Unwinding The SPIN: Jeff Johnson’s “no clue” candidacy is over

UnwindingtheSPINI watched this morning’s gubernatorial debate between Governor Mark Dayton and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson. In my first tweet about the debate, I complimented Johnson’s opening statement.

Johnson said he was running for governor “because someone needs to stand-up for the middle class” in Minnesota. In his brief opening remarks, Johnson spoke eloquently about his candidacy and what would be his focus as if elected governor. I wrote it was Johnson’s best moment in his four debates with Dayton.

But what I thought was Johnson’s best moment in the debates, later became his undoing as a candidate for governor. Johnson, who started the debate with a passionate claim that he would be an advocate for the middle class, later said he had “no clue” in response to a question about how he would define the middle class. Johnson had “no clue” how to define a group of Minnesotans that he earlier said needed someone to “stand-up” for them as governor. In a matter of seconds, Johnson erased the relevancy of his own candidacy.

JeffJohnsonHeadshotFor me, the campaign for governor ended when Johnson uttered the phrase “no clue.” I am not wishing the race over, but for all practical purposes, the race for governor is over. Johnson’s candidacy was not doomed because his bad answer to one question. The problems with Johnson’s candidacy run deeper than his superficial advocacy of the middle class.

In 16 days, barring something unforeseen, Governor Mark Dayton will be re-elected to a second term as governor and Johnson will lose. The only question remaining is what will be the margin of Dayton’s victory. For Republicans, the time has come to focus on other races.

As party leaders, Republicans need to start preparing for Johnson’s candidacy to drag down other candidates for statewide or local office. They have been in this situation before and should be prepared to respond. The Minnesota DFL immediately jumped on Johnson’s “no clue” comment, which could spill over to other Republicans.

A candidate cannot make the defense of the middle class the centerpiece of their candidacy, but then so bluntly claim they have “no clue” how to define the middle class. Johnson did it not once, but twice today. In a post-debate interview, Johnson showcased how unprepared he is as candidate to discuss the middle class when he answered a question about his “no clue” statement. Candidates make mistakes all the time and I expected Johnson’s post-debate answer about the middle class to be better than the lifeless answer he gave during the debate. But his second answer was worse.

As I watched the video of Johnson failing miserably to again answer a simple question about an issue proclaimed to be the focus of his candidacy, I wondered how this was happening. In a matter of seconds, a simple search of Google would have provided Johnson with all the information he needed to answer the question – the most important question of his candidacy.

The questions asked of Johnson about the middle class should have been easily answered by him. But what appeared to be a simple question about the middle class stumped Johnson – twice. Like with so many other candidates for office, Johnson fumbled an answer to a simple, but important question.

The millionaire incumbent, who Johnson and his campaign staff have labeled as “unaware” and “incompetent”, correctly answered the question about the middle class in Minnesota. In his answer to one question, the 67-year-old governor, who graduated from Yale, showed he was better able to understand the middle class, than his 47-year-old challenger, who lives in a middle-class house in the suburbs.

Even if Johnson was not able to offer statistics (which he should have been able to do) about the middle class, he should have offered himself as an example of the middle class and explained why the Ivy League-educated, millionaire incumbent standing next him couldn’t possibly relate to the middle class. But he didn’t and Dayton showed why Johnson’s “unaware” and “incompetent” questions are aimed at the wrong candidate.

Republicans should focus on the middle class beyond just the next 16 days, but they need to look for someone other than Johnson to be their messenger, as he removed himself today as a credible spokesman.

Unwinding the SPIN is a section of politics.mn which translates the spin and messaging in Minnesota politics.


  1. Yes. And how about his canned speak at the end of the debates when he says his vision is to make all the poor people, middle class people and all the middle class people rich. He does not know what that means. I surely didn’t but now I know he does not.

  2. Michael,

    I know you have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines and being able to prognosticate. However, I take issue with you already proclaiming Jeff Johnson’s campaign dead. As you surely know, midterm elections are about turnout. Johnson’s campaign is not nearly as flawed as Emmer’s was four years ago and Dayton’s victory was razor thin. If this turns out to be a wave election, Johnson has a shot. If not, then Dayton will likely prevail. If Dayton does win it will be because he is running a well funded campaign along with a record that is not being scrutinized.

  3. I would like to know why conservatives rarely take responsibility for their losses? They either blame the MSM for not scrutinizing the opposing candidate or blame wealthy liberal donors. Why not just take responsibility for the how the candidate and their advisors are running their campaign. I would argue that had Emmer toned down his rhetoric in 2010, he would be governor.

  4. So Chris says, “midterm elections are about turnout.” In other words, the only way Johnson can win is by Republicans hoping that busy 18-40 year old Minnesotans forget that there’s an election going on. Even in the unlikely case that that happens, that hardly makes a mandate.

    Can we extrapolate the wishes of 100% of the population from an aggravated 5% of its adult population? The same fools who still falsely believe that a few Middle East extremists represent an existential threat to Americans greater than slippery bathtubs, high-calorie foods, or a shifting climate? Yay, democracy!

  5. Tea Party Potentate says:

    Another victory for Team Alida Rockefeller! This guy can’t even point out that Dayton’s kids (grandsons of John D. Rockefeller III) have wealth that is incalculable.

  6. I supported Jeff Johnson at the MNGOP Convention! I know he can win!

  7. Don’t shoot Michael Brodkorb because he is the messenger. Blame the candidate who seemed to be woefully unprepared to answer a basic question. How do you claim to be the champion of the middle class without being able to say what the middle class is. No matter where you sit on the political side of the fence, you have to admit Jeff Johnson shot himself in the foot big-time. For Johnson the only saving grace is that he did not make this huge gaffe in the first debate–at least now the DFL has only two weeks to jump all over this instead of five.

  8. going on the radio and making a bigger deal about this than it is, is not helpful. I would say less than 2% of minnesotans heard the comment on a Sunday morning over MEA.

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  11. Is it little wonder that there has been so little excitement over Jeff Johnson’s candidacy?

    The 2014 GOP Primary winner won with 55,836 votes. This isn’t the margin of victory, these are the total votes for Jeff Johnson. In total 184,110 votes were counted in the GOP Primary.

    For comparison, look at the 1994 GOP Primary, where the GOP had endorsed Allen Quist against incumbent Arne Carlson. In that GOP Primary, Quist received 161,670 votes to Carlson’s 321,084 votes.

    The total number of votes for Quist are not that far off from the total number of votes for the whole GOP 2014 primary. Has the GOP Rino’ed too many moderate Republicans? The moderate Republicans haven’t gone away, but they seem to either sitting on the sidelines or completing the arrow for some DFL candidates as the GOP has had a hard time to endorse true moderates.

  12. “[less than 2% of minnesotans heard the comment]”

    Yes, that may be true based on the number of those viewing the debate. Although I would guess there will be many more viewing the DFL ads which will highlight Mr. Johnson’s “no clue” answer to the question of what defines the middle class.

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  14. You can see how Minnesota’s unemployment rate has changed under governors of each party here- http://politicsthatwork.com/graphs/minnesota-unemployment-by-governor

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