About a month ago, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), running for his old job, launched his first television ad of the primary season. In an unexpected move, the Republican didn't tout a lengthy record of success; he attacked his primary rival, Jeff Johnson, as a "career politician."
The substance of the message was bizarre -- Pawlenty, after all, was a two-term governor, a five-term state legislator, and a failed presidential candidate -- but the subtext suggested there was something in his polling that gave him pause. With a huge financial advantage, broad name-recognition, a professional operation, Pawlenty seemed likely to win the primary, but that first advertising choice reflected anxiety.
We now know the concerns were rooted in fact. The Star-Tribune reported overnight:
Jeff Johnson shocked the Minnesota political world Tuesday with a commanding victory in the Republican primary for governor, while U.S. Rep. Tim Walz won a three-way race in the DFL primary, setting up a clash of starkly different visions for the state's future.
Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner, derailed former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's bid to win back his old job. Pawlenty had been widely seen as the front-runner thanks to much higher name recognition from his two previous terms in office, and Johnson overcame a vast fundraising disadvantage with a message of change and by courting supporters of President Donald Trump.
With just about all of the precincts reporting, Johnson appears to have won the primary by nearly nine points.
The significance of this extends well beyond embarrassment for Pawlenty. Most observers in both parties believe Johnson and his Trump-like message will not be effective in this relatively blue state. BuzzFeed reported earlier in the summer, "Most notably, a big investment from the Republican Governors Association could be in jeopardy: One national Republican experienced in gubernatorial campaigns told BuzzFeed News that the RGA is likely to cancel its $2.3 million reservation for fall airtime in Minnesota if Johnson wins the nomination."
That's not just good news for Rep. Tim Walz, who won a competitive Democratic primary yesterday, it's also bad news for other Republicans up and down the ballot: with Dems now favored in Minnesota's gubernatorial race, and both of its U.S. Senate races, GOP candidates in tough races are suddenly in an even tougher spot now than before Primary Day.
But while Pawlenty's loss may have been yesterday's biggest surprise, it wasn't the only interesting result.