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Otto, Johnson get support here

A total of 269 people registered with the Douglas County DFL Party on caucus night, Feb. 6. That compares to about 65 who attended the party's last non-presidential year caucus in 2014. (Al Edenloff / Echo Press) 1 / 2
Nevin Johnson leads LaGrand Township residents during Tuesday night's caucus at Alexandria Area High School. (Jeff Beach / Echo Press)2 / 2

If Douglas County were deciding the candidates for this year's Minnesota governor's race, it would be the DFL's Rebecca Otto against Republican Jeff Johnson — though a yet unannounced candidate could change things.

Members of both parties caucused on Tuesday, Feb. 6, with the highlight being an early indication of who might win their party's nominee for governor.

Republicans out to maintain momentum

Republicans, who control the state House and Senate, are looking to take control of the governorship with Mark Dayton leaving the office.

But one of the most popular potential nominees was not on the ballot last Tuesday night. Many are expecting Tim Pawlenty, of former two-term governor, to add his name to the list of candidates. Pawlenty is set to meet with party leaders next week.

Tim Ness voted for Jeff Johnson in the straw poll but "Pawlenty is the one I really hope for."

"He just has a kind personality. The kind of person who could win people over."

Johnson who was the nominee in 2014, when Dayton was re-elected, was the top vote getter in the Douglas County caucus, just ahead of Keith Downey. But there were 25 undecided votes cast, 21 percent, which may be a sign of people waiting for Pawlenty to join the race.

The vote totals were:

• Johnson 27 percent (32 ballots)

• Downey 24 percent (29 ballots)

• Phillip Parrish 15 percent (18 ballots)

• Mary Giuliani Stephens 13 percent (16 ballots)

• Lance Johnson 0 percent (0 ballots)

There were 120 votes cast in the Republican straw poll at Alexandria Area High School. While the crowd was down dramatically from the presidential-race caucus in 2016, it was still up from the previous presidential race year in 2012, organizers said.

With 2016 putting President Donald Trump in the White House and earning majority in both houses of Congress and the Minnesota Legislature, Ness said "it is important to keep the momentum going."

State Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen of Alexandria spoke before the caucus but did not participate and is not endorsing anyone yet. "Pawlenty might change the swing of things," he said. "But we have a lot of really good candidates."

Upbeat Douglas County DFLers like Otto

Douglas County DFL leaders were pleased with the caucus turnout, 269 registered attendees, their new caucus location, a spacious Discovery Middle School, and their prospects for the 2018 election.

In a non-binding preference poll for the governor's race, State Auditor Rebecca Otto edged U.S. Representative Tim Walz as the top choice with 31 percent of the ballots or 54 votes. Statewide, Walz was the winner.

Here are the local totals:

• Otto 31 percent (54 ballots)

• Walz 24 percent (41 ballots)

• Erin Murphy 16 percent (28 ballots)

• Paul Thissen 10 percent (17 ballots)

• Tina Liebling 5 percent (nine ballots)

• Chris Coleman 4 percent (seven ballots)

• Uncommitted 10 percent (17 ballots)

Party Chair Jon Koll of Alexandria said they've raised more money than ever before for the upcoming campaigns — nearly $1,000 was donated on caucus night alone. "And the numbers keep going up and participation is going up," he added.

Attendance didn't match 2016's presidential-year caucus that drew a record 674 participants but it was four times larger than 2014's crowd of about 65.

"I've been been told by longtime local DFLers that in a non-presidential year, around 60 to 80 people go to the caucus," Koll said. "Technology makes a difference. Over 7,000 people saw our Facebook page. We also sent out emails and had a newspaper ad to remind people about the caucus."

Caucus attendees gathered in their precincts and discussed issues they want to include in the DFL Party's platform. Hot topics included support for unions, climate change, raising the minimum wage, concerns about the structure of the Democratic National Committee, and preventing gerrymandering or reconfiguring voting districts that would give certain candidates an unfair advantage, Koll said.

The caucus resolutions will be narrowed to 20 and will be considered at the Douglas County DFL Convention that will take place sometime in March.