A Mankato lawmaker is another step closer to the state’s top job.

Democrat Tim Walz and Republican Jeff Johnson took first place in their parties’ straw polls for governor at Tuesday’s precinct caucuses across Minnesota. Walz is pleased with the results but added, “We understand this is just one step on this journey, about keeping building momentum, about making this case about a Minnesota that works for all, a Minnesota that invests in its children, a Minnesota that innovates — and that I think is resonating.”

DFL Congressman has served as the U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 1st congressional district since 2007. He’s the current frontrunner on the DFL side in the governor’s race.

Walz’s Democratic rivals in the governor’s race are nearly all from the Twin Cities, but he said, “We did as well in Minneapolis precincts as we did in some of the Greater Minnesota ones.” He captured nearly 31 percent of the vote in a field of six candidates, ten points ahead of closest rival state auditor Rebecca Otto.

Johnson said he’s talking incessantly about changing the attitude of government from controlling and in some cases bullying, to actually serving the people, explaining, “I talk a lot about the DNR and the MPCA and Department of Commerce and the Department of Ag, and the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a concern within state government anymore about how their decisions affect actual people.”

GOP Gubernatorial front-runner Jeff Johnson is a commissioner in Hennepin County.

Johnson scored over 45 percent. He is a commissioner in Hennepin County — the heart of the metro area — but stresses he was born and raised in Detroit Lakes and his wife is from Crookston. He believes, “Greater Minnesota has been at least somewhat forgotten, and I think part of that is because we’ve had leaders who don’t understand why somebody would want to live in Greater Minnesota or grow up in Greater Minnesota.”

Just behind Johnson, at 16 percent, were “undecided” voters, which analysts said is because former Governor Tim Pawlenty is thinking about running. Johnson doesn’t buy that, and said, “We always have somewhere between 10 and 20 percent undecided at caucus time, and this is right in there — so I think people are overthinking that just a little bit.”

Meanwhile, Walz said when it comes to the possibility that Pawlenty might end up being his Republican opponent, “I’ve never spent a lot of time looking to the other side. We will have a campaign structure that’ll take our message to every corner of the state. We’ve proven that we can get the resources necessary to do that.”

Democrat Walz and Republican Johnson’s next challenge: winning their party’s endorsements in June.