Johnson for Coleman?

Any time a big-name Democrat endorses a Republican in one of the hottest Senate races in the country, one has to stop and think for a moment.

Doug Johnson isn’t such a big name since he left the Legislature, where he was the powerful head of the Taxes Committee. He’s endorsing Norm Coleman against Al Franken.

Perhaps an old MPR profile on Johnson, just before he launched a DFL gubernatorial bid (in the same election in which Norm Coleman was the Republican candidate) provides a similarity between the two:

Johnson can also set himself apart from the other DFLers by being from outside the Twin Cities; in the words of one political wag, he’s the only “pro-gun, pro-life, pro-hockey-puck” candidate, and if the Big Three split the metro vote, Johnson could win the nomination.

It’s not as though Johnson was, by default, already philosophically or culturally aligned with Al Franken.

The Minnesota Independent says there’s a different sort of connection — money. Johnson is a lobbyist for Excelsior Energy, a “clean coal” energy plant on the Iron Range, loan guarantees for which Coleman authored in a Senate bill.

The $2 billion project near Taconite doesn’t get a lot of coverage in the Twin Cities, but it’s a big story on the Range. Last week, the Office of Legislative Auditor ordered a small amount of a multi-million dollar loan returned to the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board because some of it may have been used for lobbying. The Legislative Auditor, however, found the federal financing appropriate.

Aaron J. Brown, who writes what is probably the best blog on the Iron Range, and worked on Johnson’s gubernatorial campaign in 1998, sees the benefits of a personal relationship between Coleman and Johnson as responsible for the endorsement. And he doesn’t think it’ll change the race much.

A little, maybe, but probably not much. Johnson has been out of office for six years and has mostly been lobbying (and fishing) since. He has loyal supporters in the more rustic environs of the Iron Range, but I don’t know that vast legions of DFL voters follow his advice on the Senate race. The Franken people know they need to close the deal on the Range because of the nontraditional nature of their candidate, and I suspect that the end result will be based on their success in handling the “temperament” attacks coming in all parts of the state.