod for governor.

In the lead up to the primary, both Murphy and Walz appeared to gain significant momentum. Both Swanson and her Lieutenant Governor pick, retiring Congressman Rick Nolan, suffered political attacks. Swanson finished third with 24 percent support.

Walz ended up in first with 42 percent of the vote while Murphy finished second with 32 percent.

Strategic Moves

Many credit Walz’s Lieutenant Govenor pick, almost a year ago, of Peggy Flanagan as the most strategic of the entire campaign. Walz was able to sell an energized and well-funded rural-metro, male-female, centrist-liberal ticket to the DFL base – a ‘something for everyone’ approach.

While he had a lock on his home in CD 1, Walz’s biggest test would be to remain highly competitive in the more liberal leaning CD 4 (St. Paul/Ramsey County) and CD 5 (Minneapolis/inner ring suburbs) where DFL turnout would be high.

The final results show that while Murphy won both CDs 4 and 5, Walz only trailed her by 2 and 3 points respectively. His 70 percent win in CD 1 and his wins in CDs 2, 3 and 7 were plenty to put him over the top. Swanson’s pick of Rick Nolan did help her win CD 8, but she had limited support beyond that.

Impact on November Election

How the primary election results shape November’s general election battles for statewide offices, congressional seats and the state House remain to be seen.

Both sides would privately agree that DFLers are feeling good about their results and believe they’re poised for a solid showing in November.

However, GOP strategists still feel good about their presence and support in rural Minnesota. They believe they can maintain control of the state House, pick up a win in CD 8 and run a competitive race against Tina Smith with Karin Housley for a two-year US Senate term vacated by Al Franken’s resignation last winter.

Look closer at the primary election results.

View school bond results and current rural Minnesota passage rate.