ST. PAUL - The 2018 election remains more than nine months away, but a Feb. 6 event likely will give birth to some political campaign favorites.

That will be caucus night, when Democrats and Republicans gather across Minnesota conduct party business. They will elect local party leaders, pick delegates for future conventions and pick their favorite candidates in straw polls. The delegates and straw polls, in particular, are key to the governor's race.

Matt Dean may have shaken up the Republican race Thursday, Jan. 25, when he announced he was dropping out of his race and supporting Jeff Johnson.

However, Dean, a state representative from Dellwood, did not urge his supporters to back Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner, former state representative, candidate for governor four years ago and an unsuccessful attorney general candidate.

While many may assume Dean supporters will move on to Johnson, that is not assured. Even Johnson said that he will have to win over their support.

Johnson is a Detroit Lakes native and often reminds greater Minnesota audiences that he is the Republican candidate with roots outside the Twin Cities.

The Dean decision leaves Johnson, former state Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey and Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens as the other two best-known GOP candidates. Some Republicans hope "politically retired" former Gov. Tim Pawlenty opts for the governor race. Others look to state Sen. Julie Rosen of Vernon Center.

Over on the Democratic side, meanwhile, candidates await word on whether Attorney General Lori Swanson opts to run, as expected. Among those in the race are state Rep. Tina Liebling of Rochester, former St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Rep. Paul Thissen of Minneapolis, State Auditor Rebecca Otto of northeastern Washington County and U.S. Rep Tim Walz of Mankato and state Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul.

Minnesotans looking for their precinct caucus may go to

Klobuchar's State of the Union guest

The mother of an opioid victim will be Sen. Amy Klobuchar's State of the Union guest on Tuesday, Jan. 30, an effort to bring attention to the problem.

"When you bring someone as a guest, people know," the Minnesota Democrat said in an interview.

Shelly Elkington of Montevideo will sit in the gallery during President Donald Trump's speech, and Klobuchar said she plans to also introduce her to fellow senators and do some interviews with media.

Elkington's daughter, Casey Jo Schulte, was over prescribed painkiller opioids and died in Moorhead in 2015.

Elkington said she is honored to be able to use her daughter's story

"We are losing a generation to this epidemic," Elkington said. "We are losing our future nurses, doctors, teachers, artists, leaders, moms and dads."

Klobuchar said she will make sure the White House knows that Elkington will be in the audience Tuesday night, although she does not expect Trump to acknowledge her.

Federal money coming

A bucket of federal money that ended, creating a Minnesota budget problem, is headed to the state again.

When state officials announced a bit of a state budget deficit a couple of months ago, one of the reasons given was that the federal Children's Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, had not been funded. A short-term budget Congress passed a few days ago includes six years of CHIP funding, which will help boost the state budget

However, officials are hesitant to say the CHIP money will give Minnesota a surplus. They want to wait until a new budget and economy report come out in late February or early March.

CHIP accounted for $178 million of the state's deficit, which was predicted to be $188 million.

Scholarships available

Four hundred newly minted scholarships, worth $2,500 each, are available for high-demand programs at Minnesota State colleges and universities.

They will be available this fall for programs that include advanced manufacturing, agriculture, health care services and information technology. Scholarship applications are available from Minnesota State campuses.

A sunny year

It was a catchy headline: "2017 was another sunny year for solar energy in Minnesota."

The state Commerce Department's news release under the headline claimed "Minnesota enjoyed sustained, dramatic growth in electricity generated by solar energy... ."

The added electric-generating capacity in the first half of the year was more than added in the previous decade, the department reported.

"The addition of 467 megawatts of capacity is enough electricity to power 53,000 more homes." Commerce Commissioner Jessica Looman said.