Our view: Is GOP unity possible? Governor's race says yes

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Jeff Johnson, who won the Minnesota Republican gubernatorial primary, addresses a news conference after his opponents, Kurt Zellers, left, Marty Seifert, and Scott Honour, right, promised their support on Aug. 13 in St. Paul, Minn.

When Republican gubernatorial candidates visited the Post-Bulletin in recent weeks, one of the questions we we asked them was this: With three credible contenders challenging the party-endorsed candidate on the ballot, what will unify the party after the primary election?

"Mark Dayton is the unifying factor," said Rep. Kurt Zellers, who gave the most concise response. We liked that answer because it looked beyond the perceived disharmony within the party that had its first seriously contested gubernatorial primary since 1994.

Zellers, the former House speaker, finished second in the primary to the endorsed candidate, Jeff Johnson, the Hennepin County commissioner who previously served three terms in the Minnesota House. It was an encouraging sign the day after the primary when the three challengers — Zellers, Marty Seifert and Scott Honour — promised their support for Johnson at a news conference in St. Paul.

We didn't take the unity pledge as a given. Johnson's plurality victory certainly wasn't decisive with 30 percent of the vote. Zellers wasn't far behind with 24 percent, with Seifert topping 21 percent and Honour finishing with just less than 21 percent.

Yet, the party faithful are uniting behind Johnson, who should bring statewide appeal despite residing in the Twin Cities for the last 16 years. He grew up in Detroit Lakes and graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead. His selection of Bill Kuisle, a former Rochester-area legislator and Olmsted County commissioner, also brings geographical balance to the GOP ticket.


Zellers, who followed Johnson as House District 32B's representative in 2003 and succeeded Seifert as House minority leader in 2009, is well positioned to help Johnson win the governor's race. Zellers has 20 years of GOP connections from his time as an aide for former U.S. Sen. Rod Grams and as communications director for the Minnesota House Republican Caucus before being elected to the House.

Seifert is a lifelong resident of southwestern Minnesota and has been a champion for rural Minnesota. He was the only candidate to visit all 87 counties during the primary campaign. Seifert also has a broad base of party connections from his 14 years in the House and his previous bid for governor in 2010.

Honour, the Orono businessman who made his first bid for elected office, has been a prodigious fundraiser for former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's presidential campaign and then for eventual 2012 nominee Mitt Romney. We expect he can do the same for Johnson.

We highlight the governor's race because party unity remains an issue in southern Minnesota, where Jim Hagedorn, of Blue Earth, defeated endorsed candidate Aaron Miller, of Byron, in the primary for the right to face incumbent Democrat Tim Walz in the 1st District congressional race. Fillmore County Republican Chairman Doug Baker has been critical of Carol Stevenson, chairwoman of the 1st District Republicans, who has asked party members to rally behind Hagedorn, even though he reneged on an earlier promise to honor the endorsement process.

We suggest 1st District Republicans set aside the personality conflicts and use the governor's race as teachable moment. Even if your preferred candidate didn't win the primary, the eventual nominee still represents your views better than the opposing party. After all, the general election should be about ideas and governing philosophy.

The 1st District Republicans need to remember their opponent in the November election is Tim Walz, not each other.

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